Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Coupon Savings: February 2012...and some exciting news!

I'm really proud of myself this month. I went over budget again, but it was only by $12. Since we are starting to transition Penelope from cloth diapers to disposables, that accounts for the extra money. But still, I'm doing great for the year!

February 2012:
Total (before savings): $590.68
Spent: $412.98
Savings: $177.70
Percentage: 30.08%

2012 YTD:
Total (before savings):$1,406.96
Spent: $983.44

And now, for some exciting news...My sister is getting married!!! She and her boyfriend went on a cruise this past weekend and he popped the question! They've been together for nearly 5 years so its been a long time coming, but we are so excited for them! Congratulations Ariel Stewart and Tony Kasten!!! :-D

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Culinary Experiment: Homemade Fruit by the Foot: Part 2

I've been attempting this fruit leather recipe for weeks now with little success, hence the reason I haven't updated you yet. I've been talking to Amy at Superhealthykids.com, looking for any suggestions on what I could do to make it better. And I learned a few things:

1. Putting the pan in the oven before turning the oven on helps a bit. It still takes nearly 24 hours for it to dry out perfectly and I still need to turn the oven on the next day to help dry out the middle...which of course dries out the ends too much.

2. Cooking spray works better than spray oil from my Misto. I used Pam with this last batch and got a full pan's worth, that pulled off wonderfully.

3. Aluminum foil is definitely the way to go with the liner. Wax paper and parchment paper don't work.

So I'm still working on it, but I'm definitely getting closer. I've got a couple of things I want to try to hopefully perfect this one for me. After getting a taste of a good batch, I want to conquer this one. Here's my ideas:

1. Use a smaller pan. The one I have been using is 11x17, but I also have a 9x13 pan I can try.
2. Increase the "cooking time" to 30 minutes instead of 15 minutes at 250.
3. Pour the mix onto the pan, letting it settle itself, without tilting the pan to spread it out.
4. Increase the heat to 300 and leave it in for the normal 15 minutes to hopefully let the middle dry out.
5. Decrease the heat to 200 and increase the "cooking time" to  an hour.

I will keep you posted!!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Recipe Review: Chicken Fajita Pizza

Got a recipe you want me to review? Email me here

If I am perfectly honest, pizza is the greatest food of forever. I mean, what's not to love? It's cheesy, with a yummy sauce of a multitude of varieties, and topped with whatever your heart desires. Plus,  you get to eat it with your hands!! What could be better?

I do love me some pizza, and I'm always looking for interesting toppings to add to the fun of eating it (my current favorite is jalapeno and pineapple), so when I stumbled upon this recipe, I was really excited about it. We like to have pizza about once a week, and we had exhausted all of the other pizza recipes we usually make, so we wanted to find something new. I was looking for a good chicken fajita recipe and found this one instead.

The Recipe: Chicken Fajita Pizza

The Procedure:
The how-to for this recipe was pretty simple. Slice up some green peppers, onions, and cut chicken into small bite-size pieces (the recipe specifies 2 inch pieces). I heated the oil in my skillet (I used olive oil instead of vegetable oil), and tossed in the chicken. I decided to let my chicken cook for 7 minutes instead of 5. I'm a little paranoid when it comes to chicken being cooked all the way through. I think it made the chicken a little drier, but Travis said it was perfect. After the chicken cooked, I added my veggies and seasonings, and let it cook for another 3 minutes.

For the crust, I just used the store bought pizza crust and I sprayed it with a little cooking spray beforehand (I used my Misto). I spread my yummy chicken mixture on the pizza, making sure it covered every spot. Then I added the salsa and fresh shredded monterrey jack cheese. And into the oven it went for 12 minutes!

Ready for the oven!

Look! Fiesta plates! :-)
The Verdict:
Mmmmmmmmm. The spices, combined with the veggies and the chicken, made it taste like a fajita, and the pizza crust and cheese made it taste like pizza. It was such an amazing combination of Mexican and Italian cuisine. We ended up with 6 slices, and it was so filling, I could only eat 2. Travis ate all his! :-P

The Low-down:
This recipe was super simple and so tasty. The cheese was melted and nicely browned when it came out of the oven, so if you like your cheese not toasty, pull it out a minute or two early.

This was amazing! 5 stitches!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Recipe Review: Homemade Skinny Chocolate Cake

Got a recipe you want me to review? Email me here

Happy Valentine's Day! The holiday of love! Ok, so I personally believe that you should show people you love them more than just one day a year. Love is a verb, afterall, but I digress.

On Tuesday nights, we host a Bible study at our house, and this year, Valentine's Day lands on a Tuesday. So what does this mean? Well, Sarah's gonna bake for everyone, of course! I found an amazing recipe at Gina's Skinny Taste (thanks Gina!) for heart shaped chocolate cake from scratch. Before I say anymore about this delicious recipe, lets get to it!

The Recipe: Homemade Skinny Chocolate Cake

The Procedure:
This recipe first looks pretty complicated. But its really just a basic chocolate cake recipe...with pudding, and applesauce, and yogurt...and no butter. Wait, what? No butter? How is this ever going to taste good? Butter makes the world go 'round! Well, pudding, yogurt, and applesauce are all tricks that you can use to cut back on oil and butter in cakes, cookies, brownies, muffins, etc. Gina combined all of them together and it really makes a difference.

I made this late Monday (around 9pm) and Travis helped me with it. It was fun baking with him :-) While I was combining the dry ingredients together, he was mixing the coffee and cocoa together. After I finished, and while he was still stirring, I poured in the milk and the vanilla. Then we fired up the Kitchenaid and put in the oil and sugar, followed by the applesauce and eggs. We started alternating the dry and wet goods until everything was incorporated and then we added the yogurt. After making sure everything was mixed together, it went into my glass 9x13" dish and into the oven. Gina says that hers took 40 minutes but cupcakes would be shorter. I didn't know if she was using glass or metal or ceramic so I started checking the cake at 30 minutes. It ended up taking right at 40 minutes. I let it cool, and then covered it to sit overnight. Yesterday, I used a heart shaped cookie cutter and cut out 9 hearts of cake and placed them on a plate in the refrigerator.

I melted down some Nestle Toll House Semi Sweet Chunks in the microwave (put in for 30 seconds twice, mixing in between, and then 10 second intervals after that until melted, mixing in between). I took a pastry bag and cut off the tip, and then put the chocolate in the pastry bag. You don't want the chocolate to be super runny. You want it to have the consistency of frosting, but you need to make sure its fully melted. I then proceeded to write the name of everyone in our home group in chocolate on wax paper. I underlined each name and then added a stem. Then I put them in the freezer to harden.

As home group was getting ready to start, I pulled the cakes and drizzled some Hershey's syrup over the top. I then pulled the names out of the freezer and carefully cut the wax paper around each name to separate them. Then I placed them in the cake and garnished with a few fresh raspberries.

The Verdict:
The cake was absolutely amazing. It was so moist and super chocolatley. It's WAY better than anything that comes in a box! The chocolate names came out beautifully, and were a huge hit with everyone! This is definitely my new go to recipe for chocolate cake!

The Low-Down:
Make the cake the day before you serve it so it has time to cool. It seemed to taste better cold.

Make the chocolate names (or shapes) the same day and keep in the freezer until ready to serve. Mine started to melt after being out of the freezer only 10 minutes. A friend recommended adding a little paraffin to the chocolate to help with that

This is seriously, the best chocolate cake I've ever had. If I could give it more than 5 stitches, I totally would!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rearranging 2012: Continued

As previously stated, we've been really working hard to get our house in order and get rid of a bunch of stuff that we don't need/use. As of my last post, we had finished the garage (for the most part) and the main room in the basement. After some contemplation, we decided to move my desk and sewing table into the main basement room for me to have a sort of workspace that's all my own.

Now, it doesn't look like this anymore since we've had to move things from other rooms in here to rearrange stuff, but it will be back to this glorious splendor once we're finished.

Our next stop on the rearranging tour was the downstairs bedroom. Up until this point, it had been used as a sewing room and a guest room. After discussing, we decided to make the guest room into an office for Travis so that if there's a day he works from home, he has a quiet place he can hide.

Eek! And this was AFTER removing a lot of stuff
As you can see, we had a mess to start with, but thankfully most of those boxes were empty and just needed to be broken down. We moved all the junk upstairs to the old office and moved all the office stuff down here so that Travis' workstation would be completed. We also took down that fan and replaced the light, and hung a shop light over Travis' workbench. It looks amazing in there and I know he loves the outcome.

Hard to believe its the same room, huh?
So, what's left, you ask? Well, mainly the old office upstairs which is going to become Penelope's big girl room. We've decided to give her the futon that was in this main room. The mattress is quite comfortable, and she may end up like having a bed that folds into a couch as she gets older. It may only be a temporary thing. We're not sure yet. After we finish her room, then we're gonna have to rent a dumpster (Yes, a DUMPSTER) to get rid of the rest of the junk and just make sure that everything is back in order. It's taking us longer than we originally anticipated, but it feels good to declutter.

And I'm still working on the fruit leather. My first batch failed miserably and I haven't had any luck with a batch since. I've contacted the woman who wrote the recipe and she's been helping me figure out what I'm doing wrong. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Culinary Experiment: Homemade Fruit By the Foot: Part 1

Penelope LOVES fruit snacks. I mean LOVES. She will ask for them over and over again...even if she just had some. I usually buy the Welch's ones because they're made with real fruit, but I don't really like all the added sugar they put in them. Plus, they're not exactly cheap.

So while perusing Pinterest the other day, I found a site with healthy snacks for kids, and one of those links was for homemade Fruit By The Foot, or fruit leather. What I particularly liked about this recipe was that it had no added sugar. It was just frozen fruit. It's a recipe that if she wanted to eat a whole bunch of them, I'd let her, because its just fruit. And its a fun way to eat fruit.

Here's the link to the site: Homemade Fruit By The Foot

So I tried this last night using a frozen berry mix from Kroger. It had blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Lemme tell ya, it smelled SO GOOD and I was really excited.

I cooked the berries for about 10 minutes. They broke down pretty quickly so it didn't take very long. I blended them until they were liquid and poured the juice onto my cookie sheet. I tilted the cookie sheet to get the juice to even it out and into the oven it went.

After 15 minutes at 250, I turned off the oven and put a note on the door not to open it. This was at 5pm. At midnight, I opened the oven to check it and it wasn't done. The sides were good, but the middle was still gooey. I decided to let it sit in the oven overnight and see if that helped. I opened it this morning and there was no change. We were able to peel the side pieces off and they had dried to the right consistency, but the middle was just goo.

I emailed Amy over at superhealthykids.com to see if she had any insight as to what went wrong. She gave me a couple of suggestions to try.

So I learned a couple of things on my first attempt at fruit leather:

1. It's a long process and it sucks if it fails - mainly because you have to wait even longer for good fruit leather.

2. If the leather is too thick, its not gonna set right. The recipe calls for 2 cups of fruit. I used the entire bag of fruit which has 3 cups in it. The thinner edges dried perfectly, but the center where it was thicker just didn't work.

3. Make sure that the bottom of the blender is screwed on nice and tight to prevent the juice from leaking onto your counter tops. :-)

I'm gonna give this a try again tonight. I'll post the results soon!