Saturday, December 28, 2013

"New Year, New You" Ideas

Let's be honest, if you're anything like me then New Year's Resolutions just are not your thing.  This year I've decided to take a different approach - rather than make a huge list of resolutions I came up with a few, useful, and realistic, things to do.  My ideas involve:

-Increasing our food storage supply
-Putting together 72 hour kits
-Reading one or two books that I have been wanting to read for a while
-Completing a few 30 day exercise challenges
-Budgeting our $

If you are wanting to make a list I'd like to suggest this - I stumbled across this picture and fell in love, it's perfect!

I couldn't find the original source so I typed up my own, with a few changes, and have provided a free printable here.

As far as 72 hour kits & food storage go there are several resources available online and my plan is to pick up an item or two each time I go grocery shopping this year and by the end of the year I should have everything I need.  I will be sharing a post regarding emergency preparedness very, very soon!  :)

I have known a few people that have been excellent with budgeting their money and have been able to pay off their debts and start saving for a house - I NEED to do this!  I will admit that I do enjoy buying things, I love giving gifts and I love buying clothes and other items for myself and my kids BUT I am beginning to realize that we are reaching the end of my husband's schooling and we are going to have a mountain of debt (student loans) to pay off and if I want to have a house and other nice things in the future then we better start behaving with our money and get those debts paid off.  I have found a few resources on Pinterest (of course) and will be experimenting to see what sort of budgeting tools work best for us.  I'll be sharing a budgeting post once I do more research and have more information.

Finally, my lovely sister-in-law just shared a few 30 day exercise challenges with me and they look amazing!  She is currently doing a push-up challenge and is experiencing amazing results.  Also, there will be another BodyRock/DailyHiit Challenge starting on January 15th.  You can sign up for that here.  I have a confession to make, I have never been able to complete a 30 day challenge within 30 days.  Every single time I attempt a challenge something comes up, about half-way through, that halts my progress and then I must spend a week or two talking myself back into participating.  It's annoying, irritating, frustrating and it must stop!  I am going to be participating in the BodyRock challenge, no matter what!  Here are the challenges my sister - I really dislike using in-law because quite frankly I love her as if we had come from the same mother, she is my sister! - shared with me:

I have posted quite a few challenges on this blog as well; here they are!

If you're looking for shorter challenges then check these out:

And finally, if you're looking to start running here are two great programs to get you going!

I am super excited for this next year!  2013 has not been my favorite year, it has been long, difficult and full of trials and challenges that have pushed me to my limits.  I am very much looking forward to a new year, new beginnings and new adventures!  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

White Chicken Chili

Being a Texas girl the idea of chicken chili just seemed wrong...and then my mom made it one year for a chili cook-off and it was delicious!  I have seen quite a few recipes for chicken chili and after playing around with a few different recipes I have finally settled on my very own recipe, I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

White Chicken Chili
2 chicken breasts, cooked & shredded
2 cans white beans, drained & rinsed
1 can salsa verde (or small can diced chilis)
1 C. sweet corn
1/2 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 cans chicken broth
*2 cans cream of chicken soup
Salt & pepper

1. Combine all ingredients in a crock pot and cook on low 6-8 hours, on high 4-6 hours.  Check every few hours and adjust seasonings to your liking.
2. Serve plain, on top of garlic rice or with sour cream, pepper jack cheese, sliced avocado - just about anything you'd like!

Serves 6-8

*If you prefer to avoid cream of whatever soups here is a relatively easy substitute.*

Non-Sticky Garlic Rice

I absolutely love rice, and pasta, and bread and carbs of every variety - not all that healthy but so, so yummy.  I grew up having your basic rice cooked in water or broth and didn't know any different until I met my sweetheart.  He served a mission for the LDS church for 2 years in Brazil and fell in love with the food while there.  I must admit that I have also fallen in love with Brazilian food and Brazilian people - every single Brazilian I have met has been incredibly kind and they have a way of treating people that makes you feel like you are literally part of their family.  I cannot say enough good things about the people or about their food, it is wonderfully delicious!

Now, about this is scrumptious!  It is also very simple to make which is always a plus.  My husband explained to me that, from what he was able to observe while living in Brazil, they would brown their rice in olive oil with some salt and smashed garlic then cook it as usual with water or broth.  The result is flavorful rice that doesn't stick together.  My hubby recalled eating dinner at a family's home one evening and the wife was so embarrassed and apologetic because the rice was sticking together a bit!  No sticky rice allowed!  It made me laugh but now that I've been able to successfully make this simple side dish I totally get it - no more sticky rice in this house!

Garlic Rice
1 C. long-grain white rice
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed or finely minced
2 C. broth (I use low-sodium Swanson chicken broth)

1. Heat the oil and rice in a pot over medium heat.  Season with salt (keep in mind the sodium content in your broth) and add the garlic.  
2. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is browning (see pictures below).
3. Turn heat to high and add broth.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and let cook 20 minutes or until done. 
4. Fluff a bit with a serving spoon & enjoy!

Step 1
Step 2 - Let your rice brown!
Fluff it up and serve! :)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sweet Potato Casserole

I stumbled across this recipe a couple years ago and it has become a family favorite and a Christmas dinner tradition.  My husband is not a huge fan of sweet potatoes but after he took his first bite last night he said, "Mmm, I always forget how good this is!"  This dish is relatively simple and is sweet enough that I don't find it necessary to serve a dessert.  Plus, it's just so pretty!  How could you not want to serve this up for a special occasion dinner?!

Sweet Potato Casserole
3 sweet potatoes
*you can peel, dice & steam them OR bake them @ 375 F for about 1 1/2 hours until soft (see p.s. below)*
1/2 C. sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten
4 Tbsp. butter, melted

-Preheat oven to 350 F & grease an 8x8" baking dish.
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and mix until well combined.  Pour into baking dish.
2. Top with crumb topping (see below) and bake for 30 minutes.  Let rest 10-20 minutes before serving.
-Serves about 6 as a side dish.

Crumb Topping:
1/2 C. brown sugar, packed
1/4 C. all-purpose flour
1/2 C. chopped pecans
3 Tbsp. butter, melted

-Mix everything together in a small bowl until well combined.

p.s. If you're going to bake your sweet potatoes simply place them on top of a cookie sheet that has been lined with foil, poke a few times with a fork or knive, and let bake until you can poke through them easily. Then, scoop out the insides and discard the peels.

Check out my other favorite Christmas recipes!

Sweet Peas with Bacon

Can I just say how much I love sweet peas?  When they are cooked correctly they are so tasty and make a fantastic companion to just about any dinner, especially around the holidays.  This particular recipe is one of my favorites and is definitely a holiday go-to.

Sweet Peas with Bacon
1 lb. bag frozen sweet peas
1/4 onion, finely diced
2-4 strips bacon, diced
1 Tbsp. butter
Salt & pepper
1 can chicken broth

-In large saute pan cook bacon until browned and crisp.  Drain fat then add onion and butter.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent.
-Add peas, season with salt and pepper, then add broth.  Bring to a boil then let simmer 20-30 minutes.
-Serves about 6 as a side dish.

Check out my other favorite Christmas recipes!

Simple Deviled Eggs

It is definitely that time of year!  Everyone is getting together to celebrate the season with family and friends and odds are you will be asked to bring some sort of dish to share, why not go with something classic and simple?  I absolutely love deviled eggs and always look forward to them at get-togethers.  This recipe is quite simple and is slightly different - I have texture issues and cannot stand to have crunchy bits of anything in my creamy deviled eggs - so, this recipe will give you flavor but maintains a nice, creamy texture.  Enjoy!

I love my egg timer! You can find them at some grocery stores and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Simple Deviled Eggs
12 eggs - at least 1 week old
1 tsp. salt or baking soda
Bowl of ice-cold water
1 C. light mayo, plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
1-2 tsp. mustard
1-2 Tbsp. pickle juice
Salt & pepper
Ground paprika
Onion powder (if desired)

-Place your eggs (and egg timer if you have one) in a medium-large pot and cover with cold water.  Add the salt or baking soda then turn the heat on high. 
-Boil 12-15 minutes - or until egg timer is completely white.  Use a slotted spoon to move eggs from pot to your bowl of ice-water.
-Once your eggs have cooled carefully peel them, rinse them off, cut in half then scoop out yolks into a small-medium mixing bowl.
-Add mayo, mustard, pickle juice, salt, pepper and onion powder (if desired) and whip until smooth and creamy.  Adjust seasonings to your liking.
-Arrange egg halves on a large serving plate and generously top with filling.  Sprinkle with paprika, cover and refrigerate until serving.

*My Notes*
-12 minutes seems to be my magic number for perfect eggs.
-Older eggs work best, 7-10 days old (from the time purchased) is preferred.
-Removing the eggs from the boiling water to ice-water stops the cooking process so you don't end up with over-cooked, dry yolks.
-Adding salt or baking soda seems to be helpful when peeling the eggs.
-For a spicy kick I will use Cajun seasoning in place of paprika.
-I think it's best to pull the eggs out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving - this allows them to warm just slightly so they are still cool when you eat them but not so cold that they shock your mouth.

Check out my other favorite Christmas recipes!
Crock Pot (Christmas) Ham
Sweet Peas with Bacon
Sweet Potato Casserole

Crock Pot (Christmas) Ham

I have always associated tender, delicious, baked ham with Christmas dinner.  I have usually baked my ham but have switched to using the crock pot.  I love how tender and juicy the ham turns out and I enjoy having a completely available oven so I can bake other delicious foods to accompany this dish.  Plus, it is incredibly simple!

Crock Pot Christmas Ham
1 8-10 lb. fully-cooked ham (I use bone-in usually)
3/4 C. brown sugar
1-2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. mustard
1 can pineapple rings

-Spray your crock pot with non-stick spray then place the ham inside.
-Combine the sugar, honey, mustard and the juice from the pineapple rings in a small bowl and mix well.  Pour over ham.
-Cook on low heat 6-8 hours (high 4-6 hours), add the pineapple rings (if desired) during the last 2-3 hours.
-Keep your ham extra moist by pouring the juices in the crock pot over it every hour.
-Serves quite a few people so invite your friends and/or family over!

p.s. I usually save the bone to use later in a ham & white bean soup or I use it to make my own stock.

Check out my other favorite Christmas recipes!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

12 Days of Christmas (and Kiss-mas) for Your Sweetheart

Can I just say how much I love my husband?  Seriously, I adore and love my sweetheart and I often try to think of sweet things I can do for him so he knows that I love him - thanks to Pinterest I have found quite a few ideas that I may not have thought of myself.  The two ideas I will feature here are relatively simple and just so darn sweet!  It's a great way to take the time to focus on your lovebird during the crazy, overly busy, holiday season.  I will be beginning this on December 12th which means it will be done on December 23rd which leaves Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to spend with family opening gifts and it also means that I won't forget!  I have some major memory problems since having children and I definitely don't want to forget to do these things for my husband!  I have seen quite a few different ideas regarding doing "12 Days of Christmas" and here I will simply share what I came up with along with a few other ideas:

12 Days of Christmas for Your Sweetheart
Day 1 - Mountain Dew (my hubby's favorite)
*jerky stick, pack of gum, tie, candy bar*
Day 2 - travel pack of tissues (2 packs)
*socks, double candy bar package, pens*
Day 3 - 3 pocket-size listerine strip packs
*3 pair socks, underwear*
Day 4 - king size candy bar
Day 5 - 5 minute foot rub for each foot
Day 6 - 6 pack of candy bars
*soda, socks, underwear, undershirts*
Day 7 - 7 reasons why he's an awesome father
Day 8 - 8 pack of batteries
Day 9 - 9oz mixed nuts
Day 10 - $10 gift card
Day 11 - 11 reasons why I love him
*11 is a tricky number so this is the best I could come up with*
Day 12 - 12 pack of Nutty Bars (my hubby loves these too)

As you may have noticed, if you're wanting to purchase your little gifts even numbers are much easier to work with.  I must admit that I love to give sentimental gifts as well, such as reasons why my husband is a great father and reasons why I love him.  Sometimes we get so busy that we start to neglect our sweethearts so I firmly believe that it is important to let each other know what we love about one another and what makes our special someone special to us.  I hope you love this idea and will be able to incorporate it into your holiday season!

Another fun, and sweet, thing I will be doing for my husband this year is The 12 Days of Kiss-mas.  I just love it!  You can find free printables here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Family Christmas Ideas

Here are a few things we do during the Christmas season as a family that I thought I'd pass along.  Merry Christmas!

Free Nativity - Great for Kids

I found this free printable here.  I absolutely love this set, it's a great way to teach my children about the true meaning of Christmas!

p.s. If you don't have access to a laminating machine you can buy self-laminating sheets at just about any store.

One of my boy's favorites is our Santa Beard Countdown:

You can find a free printable here.  Simply color and glue a cotton ball everyday until Christmas!  It's a great visual to help kids while they wait, usually impatiently, for Christmas.

We are currently completing a graduate program which means we are living in a small married-student, no chimney.  My oldest was slightly concerned about how Santa would bring presents so I found an easy solution:

You can find skeleton keys on Etsy, eBay, Amazon or your local hardware store.  I found these at Home Depot for just a few dollars.  Problem solved!

Finally, I have my very own little tradition.  Every December I read one of the most beloved Christmas stories:

I absolutely love this story and I love the lessons taught in this book.  I highly recommend reading it.  I also stumbled across another Christmas book written by Charles Dickens, The Life of Our Lord.  I have yet to read it but I am already in love with the story behind the writing and publishing of this book.  Dickens wrote this particular book just for his children and asked that it not be published until after he passed away.  A kind woman at the bookstore told me that she absolutely loved this book and said, "You can tell at the beginning he isn't too sure about his belief in the Savior but it's amazing that by the end of the book he is basically sharing his testimony of Christ."  I am looking forward to reading it and hope you will pick up a copy also!  I have a great love for reading, especially this time of year when I can curl up on the couch and read  by the Christmas tree lights.  I hope I inspired someone out there to incorporate a little more of Christ & family into their holiday season, it really is "the most wonderful time of the year!"

DIY Christmas Ornaments (And Great Neighbor Gifts)

Here are a few simple ornaments that you can easily make yourself and they can be great neighbor gifts!

Nail Ornament

Look at the Candy Cane

Simply print, paste onto Christmas paper, tie onto a candy cane with a bit of string or ribbon and voila!

Cinnamon Ornaments (with or without glitter)

1 C. ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp. ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp. ground cloves or allspice
2 Tbsp. school glue
1 C. applesauce

1.  Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl, adjust ingredients if dough is too wet or dry.  Knead a few time then roll out to 1/4-1/2" thick.  Cut out shapes with cookie cutters, use a straw to make holes to hang the ornaments, and place on parchment paper on top of baking sheet.
2. Bake at 200 degrees (F) for 2-3 hours until hardened.  Let cool, seal a few times with mod podge on both sides then tie with ribbon and hang on the tree!

p.s. It may smell a little funky when they first start baking, probably because of the glue, but after a little while the spices take over and your house will smell amazing!  Oh, and be sure to not take a big breath when you pour the cinnamon into your mixing bowl...learned that the hard way!  :)

DIY Mod Podge

-Simply mix white glue with warm water at a 50/50 ratio, mix well and store in airtight container.

Cornstarch Ornaments

These are so much easier to work with that salt-dough ornaments and they are so much prettier!  I just love them!  You could get quite creative with these ornaments and pass them around to your neighbors - it would probably be a nice break from all the sweets that get passed around this time of year.  Here's a link with the recipe & instructions:

"Let Him In" Key Ornament

I just helped assemble quite a few of these to pass out to our Relief Society ladies and I must say that I absolutely love this ornament.  The message is beautiful and I have been in love with skeleton keys ever since I first read (and watched) The Secret Garden.  You can find skeleton keys in bulk on several sites; I recommend searching on Etsy, eBay & Amazon.  Aside from the keys you will need some scrapbook paper, double-sided tape, a hole punch, ribbon & card-stock to print the poems on.  You can find everything you will need to print here for free!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Crock Pot Beef Stew

Who doesn't love a good stew this time of year?!  Sundays are perfect for using the crock pot; I love to prepare roast, chili, stew, chicken & get the idea.  Simply toss everything in, let it cook all day and the results are fantastic!  This stew is very simple and very delicious, hope you love it!

I was out of peas! Oops!

Crock Pot Beef Stew
1 pkg. lean stew meat
1 onion, finely diced
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
4 potatoes, washed & diced
3 carrots, peeled & diced
1 large tomato, diced OR 1 C. tomato sauce
1/2 C. frozen peas
2 cans beef broth
1 C. red wine
Salt & pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. dried parsley

1. Sear your stew meat in a very hot pan with a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper - this is not necessary but searing the meat seals in the juices and will result in more tender, melt-in-your-mouth meat.
2. Combine all ingredients, except peas, in crock pot and cook on low heat for 7-8 hours or on high heat for 4-6 hours.
3.  Add the peas 1 hour before serving (low heat) or 20 minutes before serving (high heat).
-Serves 6-8.

p.s. To thicken up your stew whisk 1/4-1/3 C. flour with 1 C. broth or milk and add when you add the peas.