Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween treat

It's all the buzz around the Bacon house today, in case you didn't check your calender, tomorrow is Halloween! The kids can not wait to put on their costumes and get themselves some treats. I decided to make Mr. Bacon and I a treat too. (Of course we'll sneak some out of the kids buckets after they go to bed tomorrow, but how about a treat for during the day!!) One of our local grocery stores each fall has pumpkin spice cookies for sale, $4.99 for TWELVE cookies! EEK. I've been searching high and low for a recipe that matches these cookies and I've finally found it. I couldn't wait to share it with everyone here. So Trick or Treat, Here's a yummy recipe for your Halloween that you can enjoy the rest of fall too!

Pumpkin spice cookies

3/4 cups butter softened (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground all spice or ground cloves

extra sugar for rolling cookies in

Mix butter, sugar, egg and molasses in bowl or mixer. Add in spices, baking soda, and flour. Mix well. Roll 1 tbsp dough into 1" balls and roll in sugar. Place on baking sheet. Bake at 350* for 10-12 min. They should get cracked and puffy in the oven. Don't over bake them! They'll turn into rocks.

Once again these don't take that long to make, so bake some up for a great Halloween treat for yourself! I hope you enjoy them.
(and they go very well with a cup of coffee with some pumpkin spice coffee creamer!)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Soup inproves with age

Hanging in my kitchen is a little sign that says "wine improves with age, the older I get the more I like it". This also applies to soup in our case. When Mr. Bacon and I were younger we didn't care much for soup. But as we grew older and had more kids, it turned into one of our favorite meals. Especially on days like today. Do you want to know the weather report for central Minnesota? It's a blustery rainy 44 degrees, with wind gusts up to 60 MPH today! Defiantly soup weather here.

Today I happened to make one of my favorites, Veggie beef soup. It seems like a lot of ingredients (remember I like to make simple ingredient meals) but this is more of a dump soup, just measure out stuff, dump it in and let it go. And trust me it's well worth the extra 'stuff' in there because this soup is delicious! Another thing I like about this soup, it goes right in my slow cooker! I talked about how much I love my slow cooker here if you missed it.

Here is what you need.

Veggie Beef Soup
1.5 lbs stew meat cut into cubes and browned or ground hamburger browned
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp oregano (Italian seasoning works too in a pinch)
1/2 tsp basil
1 bay leaf
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp seasoning salt
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1- 16 oz bag (or 2 cups) frozen mixed veggies
1- 15oz can diced tomatoes undrained (I like the Italian kind)
1 package dry onion soup mix
5 cups hot water
1- 14 oz can beef broth
1- 8oz can tomato sauce
2-3 stalks celery chopped
4-5 medium potatoes - chopped

Mix it all together in a large slow cooker. I use my 7 quart slow cooker for this (it's one of my 4 slow cookers I have! I told you I love to use them). Cook on high for 5-6 hours or low for 7-8 hours until all veggies are soft and your house smells wonderful!

A few adjustments: Make sure to season your stew meat if you use it. I put a little salt & pepper on it when I saute it in olive oil. Also I use beef bullion instead of broth, it's just easy to store in at our house. Two cups water to 2 tsp bullion granules to replace the can of beef broth. I was out of just plan oregano today too, so I replaced it with Italian seasoning which works too.

This soup tastes great with some fresh Italian bread or some crunchy garlic toast. I have to say I've very excited for dinner tonight!


As you can see it turned out wonderful. Mr Bacon said he approves! One thing I forgot to mention, make sure you take out the bay leaf when it's done cooking and throw it away, they are not meant to be eaten!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pack a lunch or not?

Each weekday morning I get up and pack some lunches, none of them my own. But that's ok because that's part of the whole budget thing. Mr. Bacon does not have the option to buy his lunch at work. To me this is a huge budget saver for us. We are forced to pack a lunch each day for him or he'd go hungry. Or worse yet eat out of the vending machine! So each night after dinner I pack up the leftovers for Mr. Bacon lunch the next day.

That only takes care of one of the lunches I need to make. The other is for Bacon Jr. Being in school every day, he either has to bring his own lunch or have the school lunch. Now I have to say looking over his school lunch menu, it doesn't sound all that bad! BUT, it's cost is $1.75 a day. And for our family to stay on budget, I get up and pack a lunch. Now you're thinking $1.75 a day doesn't sound all that bad. In fact it's cheaper than a lot of other schools out there. But as Bacon jr. pointed out to me, there are 180 days of school each year. Breaking out my trusty calculator that comes out to $315 a school year. Right now that might be manageable, but in 7 years when Bacon bit is in school full time and we have to pay for 4 kids, that comes to $1260 a school year! Add on the other things they need for school like milk for snack, sports, field trips... It's a huge bust on the budget.

Packing a lunch isn't that much work in the morning. Something to drink, a sandwich, some fruit, a cookie sounds good right? One thing to keep a watch for is making sure what you are packing for lunch doesn't cost more than buying school lunch. Making stuff homemade helps and tastes better. To make sure there is some variety Bacon jr has a menu to choose from at home, but last year he didn't want much variety. He was content taking good old PB&J. The catch, he wouldn't eat the crust no matter what I tried. And I hated throwing away half a sandwich everyday. So I needed a solution. I was browsing blogs one day when I came across a post from my friend the little frugalista about homemade uncrustable sandwiches Here. And it was like a light went off, a true why didn't I think of it moment. So I started making Bacon jr. homemade uncrustable's and guess what, he ate all of it. (and yes I save the crust, dry it out and make breadcrumbs in case you were wondering what happened to it)
Now it's no rocket science making one, 2 slices of bread, some PB&J, and a wide mouth canning ring. Spread the PB&J on the bread and use the ring to cut it with (any larger cookie cutter will work too!) Now if you want to really save yourself time in the morning, these can be frozen just like the one's in the store too. One tip for freezing, you want to spread peanut butter on both pieces of bread before putting the jelly on them to keep the bread from getting soggy. You can seal them together by using a fork to crimp the edges too. Wrap them in plastic wrap and stick them in the freezer. Take one out and toss it in the lunch box in the morning and it should be thawed by lunch time.

As for other things to pack, I use a re-usable thermos for kool-aid, water or milk, I put some of my own canned peaches or pears or a cut up apple (another tip, rub some lemon juice on the cut apple to keep it from turning brown and no it won't taste like lemons when it's eaten) in a small container. Toss in a homemade cookie or granola bar and you've got a lunch without busting your budget. Speaking of those granola bars, I make them too, don't they look good! I made a batch today and added some fun halloween sprinkles to the top.

Here's a really simple no bake recipe.

Granola bars:

2.5 cups crispy rice cereal (rice krispies)
2 cups quick oats oatmeal
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup raisins

In bowl place cereal, oats and raisins and set aside. In sauce pan, bring brown sugar and corn syrup to a boil, stir often. Once it's boiling, remove from heat and stir in peanut butter and vanilla. Once smooth, pour over cereal mixture and mix well. Let cool for a few minutes and then stir in chocolate chips ( if you don't let it cool for a bit and add in the chocolate, they will melt!). Press firmly in greased 9x13 pan and allow to cool. Once cool cut into bars. Store in air tight container.

Once again this is a recipe you can change up. The bars pictured above, I didn't put in the raisins. I doubled the chocolate chips to 1 cup and used mini chocolate chips instead. Pretty much you can add what ever you'd like, some chopped nuts and cranberries, just raisins, how about some peanut butter chips or mini M&M's? The possibilities are endless and the best part is the kids LOVE them. I even sneak some in Mr. Bacon's lunch! Go on give them a try and let me know what you think.

Friday, October 22, 2010

What's a cupcake with out some frosting?

Tonight it was one of those rare times when all the kids were actually quiet in the house. They were sitting down (amazing I know!) watching a movie before bedtime. So I decided I'd whip up a batch of cupcakes. I remembered I had some cute Halloween cupcake liners that I got on clearance after last years season and knew the kids would love them. I dug out what I needed to make the cake, water, oil, eggs... and yes my box cake mix! I have a newborn around, there isn't THAT much time for cakes from scratch. Of course once I bought out my mixer, there were no more sitting kids! But one thing I love is baking with my bacon babies.

I decided it wasn't in my best interest to frost the cupcakes just before the kids bedtime. Yes they are sweet kids, giving them sugar at bedtime makes for a long night of Mama Bacon putting kids back in bed! So once everyone was tucked in and snoozing I dug out a frosting recipe. I have a binder with lots of my favorite recipes in it, it's so full it's falling apart. Not only are the pages full of recipes, I have sticky notes and scrap paper just stuck where ever I can find a spot with recipes on it. When I opened the book up tonight, this little paper fell out at me and what was on it? A butter cream frosting recipe! I couldn't argue with what jumps out of the cookbook at me so I whipped it up!

Butter Cream Frosting:
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup shortening
1/8 tsp salt
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
5 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk

Throw it all in a bowl and whip it all up until fluffy. If it seems too runny or soft for what you'd like, add extra powdered sugar, or if it's too stiff, add more milk.

This is a great recipe. It tastes identical to vanilla frosting you'd buy in the can at the store. You can color it to your desire with food coloring too, like the orange for halloween I used tonight. And if you thicken up the frosting a bit (just keep adding more powdered sugar), it's works great in a pastry bag for piping frosting on your cake. See!

And what's a cupcake with out some sprinkles? (or jimmies if you grew up in Grandma Bacon's household!)

Tomorrow I will have 3 very happy kids who keep asking the same question. "can we have cupcakes for breakfast?" You gotta love kids! Now before you think I've gone completely off the deep end, after all I just had a baby 5 weeks ago, take a deep breath. Here's the other 1/2 of the cupcakes.

I had decided to try to make all the cupcakes fancy like you'd find in the store, there's no arguing with buying the store one's if mom can make them just as good if not better at home right?! Who am I kidding, it's CAKE and FROSTING. My kids won't care if it looks like I bought them, they just want to eat them up!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A faster donut

Remember about a month ago I was having a crazy pregnancy craving for donuts? If not, then check it out here. Well I can't blame the cravings on pregnancy now, but today I caught myself daydreaming about donuts again. And then I remembered the recipe my friend sent me a few days after my donut post for donut muffins! So I had to try them out today.

Donut muffins:

Regular muffin pan – yields 12

Mini muffin pan – yields 36

1/3 c. shortening

1 egg

1 ½ t. baking powder

¼ t. nutmeg

½ c. white sugar

1 ½ c. flour

½ t. salt

½ c. milk

For after muffins are baked, see instructions below:

6 T. melted butter

½ c. white sugar

1 t. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix thoroughly the shortening, sugar and egg. Add alternately the dry ingredients and milk. Do not over beat. Fill muffin tins about 2/3 full. Here mine are all ready for the oven!

Bake to a golden brown; 20-25 min. for regular size, 15 min. for mini-muffins. Here are mine all out of the oven. They're even yummy just this way without the sugar coating. I just couldn't wait, I had to try one right out of the oven.

While muffins are baking, melt butter and set aside. This I found out is an important step. You need to let the butter cool for a bit after it's melted. If you don't, the sugar dissolves when you dip the muffin in it like in my picture here. You can see the front left muffin the sugar had dissolved, unlike the one's farther back that were dipped once my butter started to cool. See you learn something new everyday right!

In a separate bowl (I used a ziploc type baggie for this, it worked great. I just dumped the muffin in and gave it a shake. This could be a great step for little helpers!), combine white sugar and cinnamon and set aside. Remove from pans and dip at once into melted butter and then into sugar mixture. I dipped just the tops in the butter. Another key to these is to dip them RIGHT after you take them out of the pan. Yes they'll be a little warm but that's the idea, the sugar will stick the the muffin if they are still warm.

So how do they taste? JUST like a cinnamon sugar cake donut hole. They are delicious I have to say. Little boy bacon couldn't leave them alone either, I think he stole 3 right after I dipped them. Mr. Bacon, being an expert in donuts, approved of them as well! I guess I know what I'm having with my coffee in the morning, do you?

Monday, October 18, 2010

I want this... and this.. and...

It's that time of year again, are your kids bugging you about what to put on Santa's list yet? What do you mean Santa? It's not even Halloween yet right!?! I know around out house the kids are all buzzing when the newspaper comes to look at the toy ads and circle what they want on their wish list. It doesn't help that little miss bacon's birthday is only a few weeks away and she keeps wondering what her presents will be.

But along with those lists comes questions of where do we find the money for presents (no matter what you celebrate). This questions ate at me about 2 years ago and I hated the feeling of wondering where I was going to find the money for Christmas presents again this year. So Mr Bacon and I decided to add a special envelope just for presents in our budget. This included not just Christmas presents but also birthdays though out the year. It's worked really well since we've started it. I no longer feel that dreaded feeling.

We also started doing another thing that helps back when little miss Bacon was born. We started buying toys at garage sales or thrift stores and wrapping them up for the kids for Christmas or birthdays! Go ahead, tell the bacon kids their toys were previously played with before I wrapped them up, let my secret out of the bag. It's OK because the best part, they don't care! They're just happy to have some new toys to play with.

Everyone benefits to this. For one, my budget doesn't get crushed by buying new toys for now four kids by the time the holiday arrives since second hand toys are usually 90% less than the retail price. The environment wins two ways, gently used toys are not going to the dump and all that packaging (you know that annoying stuff that takes you 1223.287 hours to open while an impatient child waits for you to get it done faster) isn't going there too. You've saved yourself 1223.287 hours of opening that crazy packaging that gets placed on kids toys. (Really have you ever wondered who's job it is to think of how to package kids toys? They for sure have never had kids of their own.) And I know my sanity has been saved by not stressing over where money will come from to buy they toys.

Another thing I love is I start shopping early. Hopefully this year my holiday shopping will be done by the beginning of December. I'm half way done with buying the kids presents already by shopping yard sales and store sales this summer.

So what are your kids wanting now? Where can you find it cheaper? Right now it's fall here in Minnesota and that means our yard sale days are over. But there are still a lot of places to look. Do you have a goodwill, savers, 2nd hand store or thrift shop in your area. Check those out. How about craigslist? There are a lot of great toys on there. And there is always ebay. Just remember to factor in shipping costs, I've found some 'deals' are not really saving money once I add in the cost of shipping. In fact some times it makes it even more than buying it full price at the store.

*A note on ebay and craigslist: if you're on there looking for items, you can bet you are not alone! So if it's too late to start that envelope for presents, scour your house and find things that you can sell! Are there some of those gently used toys laying around that your kids haven't touched in years? That new purse you only used once? I just made over $200 this week selling on ebay so start listing stuff and make yourself some extra holiday cash!*

Now not all our toys are bought 2nd hand, some things we can't find, or just not worth it. I watch the sales all year long for things that I know I can expect on the kids wish lists. Again this helps with the presents envelope, there's always money there if I find a great deal on something they want. So start looking at those sales ads.... after all there's only 67 days until Christmas!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I'm still alive...and I love my crockpot!

Ppphhhhttt... Let me just blow some of the dust out from around here.

Sorry for no posts lately. No I didn't fall off the face of the earth. Bacon bit decided to make his grand entrance into the world... 6 weeks early just like his siblings. We've been adjusting to life with a newborn again. Although it's been amazing holding my little boy, I'm feeling the sleep deprivations a lot. This also means I have little energy to get though the day and much less to actually cook anything. And with Mr. Bacon going back to work this week, I had to step up and actually cook again! I am very thankful for my slow cooker. Over the weekend when I meal planned for the next two weeks I made sure to plan lots of slow cooker meals. Using a slow cooker I can throw a ton of stuff in it, turn it on and several hours later we have a homecooked hot meal.

So in the morning when the bigger kids are at school I can toss my food in and get dinner going and I'm not stuck with the 'what to make for dinner tonight' question or trying to run around while all 4 kids are home to make dinner when I need to feed a baby and help with homework.

So what's on the menu for tonight? Cheesy ham and hash brown bake:

2lbs (or close to that size, I think the bag is just under) shredded frozen hash browns
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup milk
1/2 pint sour cream
2 cups fully cooked diced ham (bigger chunks)
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Spray crock pot with non-stick cooking spray. Mix everything together in a large bowl, transfer it to your crock pot. This makes a lot so plan to use about a 6qt size slow cooker or so. Place on med/low heat for 8hrs or high for 4hrs. This is really good served with some biscuits too.

Variations: Don't have a slow cooker yet? No problem. This goes great in the oven too. Bake it at 375* for 1 hour. This also can make a wonderful potato side dish by omitting the ham. We make this a lot to go along with an Easter ham. And speaking of Easter ham, that's is exactly where my ham for this dish is coming from. We bought 2 hams at Easter time, Cooked both the same time in my large roaster and then froze the leftover (with our foodsaver system- I LOVE that thing!) Now I have ham for year round at the cheap sale prices at holiday time. We also do this with turkeys at Thanksgiving time.

Other easy meals I like to throw in my slow cooker are roasts. Beef or Pork. Place the whole roast in the slow cooker. Add about 3/4c. water to the bottom. Sprinkle some salt, pepper and season salt over the top (a few friends of mine sprinkle a packet of dry onion soup mix over it too) and let it cook all day long. You can even toss in a frozen roast in the morning and cook it on high all day long if you forgot to pre-plan your meal. Cook thawed roast on low for 8hrs or high for 4-5 hrs until tender. Toss in some peeled carrots and potatoes with it too and you've got a complete meal.

And one more great crock pot recipe for today-

Chicken and Rice:
1 cup rice
2.5 cups hot water
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup (can use cream of celery if like more celery taste)
1lb chicken breasts- each cut in 1/2
1 package dry onion soup mix

Mix all ingredients except chicken together in slow cooker. Place chicken breasts on top. Sprinkle with a little paprika (1/2 tsp or so) and cook high for 3-4 hrs or low for 6-8hrs until Chicken is done. The rice is suppose to be a little sticky with this meal. Sever it up with a side of veggies (or throw some broccoli in to cook with it!) and you've got a great meal.

Again this meal can go in the oven too. Place in baking dish and cover with foil. Bake 375* for 2 hrs.