Saturday, November 13, 2010

So many choices... not enough time

In my last post I mentioned the MOPS meeting I went to and how we always have some yummy there to eat. This month it was our groups turn to bring the treats. Oh the decisions I had to make! If you know Ma Bacon, you know I LOVE to bake. (In fact Mr. Bacon likes to cook too, we've invented some delicious dishes over the past years.) And if you happen to drop by unannounced at our house, I'll have something fresh out of the oven for you.

When I was told it was our month to bring treats, my mind started to wander. It was a hard decision. There was no way I could just run to the store and buy some over priced cookies in a box. I was thinking of bringing these pumpkin cookies I posted here since they are perfect for fall, and I've been craving them with my coffee again. I decided to break out my cook book binder where I keep all my favorite recipes and take a look though it. Humm... chocolate ganache tarts? Peanut butter filled chocolate cupcakes? Homemade fudge? Mini cheesecakes? Oh the choices! I finally decided on making some mini pumpkin cakes with cream cheese frosting, another fall favorite recipe I love. Best thing about these besides the taste? I already had all the ingredients on hand.

Pumpkin cake:

1 spice cake box mix
1 small box (4 serving size) instant vanilla pudding
3 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup water
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix with electric mixer on low for 30 seconds, then med/high for 2 minutes until everything is combined well. Place them in mini muffin pan lined with mini muffin papers. Bake according to the spice cake box directions.

Since there are no directions for mini muffins on the box usually, I started with 15 minutes for a time. Check them from there. They should spring back when touched on the top and the tooth pick inserted to the middle should be clean when poked in.

Again I love versatile recipes. Normally I make this cake in a bundt pan (you know those fancy round pans with a hole in the middle). Before I found this recipe the only think I made in my bundt pan was dust bunnies! It was nice to finally have a use for it. Don't have a bundt pan with dust bunnies in it? No problem, remember I don't want you to have to go buy anything fancy or that you'll never have another use for. You can bake this in just a 9x13 pan, round pans, normal cupcake pans, a round pyrex bowl... what ever you have around the house is just fine.

The original recipe came with a cool whip topping that is very good.

1- 16oz cool whip thawed
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Mix all together and serve on top of slice of pumpkin cake. Delicious! Add a scoop of butter pecan ice cream on the side and it's amazing! But for my meeting I wanted a topping that was a bit thicker, so I went with a cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese frosting:
1 - 8oz package cream cheese SOFTENED!
1/4 cup butter softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar

Mix all together with electric mixer. I actually had to add about 1/2 cup more powdered sugar to my recipe because I wanted to be able to pipe out the frosting. Not only was it fun, it was super fast to frost all 4 dozen of these mini cakes. If you've ever thought you'd like try to pipe out frosting, go for it. I was very intimidated by it at first thinking it would be hard and it's actually very easy. It's a great way to make dazzling desserts that friends think you've worked hours on! The hardest part of it all is getting the frosting in the bag. Once again this Mama could have used an extra set of hands for it! A note on this frosting, it will set up nice and firm in the fridge too (which is where it needs to be store if there are any leftovers!) If you are piping it on and you find it a bit too soft, put it in the fridge for a little bit.

I loved how these turned out with this frosting. Mr. Bacon couldn't agree more, he snatched up a few before I left! He was happy there were left overs of these too. He took them in for a class he was teaching and they got great reviews there as well. If you're looking for a wonderful dessert for the upcoming Thanksgiving dinner, this would be a great alternative to that pumpkin pie everyone else will bring.

Now you know I couldn't just bring one thing with me to help feed so many wonderful mommies, and the next thing was no debate. Since I first started making these donut muffins I've taken them to a lot of places for people to try and everyone loves them. I knew I wanted to share them with my friends as well.

So pumpkin cakes... check. Donut muffins... check. What else to bring. I was contemplating bringing yet another baked goodie, but thought perhaps we shouldn't fill ourselves up just on sweet treats so I pulled another favorite recipe out of my falling apart binder. Really I'll have to take a picture of it for you all, I really should get a new one. But that would cost more money, I'm sure Mr. Bacon has some duct tape around somewhere!

If you've ever been in a situation that you needed to bring a dish but lost at what to bring, this is a great choice. Few ingredients, simple to make and tastes great!

Italian Pasta Salad:
4 cups uncooked tri-color rotini pasta (the corkscrew type, and no they don't have to be tricolor)
1 - 6oz can black olives
1 cup pepperoni (about 3/4 of a 6oz package)
1/2 bottle (1 cup) Italian dressing

Cook noodles according to package and drain. Slice olives and cut pepperoni in fourths. Place everything in large bowl and mix all together until it's coated well with the dressing. Yet another recipe you can change for what's on hand or to your taste. Feel free to add more or less dressing. My sister makes this salad with fresh chopped veggies and mini corn on the cob!

Well the salad must have been a hit at my meeting because I brought home less than half of it. I turned it into lunch the next day for little boy Bacon and myself by adding some cooked chicken to it and a bit more dressing. It was wonderful!

It was a great evening of being out with other mommies. When I got home I received another exciting bit of news too, I won a cookbook in a giveaway from the blog here. I'm really excited since it is a frugal cookbook. I'm hoping to find some great meal ideas in it. One of my favorite things to do with my down time (yea, who am I kidding with 4 kids I don't have down time!) is enter online giveaways. Since Easter I've won 6 giveaways for all sorts of items! It's a lot of fun when you win and takes little time to do it. Some of the things I've won went for presents so that helped out my holiday budget too! If you want to join in on the fun check out the links on the left side in blogs that I love.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What's in your envelope?

Last night was our MOPS (mom's of preschoolers for those who didn't know) meeting. A bunch of mommies meet up once a month for a child-free night of much needed adult conversation with no interruptions from screaming kids, no spills to clean up and no breaking up fights! It's pure bliss! Usually we have a speaker at the meetings and do some fun craft along with eating yummy food. (more on that later!) Last night a woman came to tell us how to use coupons. I didn't learn anything new, which means that I'm keeping the most bacon in my pocket. And that's a good thing. I don't use coupons a ton, but when I do use them, they save me money. Even a small savings is money saved. Something Grandma Bacon taught me when I was little. I still remember my mom lugging around her coupons- in a SHOE BOX! She may have got odd stares and questions about her box, but they saved her a lot of money, and that's what matters.

Last night we also did a neat craft to make a coupon holder that I wanted to share with you. Ok so on to making it. The best part of making this is I'm sure you have all the supplies just laying around your house already and it will only take you 10 minutes!

Here is what you need:
Front cut off from a cereal box- I happened to have just finished my box of raisin bran this morning!
envelopes (as many as you'd like, I used 15)
piece of ribbon-(you don't need this if you don't have it. String or a clip will work too)
Double stick tape or glue

Whew... got all that! That's all you need.

First take your envelopes and fold back the flap so it is open. So OPPOSITE of folding it to seal the envelope.

Next take your double sided tape or glue and place it along the part you'd lick. (yes you can even just lick the envelope instead of using tape or glue). Now stick it to the back side of the next envelope (the part you wouldn't address if sending a letter). Keep repeating this process, stacking the envelopes on top of each other until you've added the amount of envelopes you want.

Here's my stack with all 15 stuck together:

Next. Fold your cereal cover in half. If you want you can make it fancy by glueing on material or a nice piece of scrapbook paper to the box front before this step. Add tape or glue to the top envelope and stick it to the top of one side of the folded cereal box. Repeat with the bottom envelope and stick it to the other top side of the cereal box.
Here they are all stuck together.

Next you can add your ribbon for a tie. Use glue (or tape) to stick it on. If you don't have ribbon you can paper punch a hole on each side of the top and use string to hold it together. Or even a clip or just rubber band the whole thing! What ever you have laying around.

Now it's all ready for your coupons. Last night I was talking with some of the other mommies about how we save money in the Bacon house. They were impressed we spend only $200 a month on groceries for all six of us and asked how we do it. One thing I mentioned was using the envelope system for saving and spending money. After I finished this craft I looked at it and thought how perfect it is for the envelope cash!

Wondering what to do this weekend? How about sitting down with your significant other and discuss your new budget! OH come on, it's suppose to be cold and we're suppose to get between 0-8 inches of snow depending on who you talk to... what else will there be to do! (Ok if you live someplace warm pretend your stuck in MN with all the snow! OH I'm not ready for snow yet.)

So where to begin with the envelope system. You can do what I did, start with google. Type in the envelope system and there will be lots of sites explaining it. Basically write down all the non- bill things you spend money on into categories. Then decide what amount of money you think you will need for the month to buy those things. For us, one envelope holds grocery money. Since we spend $200 a month on it, I put $80 in the envelope every two weeks. The other $40 goes into our envelope for Sam's Club which we usually visit every 2-3 months. Yes every 2 weeks I go and get CASH (you know that green paper stuff) out of the bank and fill up our envelopes.

When we first started this (back when Little Miss Bacon was just a baby) we started with baby steps. I took out for four categories - gas for vehicle 1, gas for vehicle 2, food, and 'other'. Our other category was for non- food things like toilet paper, diapers, cleaning products, ect. Over the years we realized we needed to budget for other things to take full advantage of a working budget. Need some ideas of where to start, here is the list of what is in our envelopes.

Gas-vehicle 1
Gas- vehicle2
Garbage bill
Water bill
Date night- for those rare cases where Mr. Bacon and I get to go out together without kids!
Car maintenance
Car tabs
Sam's Club
Alcohol (hey we even need to budget for that wine we drink!)
Hunting fund

This is what we found works for our budget. The water and garbage bill are not monthly bills, they usually are ever 3 months so it helps us to know we have the money to pay for those by taking the cash out and putting it in the envelopes. As for things like Car tabs and hunting, these are things we use only once a year, we take the cost, divide it by 12 and put that much in the envelope each month. So now when car tabs are due, there's no wondering where we are going to find the money for paying for them. Our Gift fund is for saving for birthday and christmas presents. I add money in it each month and when something goes on sale, or the kids get invited to a birthday party, I have money to pick those presents up.

Mr. Bacon and I have sat down together and decided how much money should be put in each envelope each month. Again when we first started we just kinda guessed at how much we'd need. At the time we have about $300 a month in the grocery budget for only 4 of us, and one was still a baby! Each month I'd look over our receipts to see what we didn't need to buy, or what else I could make from scratch. We'd challenge ourselves to only spend $x.xx of money to lower our grocery bill and we did!

So try it out, first steps are baby steps and just start talking about a budget or categories you need for your budget. Or if you already have one decide if using cash for everything will help save you more money. It has for us. We found if we have to pay cash for something, and when the cash is gone you are out for the month, it's a big eye opener of what we should buy vs. what we thought we wanted to buy. It also helped curb a lot of those impulse buys that are too easily forgotten when using plastic to pay for them.

So this weekend, grab a cup of hot cocoa, make yourself an envelope holder and decide what you are going to put in it! I'd love to hear what you came up with.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Where has November gone?

Wow it's already a third of the way though November. How did that happen? Our November started off busy at the Bacon residence with two birthdays. Mr. Bacon turned another year older (all I'll say is he's still older than me!) and the very next day Little Miss Bacon celebrated her birthday too. In true Bacon family tradition Little Miss Bacon picked out the type of birthday cake she wanted this year too. (in case you missed it I talked about budget birthday cakes here ) There was no surprise my princess wanted her favorite princess cake this year- Ariel. So I set off to get the creative juices running and remembered that we were leaving to go out of town the next day. Hummm.. I needed a cake that dazzled a princess, but wouldn't leave me with lots of leftovers that would go to waste.

I decided on cupcakes. Perfect for her big day, and gave me a solution to the leftover problem. Little miss Bacon LOVED her cake.

Notice the halloween cupcake wrappers? No. Neither did Little Miss Bacon! I got them on clearance too!

To make the Ariel cake I poured some cake batter in a greased ramekin and baked it slightly longer than the cupcakes, until the toothpick test came out clean. Once cooled I made a hole in the middle of it. I used the Ariel pocket sized doll Little Miss Bacon already had in her room for her special cake. (here's a tip, wrap the doll in plastic wrap before putting it in the cake, makes clean up and melt downs go a lot easier!) I frosted the cupcakes with the homemade frosting I posted about here. I even broke out the decorator tips and made the princess cupcakes fancy! They were a big hit! Add in a trip to Cabala's to look at the fish (Gotta love when the kids ask to go there for their birthday, nothing beats free fun!) and a trip out to dinner at her favorite restaurant... in all it was a great birthday for her. And as for the left over cupcakes, well I decided to bring them will us and share with the Grandparents. But my first thought was to freeze them! Yes you can freeze cake, with frosting too. So next time you have lots of left over cake, first pat yourself on the back because there usually are not left overs here! And then cut it into pieces or leave it whole and place it in a container with a nice tight fitting lid and toss it in the freezer.

Now that the sugar from that frosting has worn off, I have to tackle the next sugar problem in the house. If you are like me there is LOTS of these left laying inside the halloween bucket.

It's way to tempting to leave them in the bucket. They seem to wander into my mouth somehow if I do. What to do with them? Make some cookies! Unwrap them, chop them into small pieces and use them in the delicious cookie recipe I posted about earlier here. I have to say I love this basic recipe. It's so easy to change what to put in them. And every time they still turn out yummy!

Well the month may be a third over and we've kept busy. I've saved myself some money already, Little Miss Bacon had a great birthday, and I'll still keep Mr. Bacon's age a mystery!