Friday, January 31, 2014

February Spending Strike

Back at the end of December I read this book. It was a very quick read and thought provoking. And the author lives here in Iowa, actually not too far away from me. The idea is intriguing, to not spend any money out of your bank account for one whole month; besides paying your bills, etc. But to give up any and all unnecessary spending? For some it may seem like a piece of cake, but for many others, it would take some major dedication and self discipline.

I mentioned before, some Iowa bloggers were jumping in with their own spending strikes for January. Our family thought long and hard about this and decided we needed to wait until February to participate. It sounds like a fun challenge but we knew we had some things going on that would be necessary for us to swipe the debit card. It seemed only fair we do this the right way.

So here we are, February 1st is tomorrow. No backing out now!

You know honestly, this shouldn't be hard for us. We're not big spenders, mainly because we can't afford to be. I'm blessed to be able to work from home and be here for my kiddos, but in order to do that, we have made sacrifices. We can't go out to eat very often, I keep our grocery budget pretty low, we don't take extravagant vacations, we don't drive brand new vehicles and I love not having a car payment because of that.  But I promise you, our kids are not lacking in anything!

My hope for this month is to just have fun with this challenge. Yes, it may get hard at times. The kids might whine because they want a couple quarters to spend at the machines after bowling. The hubby is going to miss going out for dinner with his buds after bowling league. I'm going to force myself to plan out my errands a little better, making the best use of my time and gas so that I'm not wasting.

So let's get started. Here are our "rules" for the month:

February Spending Strike Rules:

1.  All bills and necessary expenses will be paid for the month. {i.e. bowling league and dance lessons}
Gas- Both vehicles will start with a full tank of gas, our aim is to make mine last the entire month, since I work from home I don't drive the van much. Josh, on the other hand will have to fill up at least once. We're going to be more conscious about our driving through this challenge.

2. Absolutely NO unnecessary spending allowed! This means no quarters for the girls after bowling, no eating out for Josh on Monday nights and no shopping for clothes, books, toys, etc. 

3. No gift card spending allowed. {We received a nice amount of gift cards for Christmas, but we've decided that seems like cheating to us if we use those}We also decided if we take back pop cans, sell items at the consignment shop, etc; that money is to not be spent. That's cheating, again!

4. In the event of an emergency or an absolute necessary expense comes up, we will review the case and take the steps needed. {i.e. doctor visits, household repair, etc}

5. We are aiming to eat from our pantry, freezer and fridge for the whole month, using up ingredients we already have on hand. Now keep in mind, we have small children and I care for a few kids 3 days a week for daycare. Under no circumstance would I put their health in jeopardy for some silly challenge. But I know for a fact that my freezers are full of meat, veggies, fruit and many other items that I have preserved from the summer months. I have decided to allow $15 each week to be used towards milk, eggs and any sort of produce I can buy with that amount of money. 

6. Since I do decorate cakes/cupcakes on the side and I already have orders on the calendar for the month. I will be purchasing the needed ingredients for those orders.


What do you think? Anyone on board and want to join our family?! Leave a comment below and let me know. My goal is to update once a week and let you know how our challenge is going. If you're joining in, I'd love to hear your progress or any tips you might have.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Taco Soup

Over the years I have to admit, I've gotten so much better about using up leftovers in our fridge. Growing up, I don't remember our family eating leftovers much. I suppose in that way, we were sort of spoiled.

Even in my first few years of marriage I remember cleaning out the fridge and throwing away container after container of food. I'm sorry if that makes you cringe. I realize how wasteful that must seem.  But fast forward to now, I make an extra effort to either use up those leftovers for lunches the next day or to re-create a whole new meal.

When we make tacos, I always make up extra meat just because they're actually one meal that's really good the next day. Or it's even easier to make into a whole other meal. Whether it be taco pizza, nachos, taco pasta bake or this soup. Especially now that we spent a good chunk of money on locally pastured meat, I aim to not waste a darn bit of it!

Since we were in for a blizzard warning Sunday night through Monday, this was the perfect meal to have on that cold night. Topped with cheddar cheese, crushed tortilla chips and avocado.....yum! I could go for another bowl right now.

Taco Soup

1 lb. ground beef/seasoned taco meat
14.5 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
15 oz. can tomato sauce
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes {do not drain}
2 cups water
1 green pepper, diced
1 cup frozen corn
salt and pepper, to taste
1-1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker, stir well. Cover and let cook on low throughout the day, for at least 5-6 hours. When ready to serve, ladle into bowls. Serve with grated cheddar cheese, tortilla chips and avocado if desired.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cookies 'n Cream Parfaits

Besides this crappy weather we're currently having in northeast Iowa, it was a fabulous weekend in our house. We didn't do much of anything, which was welcomed by everyone; we also enjoyed these parfaits on Saturday evening.

I felt like making something special for the girls to enjoy after dinner. They definitely loved their pudding cups, especially because they had Oreos folded in the pudding, which is a huge treat in this house!

I like making my pudding and whipped cream from scratch, it's really pretty easy and tastes so much better than the store bought kind. But if you're feeling a little strapped on time or intimidated by the thought, by all means, whip up a box of instant pudding. But at least make your own whipped cream, I promise it will only take you three minutes. It's worth it, I swear!

Cookies 'n Cream Parfaits


For the pudding:
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup chocolate chips {I used a combo of milk chocolate and semi-sweet}
1/2 tsp vanilla

For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
5-6 Oreos, crushed plus more for topping

For the pudding:  In a saucepan, stir together sugar, corn starch, cocoa powder and salt. Gradually pour in milk and heavy cream, whisking to combine well. Let come to a boil, making sure to whisk constantly, let boil for about 2 minutes. The pudding will start to thicken at this point. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate chips and vanilla. Stir until smooth.

Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and store in fridge for at least two hours or until set.

To make whipped cream: Add cream to a large bowl. Using the whisk attachment, beat cream on a high speed. When the cream starts to thicken, gradually add in powdered sugar and vanilla. As the cream forms soft peaks you may stop mixing and fold in crushed Oreos.

To assemble parfaits: Layer pudding and whipped cream into cups or bowls, ending with whipped cream. Sprinkle crushed Oreos on top if desired. Enjoy!

Makes enough for 3-4 good sized parfaits.

In other fun news, have you heard that I'm now a field editor with Taste of Home magazine? I'm pretty stoked about this new opportunity. I was surprised to come home Saturday morning from the girls' bowling league and find a box on my front porch. Of course the hubby instantly asked what I bought haha. These were just some of the goodies they sent me, how awesome is that?!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Roasted Honey Chickpeas

Snack time, we all love snacks whether we're kids or adults. Mid afternoon rolls around and we're reaching for the nearest thing to tide us over until I right? In our house snacks mostly consist of fresh fruit, veggies, yogurt, string cheese and maybe the occasional homemade snack or packaged crackers.

It's nice to change it up from time to time. I always feel like we easily get in a rut when it comes to snacks. That's why I'm so excited to share these sweet and crunchy chickpeas with you! While they're not something I ever thought I would enjoy, they are disappearing quickly in our house. And I love the fact that it's a healthy treat.

They do take a little bit of effort to prepare, but not much I promise. The most tedious step is peeling off the outer layer of the beans, which I'm sure is not even required. After a little roasting in the oven, you've got yourself a healthy, slightly sweet and crunchy snack to munch on. Go on give them a try and let me know what you think.

Roasted Honey Chickpeas

15 oz. can garbanzo beans {chickpeas}
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1-2 tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse and drain beans from can, lay them onto paper towels and pat dry. Then remove the outer layer from each bean, this should easily slip off.

In a small bowl, whisk together oil and cinnamon. Add beans to mixture and toss to coat well. Distribute beans onto a baking sheet. Bake in oven for 40 minutes, or until crunchy.

Remove from oven, transfer to another bowl and toss with honey. Use between one and two tablespoons of honey, based on your preference. I used about 1-1/2 tbsp.

Bake for another 6-7 minutes. Then remove from oven and let cool completely before enjoying.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Oatmeal Fudge Bars

Do you ever feel like you could use an extra day just to recuperate from the weekend?  This feels like one of those days. We were on the go for the large part of our weekend. Our girls all competed in a city bowling tournament that took place both Saturday and Sunday. They all did wonderful, especially our oldest. She bowled her first 500 series! It was a great milestone to witness her reach.

I did manage to get the house all cleaned up before we took off Saturday, with the help of the whole family. It was nice to come home yesterday to a fairly clean house, makes for a nice Sunday evening I tell ya.

I made these bars the previous weekend for us to enjoy throughout the week. I'd be lying if I told you they were healthy, but I like to think they are a tad more healthy than your typical bar. With a oat crust and a rich fudgy, brownie-like filling; they leave you feeling satisfied without being too sweet.

I honestly wasn't sure what the family would think of them, but each time I came back to the pan for just a small piece, more and more disappeared. The little ones kept asking for a piece here and there. That right there tells me it's a keeper.

Oatmeal Fudge Bars

for the crust:
1 cup flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup coconut oil {melted}
2 tbsp melted butter

3/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
3 tbsp melted butter
3 tbsp coconut oil {melted}
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Light grease a 11x8-inch baking pan and set aside.

To make crust, combine flour, oats, brown sugar and baking soda in a bowl. Add in oil and butter, mix together using a fork until mixture is crumbly. Remove 3/4 cup of mixture and set aside. Press the remaining dough into the bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 12 minutes and remove from oven to cool slightly.

To make filling, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add in milk, butter, oil, vanilla and eggs. Mix together well. Fold in chocolate chips.

Spread chocolate batter over oat crust. Sprinkle with the reserved oat mixture. Bake for 33-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Let pan cool before cutting into bars.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Pulled Buffalo Chicken Sliders

I admit, I'm probably the last person to try making these sliders. Now that I finally have, they've become a new favorite.

We had these for dinner over the weekend and had just enough meat leftover to use in quesadillas and a couple mini pizzas for my lunch one day. So besides making great little sliders, the meat is awesome to use in other dishes. I'm thinking it would be great to keep on hand in the freezer, easy to thaw and use for various meals.

My husband doesn't always love slow cooker meals, he tends to think chicken especially tastes funny and sometimes dry. Even he was quite surprised at how juicy the chicken stayed, and how flavorful it really was.

With the Super Bowl coming up shortly, I'm sure these would be an awesome addition to your spread. You get all the great flavors of buffalo wings, but without the mess!

Pulled Buffalo Chicken Sliders

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper
1 cup buffalo wing sauce {I love Cookie's Wings n' Things}
Small cocktail buns
Ranch dressing, if desired

Season both sides of chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place chicken in slow cooker, add garlic clove on top. Pour buffalo wing sauce over chicken breasts. Cover and let cook on low for 6 hours. Remove chicken from slow cooker, shred with forks and return to pot so it can soak up all of those juices.

When ready to serve, place shredded chicken on buns, drizzle ranch dressing {or blue cheese} on top if desired.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Italian Veggie and Chicken Soup

I made the most delicious soup last week; it was simple, nourishing, flavorful and totally hit the spot on a cold day. It was the perfect way to use up some of the veggies in our fridge because really, just about anything would taste good in here.

There was just enough for the girls and I to enjoy for dinner with leftovers for lunch the next day. Plus I stashed a small container in the freezer for lunch someday with the daycare kiddos. I'm thinking they will gobble this right up as they are usually fantastic eaters for me!

I'll admit though, my favorite part of the meal? Probably the big hunk of fresh bread we served alongside. Great for soaking up of all of those juices. Nothing beats fresh bread, nothing!

Italian Veggie and Chicken Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 zucchini, diced
2 carrots, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
4-1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup shredded or diced cooked chicken
14.5 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes
15 oz. can white beans, rinsed and drained
2 kale stalks, ribs removed and chopped finely
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp oregano
1 tbsp basil

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add in garlic and let cook for 2 minutes. Next add in chopped zucchini, carrots and bell pepper, stirring often. Let cook for 4 minutes, until slightly softened. Stir in broth, chicken, tomatoes, beans and kale. Add in seasonings and adjust according to taste if necessary. Let mixture simmer for about 15 minutes. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with crusty bread if desired.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Chicken Tostadas w/Chipotle Mango Slaw

Last week I shared this photo on facebook, we love tacos or anything similar in our house. They're easy and a dish the girls are always willing to eat.

I love getting creative in the kitchen, combining new flavors and seeing what comes of them. That's exactly what happened with this particular meal. I used ingredients we had on hand and needed used up and it turned out pretty darn good. For the girls I made their portions into actual tacos and didn't include much of the slaw because it did have a little kick to it. Instead adding some of their favorite toppings likes bell peppers.

Chicken Tostadas w/Chipotle Mango Slaw

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
chili powder
smoked paprika
salt and pepper
2 cups coleslaw mix
zest of one lime, plus juice
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, chopped finely
3 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp honey
1 mango, peeled, pitted an cut into chunks
handful of cilantro, chopped
corn tortillas

Season chicken breasts liberally with spices, salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large skillet, cook chicken until cooked through. Cut into small cubes or shred, set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine lime zest, juice, chipotle chile, sour cream and honey. Add in coleslaw mix, mango and cilantro. Toss ingredients together to combine. Add in a pinch of salt to season.

Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook tortillas one at a time, about 2 minutes per side, just until crisp and lightly browned. Remove and immediately top with coleslaw mixture and chicken.

So any big plans this weekend? 

I spent part of my evening cleaning out and re-organizing our pantry cupboards. I wrote all contents down so I know exactly what we have on hand. We're gearing up for a spending strike in February. Have you heard of such a thing?

Essentially our family is going to try not to spend any money, outside of paying our bills, throughout the month. I'm working on our "rules" this weekend so we can prepare and everyone knows what to expect. We're not big spenders anyways so it should be fairly painless but a fun little experiment nonetheless. My main goal is to make sure we're using up items in our pantry and freezer so they don't go to waste. I'll be posting more in detail once it gets closer.

For now though, check out Michelle and Kelli's blogs for details on how they're implementing their own strikes for January.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Maple Roasted Butternut Squash

This past Fall, at our last farmers market I made sure to stock up on a few things, including winter squash. I've never tried storing them for long periods of time. I'm excited that they've done so well this far, including a box of apples we picked back in October.

But it's time to start using them up, as we've only got a few left anyways.

The girls are still kind of funny about certain veggies, they really do prefer them in the raw state. Until very recently I was the same way for many vegetables. I've gotten so much better and after participating in our first CSA last summer, I crave them! I really miss receiving a boat load of fresh veggies every week.

I did require them to try two bites, two small pieces. I know, I'm mean. It won't hurt them, while they didn't really love the butternut squash, they didn't say it was awful. I'll take it!

I personally loved it. It's sort of sweet from the maple syrup but I love how the garlic really balances out the flavors. It was the perfect addition to our meal on Friday night, Parmesan crusted chicken.

Maple Roasted Butternut Squash

1 butternut squash
1 large clove garlic, peeled and halved
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp pure maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel and seed butternut squash, cut into cubes. Place squash and garlic on a baking sheet. Toss with olive oil, maple syrup and salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven to turn squash using a spatula and then let bake for another 20 minutes. Serve warm with your meal.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bacon Cheddar Ranch Pull-Apart Bread

New Year's Eve night usually consists of us staying home with the kids and myself making up a few different appetizers for us to munch on. Nothing too fancy, but it works for us and we enjoy staying in where it's warm and not waking up with a headache the next day.

This year the hubby had to work both days...blah! So my side of the family came over to keep the girls and I company for a little bit. We watched the kids dance to their new Just Dance game on the Wii, talked and of course ate. My mom was a lifesaver and brought along most of the food as I had kids all day for daycare. But I did manage to whip up something quick.

I've fallen in love with pull-apart breads, they're fun and really easy to make! I made two kinds that night, this savory bacon, cheddar and ranch kind and then also a sweet bread. While it was good, I need to experiment a little more to perfect that recipe.

I had a hard time finding a regular sized round loaf so I went with these simple bread bowls our local bakery sells. Of course I could have purchased a french loaf and went that way, but round is so much more fun. It's almost like a garlic cheese bread with lots of bacon, so good and yet so simple.  I think the only thing that could have made this better, would to have some sort of dip to serve alongside. Yum!

Bacon Cheddar Ranch Pull-Apart Bread

1 small bread bowl
3-4 slices cooked bacon
1 tsp dry ranch seasoning
2 tbsp melted butter
grated cheddar cheese

Using a sharp knife cut into bread, criss-crossing but making sure to not cut all the way through the bottom of the loaf.

Sprinkle cheese throughout the loaf, tucking into every nook and cranny. Crumble the bacon and do the same. Mix together melted butter and ranch seasoning in a small bowl. Drizzle all over bread.

Wrap bread in a large piece of foil. Place onto a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Open up the foil and let bake for another 5 minutes, just until cheese is melted.

Remove from oven and serve warm.
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