Friday, February 28, 2014

Spending Strike Week 4 Update

We did it, we made it through the entire month of February! We've still got all day to make it through but that will be easy. I'm working on my grocery list and meal plan so I can hit up the store either late tonight or tomorrow. We're looking at most of the weekend with snow so the earlier I get this done, the better.

Let's recap events from the past week:

Fri/Sat/Sun: Last weekend wasn't a whole lot of fun as our kids were not feeling well. We didn't have much planned except to eat dinner with my family on Saturday night. We had to cancel our plans Saturday afternoon and it was too late to pull anything out for dinner. The hubby and I were the only ones who really were eating much at this point so dinner consisted of pulling a lone frozen pizza out and making that. I will admit, I was so tempted and wanted to run to the store for a few ingredients so I could make something better. But we made do.

Sunday night we officially were out of toilet paper. I knew it was going to be a stretch but I thought we might have been able to make it through the month on what we had to start with. Of course, I wasn't going to make them go all week without any. I sent Josh off to Sam's Club to grab toilet paper and a few other things while he was there to make the trip worthwhile. He also brought home Bounce fabric softener, saltine crackers, clementines and orange juice. With the kids being sick, I wanted to have more crackers on hand just in case and also more vitamin c for them. It was worth going against our rules just to have those few things on hand. We spent $46.

Mon: Over the weekend we discussed with our 6-year old that she would not be able to purchase any books this time at her book fair coming up this week during school conferences. Normally we let the girls each pick a book out, I am a huge advocate for reading and we love books as a family. But it would not hurt them this time to not buy one. I mean we make weekly visits to the library and have plenty of books at home anyways.

Well, Monday during the day I noticed her wallet wasn't in it's usual spot. She's been saving up her money for quite some time now, hoping to buy her own American Girl doll. I had to confront her when she got off the bus that afternoon. Indeed, she took the wallet to school and purchased $14 in books along with giving her friend $9 of her own money.

Of course, we were upset. She went against our wishes and did what she wanted to do. Our kids are pretty good for the most part, of course they can throw fits from time to time but never have done anything like this. She would need to be punished, especially because she tried lying to us about what happened. So she was grounded for much of the week, to her room. They don't have any sort of Nintendo or game systems they play, except for their Leap Pads on occasion. That was also taken away.

It made me think, did we take this challenge too far? Was I being too strict on the family?

Wed: Our oldest had a chorus trip planned for school that involved them stopping at a restaurant for lunch. We gave her $7 so she could eat lunch that day.

I also realized that by not doing any couponing this month, I let my $8 in extra care bucks from CVS expire this week. After taking a break for a couple years I had started back up last October and have a nice stockpile going for our toiletries. In January though I cut back and only went twice and spent a total of $3 out of pocket for the month. I am by no means an extreme couponer but I do like to have a nice stash of toothpaste, etc on hand. Plus we donate the majority of what I get!

Thurs/Fri: The kids have been out of school these past two days due to conferences being held. That means getting a little more creative with meals since they're home for lunch now too. Luckily, we have some leftovers from dinners so that helps.

They're also counting down, they know tomorrow means that we can officially spend money again. But that also means we're not running out to any stores just so we can buy something. That wasn't the purpose behind this challenge.

Weekly Meal Plan:
Saturday: Frozen pizza
Sunday: Turkey, mashed potatoes, baked beans,salad, homemade bread
Monday: Leftovers (since no one really ate)
Tuesday:  Spaghetti, salad
Wednesday: Maid-rites, carrot sticks, potato chips
Thursday: beef fillets, cut up potatoes, green beans and pear sauce
Friday: Chili

What we've learned:

I've said before, besides the not purchasing groceries for the month, this really isn't too far from how we normally live our day to day life. I asked Josh if he thought this was a little extreme and he immediately said yes! :)  I agree, it has felt a little to the extreme in the past couple weeks. 

We're faced with temptations all the time, reasons just to spend money. Josh has had to turn down a few lunch trips because of our challenge. Those darn Girl Scout cookies are tempting every time we walk by them! Not that we would normally even eat them, but just the fact that we can't have anything right now makes it hard. 

I've gotten a couple coupons in my emails from Barnes and Noble, my major weakness. But I've utilized the library even more, suggesting new books for them to purchase and they do. Actually I've gotten to read two brand new books this month because of that. Books that I didn't have to buy myself and now others can enjoy them as well. Same with movies, we're starting to check out DVDs from the library as well. Our six year old was able to watch The Wizard Of Oz, a movie she's been asking about for a long time now.

What I want my kids to take away from our experience is, to be grateful for what they have and to learn to be content. To be content with what they have, no matter how big or how small. I haven't heard them ask for any quarters for the machines at bowling one single time this month. They knew the rules and they respected that.  Now I won't say we haven't had any sort of whining for things, because we have. They're out of their favorite cereals, of course the book incident and they have asked for ice cream the past couple times I've gone into the milk store. But for the most part, we haven't had any fits thrown. I've simply said not right now and it's done. We move on. I hope we can continue to have this same attitude even though we are off the spending strike. 

When it comes to groceries, I am going to try making a meal plan for two weeks and doing my shopping bi-weekly now. I've found that we've wasted so much less food this month than ever before. I think by eliminating how many shopping trips I make each month will help aid in this. Of course I'll still be making two trips each week to the milk store and have to grab some produce weekly. But soon it will be spring and summer, the farmers markets will open and that's where we will be purchasing the majority of our produce from. We've put in another order for a side of beef and also pork. Our freezer will be really stocked with meat now. We'll continue to get eggs and poultry from our CSA farmers. I won't feel like I have to step into the actual grocery store much.

Thank you so much for the encouraging words and cheering along the way! I'm glad I had my readers to help me stay accountable throughout this challenge.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Homemade Twix Bars

I have quite the cookbook collection, books in general are my number one weakness. I love reading through my cookbooks just like I would a novel, curled up on the couch with a blanket, thumbing through each recipe and reading the stories behind them.

I also love those little community or church cookbooks. I received one from my aunt at my bridal shower several years ago. I've borrowed plenty from my mom. And I was gifted several on my 30th birthday from my great aunt. These particular ones have been in our family for years I can tell, pages are yellowing and falling out from the binding. They're like little treasures, who knows what golden recipe you'll come across next.

That's where I got this little gem from. I've heard of these particular bars, some made with salty club crackers like I used and some made with graham crackers, but I had never tried one before. I have to say I'm sure glad I had that can of sweetened condensed milk sitting in my cupboard this month! With a few adaptions, these turned out wonderful.

I'm also glad they make only a small pan, that would be a dangerous thought to have many of these sitting around the house. I immediately split up the pan and sent home containers with the daycare parents. Leaving us just a few to nibble on. You'll be quite pleased with how much they do resemble a real Twix candy bar. Crispy crust in the middle surrounded by an amazing homemade caramel and the chocolate on top makes for a great finish. They're very sweet so small slices are recommended. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

Homemade Twix Bars

40 club crackers
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
12 tbsp butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp corn syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Line a 8-inch square baking pan with foil and lightly butter or grease. {If you have a 9-inch, feel free to use that, it might actually work out a little better} Place a single layer of crackers on bottom of pan and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine condensed milk, butter, brown sugar and corn syrup. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 7 minutes, again stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Pour one third of mixture down over layer of crackers. Place another single layer of crackers over the caramel mixture. Repeat again with caramel, then one more layer of crackers and a final layer of caramel.

Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips on top of caramel. Let set for 5 minutes, then using a spreader, spread the chocolate until smooth. Place in oven for a couple minutes to melt chocolate if needed, then finish spreading.

Let bars chill in fridge overnight for best results. Once chilled, lift foil from pan, carefully pull down to remove and cut into small bars. Makes 20+ bars

Monday, February 24, 2014

5 Things I'm loving Right Now

I had every intention of having a new recipe to share with you today; but instead of any recipe development going on in the kitchen, I spent the better part of my weekend taking care of sick kiddos. We've managed to stay clear of all colds and other viruses all fall and winter so far, so I really can't be upset. I'm really happy with how healthy we've all been. It started with one and made it's way through all three kiddos but luckily by Sunday afternoon everyone seemed better and acting more like themselves.

Instead of a new recipe, today I'm sharing with you some randoms. Really, just things that I'm loving right at this moment.

I've already read through this book before, but I've dug it back out. I've been really intentional about de-cluttering our home this year so far. I've taken in quite a bit to our consignment shop, already making $40 in the past month. I'm hoping to use this as a tool when I'm going through each room preparing for our garage sale in June after I've officially closed my daycare.

Grasshopper cheesecake bars

Don't these grasshopper cheesecake bars look amazing?! They'd be a great dessert to make for St. Patrick's Day coming up.

I love the idea of giving the kids their own space and letting them grow their own garden. This might be something we give a try this summer!

Homemade frozen pizza, genius idea! I've tossed around the idea of these for a long time but have yet to make my own. With my next freezer swap coming up in a few weeks, these are a definite possibility. It's only a matter of if I can make transporting them back home work for the group.

Teaching our kids about serving

I came across this article today and it really hit home. No doubt I want my kids to have a wonderful life and everything they could possibly want, but they also need to understand that it doesn't just get handed to them but comes with hard work. This past December I took all three girls with me to volunteer at our local food bank one evening, even the three year old. I was so proud of them during those two hours. They worked hard, they helped make an impact in our community and they had fun! I actually need to schedule another visit for us...soon.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Spending Strike Week 3 Update

We're in the homestretch of our month long no-spending challenge. I can't tell you how happy I will be to do some actual grocery shopping next Saturday! This coming week will be interesting as we're getting very low on just about everything. I'm armed with a meal plan so that helps.

Josh has done wonderful and been a great sport when it comes to not going out to eat with his friends after bowling league on Monday nights. That there has saved us probably between $10-$20 each night. In fact I think they all have been eating at home instead so everyone should be saving a little bit of money.

Gas/Cars: I've been so much more intentional when it comes to running errands, etc. If I need to stop by the library, I make sure to do it on a day when the girls have dance lessons and I'll be over that way. Things like that. I did fill up the van yesterday because I was down to 1/4 tank and with the frigid weather we've been having, I hate to let it get too low. But I'm now confident I really can go a full month on one tank of gas, as I mentioned before, this week would mark 4 full weeks since I didn't top off the van before our strike actually began. 

Groceries: Last Saturday I made a quick stop to spend my $8 for the week on produce. I grabbed bananas, salad mix, apples, grapes. I did also use a coupon I had received from our blogger gathering in November for a free bag of flour. Josh and I discussed it and we thought it fell in line with our "rules".

Yesterday I grabbed things we would need for the upcoming week: bananas, apples, tomato, peppers, a head of lettuce and I will probably try to grab a pineapple at another store since they're on sale this week and I still have a bit extra to spend.

Other than those items, we've really only been eating from the pantry, fridge and freezer. We're making a good dent in all the produce in our freezer from last summer. Tomorrow I'll be roasting the turkey we picked out from our CSA farmer back in October. Most of that will be incorporated into our meals this week.

Meal Plan: Our menu for the last several days has consisted of the following:

Friday {Valentine's Day}- Waffles, bacon and eggs
Saturday- Pizza and salad
Sunday- chicken quesadillas for kids and Buffalo chicken lasagna roll-ups
Tuesday- Steak, baked potatoes, sweet corn from the freezer
Wednesday- Parmesan crusted chicken, rice, salad
Thursday-  Roast, mashed potatoes, green beans from freezer
Friday- Taco salads using tortilla chips

Besides having to replace our garbage disposal and the minor bathtub fix, we haven't had to spend any other additional money on household repairs.

Six more days, we've got this! I haven't honestly missed going to any stores, with the exception of purchasing actual groceries, that is really the only hard thing about our challenge. I look forward to relaxing and staying home most of our weekend. We've enjoyed watching movies at home, reading and being with our kids. Next week in my post I'll recap our last few days of the challenge as well as what we've learned and any changes we'll be making permanently.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Iowa Food Blogger Giveaway {$225 Visa Gift Card!}

I'm so excited to share this awesome giveaway with you today! In the past several months or so a group of us Iowa food and lifestyle bloggers have formed this little tight knit group. Many of us were able to meet back in November and since then we've developed great friendships.

I love that we can share tips, bounce new ideas off one another and even promote each other's current recipes or posts. But you see it's much more than that. We can also come to each other with a prayer request, share amazing things that are happening in our everyday lives and just be real with one another.

Today you not only have the chance to win quite an amazing prize if I do say so myself, but also to meet some of my wonderful new friends. These ten other individuals are great at what they do, unique in their own way. I encourage you to visit their pages and check them out!

Kristin @ Iowa Girl Eats
Jeni @ Jeni Eats

About a month ago we all tossed around the idea of together hosting a big giveaway for our readers. Just as a way to say thank you and let you know how much we really do value each and every one of you! So many ideas were mentioned, lots of fantastic prizes but we all came back to cash. Who couldn't use extra money? $225 to be exact! I'm sure we could all find some sort of bill to use it towards, new clothes for the kids or whatever else needs fixed around the house. But come on, wouldn't it be fun to spend that money on yourself?! I would love to have the chance to splurge on some new things for the kitchen and of course, new books.  So I have to ask, if you won the $225 Visa gift card, what would you buy?

You've got one week to get entered and many chances to win! Enter via the rafflecopter form below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Caramel Pecan Rolls

Normally on weekends you'd think we would have extra time to devote to special breakfasts. For us, we still have to be up early and out the door by 8:45 at the latest. With five bodies needing to get showered and dressed, that doesn't always leave much time to eat, let alone something extravagant.

Of course I like to make sure the freezer is stocked with homemade waffles and the such but it's also nice to pull a fresh baked pan of sweet rolls out of the oven. So that's what I did Saturday night; I made up the dough, let it rise and then right before bed baked these most beautiful caramel rolls. Of course since the house was filled with the most amazing aroma, we had to sample one...or two!

We warmed up the pan again in the morning right before church and they were the perfect start to our day! I love how soft the rolls themselves are and the homemade caramel, oh where do I begin? My hubby is one tough critic and he even told me "they are amazing", if I can get him to say that about a baked good then I know it's good. He's not much of a sweets person.

I know baking with yeast can be intimidating for some, it's really quite one of the easiest things ever. Especially when you use a stand mixer such as one from KitchenAid. I let it do all the work for me. You won't be sorry when you taste how good these are. In fact, I'm trying to think of a good excuse just to make another pan!

Caramel Pecan Rolls

2-1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup milk, room temp
2 eggs
5 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
4 cups flour

for the filling:
1 tbsp melted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

for the caramel:
2 sticks butter, cold
2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup chopped pecans

In a bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve yeast into milk and let set for 5 minutes. Add in eggs, melted butter, sugar and salt; mix to combine. Gradually add in flour and beat until dough forms. If you need a little bit more flour to form a soft dough, add in small increments. Then switch to a dough hook and let knead for about 5 minutes. Remove dough and place into a lightly buttered or oiled bowl (large). Cover and let rise in a warm spot for one hour.

For the sauce, start melting butter in a medium sized saucepan. Add in brown sugar and corn syrup, stirring well. Bring to a boil and let cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour mixture into a greased 9x13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle chopped pecans over caramel and set aside.

When dough is ready, punch down and turn over onto a floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll dough out into a large rectangle, about 18-inch x 16-inch. With a pastry brush, spread melted butter all over dough. Then sprinkle both sugar and cinnamon over dough as well. Starting with the long side, roll up dough, making sure to pinch seams to seal. Cut into 14-15 slices. Place rolls down over caramel. Cover and let rise another 30 minutes before baking.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or just until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes, then invert onto a cookie sheet or large platter. It may seem like there's a lot of caramel, don't worry! It softens up nicely and you'll appreciate the extra for your rolls.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Buffalo Chicken Lasagna Roll-Ups

I updated on Friday how our spending strike has been going. So far we've avoided any frivolous, unnecessary spending but last week we did shell out $100 between the bathtub drain and replacing our garbage disposal. Fairly minimal considering what else could have gone wrong, but still some spending nonetheless.

The oldest and hubby have gotten a little whiny at times, I think everyone is starting to get agitated about the thought of not being able to spend money. The hubby is officially out of pop and his beer stash and we've still got 11 days left. I don't drink much for pop, but if I do it's caffeine free since I gave that up over seven years ago; I've offered him some of mine but he says that tastes like water ha ha!

They also were not thrilled with our lunch Saturday afternoon. I pulled out a couple small packs of brats leftover from the summer and grilled those up. Well of course we don't have any buns left and you'd have thought that was a major crime. The horror of having to eat a brat without a bun! I thought the cut up potatoes and fruit served alongside made for a decent lunch considering the situation.

Anyhow, last night I planned to make chicken quesadillas for dinner. I also had just a small amount of lasagna noodles left in the box, certainly not enough for a pan of lasagna. I've seen some different variations of lasagna roll-ups on blogs; some more traditional with ground beef and red sauce or even chicken alfredo ones. We love buffalo sauce, the hubby will smother it on just about anything. So why not make up a buffalo mixture and stuff it into these shells?

It turned out to be a great idea. I added some chopped spinach for a little color and extra nutrition, used up some dry ranch seasoning I had and cheddar cheese. You can certainly use mozzarella, I had used up the last of our for pizzas on Saturday night, and ranch dressing would be a great alternative if you don't have the dry seasoning. They had a nice little kick to them, but not too spicy. We enjoyed a nice little meal and it felt great to put some of those odds and ends in the pantry to use!

Buffalo Chicken Lasagna Roll-Ups

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast-cooked and shredded/diced
6 lasagna noodles, cooked al dente
1-1/2 tsp dry ranch seasoning {can substitute with 1-2 tbsp ranch dressing}
1/4 cup chopped spinach
3/4 cup cheddar cheese
buffalo sauce {I prefer Cookie's Wings n' Things}

In a bowl, combine shredded chicken, chopped spinach, ranch seasoning and 1/4 cup cheddar cheese. Mix well and then drizzle in just enough buffalo sauce to moisten to the mixture, about 1/4 cup.

Lightly grease an 8x8-inch baking dish, spread just a small amount of buffalo sauce on bottom pan and set aside.

Lay cooked lasagna noodles onto a board, divide chicken mixture evenly among pasta, spreading down the middle. Roll up each lasagna roll and place seam side down into prepared baking dish. Drizzle with additional buffalo sauce and sprinkle remaining cheese over each roll-up. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, just until heated through and cheese is melted. Remove from oven and serve.

Serves 2-3

Friday, February 14, 2014

Spending Strike Week 2 Update

Happy Valentine's Day! Today marks our half way point in our month long spending strike. We're still hanging in there, so let's break down the past week and see what's been going on.

Fri/Sat/Sun: Friday night I did a quick run to the grocery store for some produce for the upcoming week. $8 is my limit since I spend about $7 on milk for the week. That's not very much, but considering I still have plenty of apple and pear sauce, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and various other veggies in the freezer it works. Here's what I grabbed: Kale, bananas, spinach, romaine salad mix, broccoli and kiwi.  I also still had a 5-lb. bag of clementines leftover from the previous week, along with carrots and celery.

Over the weekend my husband and our oldest participated in a fundraiser bowling tournament. A good friend of ours lost their brother three years ago, unexpectedly at the age of 35. The past couple years they've put together this tournament to raise money for youth bowling scholarships. Normally the event takes place in January but this year it was pushed back. Because of this we did plan ahead and had the extra cash reserved. 

I did end up baking some peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses since I had an unopened bag from Christmas in the cupboard. The family enjoyed having a special treat, especially since we've got these Girl Scout cookies sitting around the house and mean ol' mom won't let them have any yet :)

Monday: Sunday night the hubby was starting to work on the plug in the bathtub. It had been sticking and was difficult to pull up over the weekend and that was the first time he was able to sit down and work on it. Well he pulled up on it and of course it broke right off. I told him to stop by Menard's on the way home and grab what he needed to fix it. So we did end up spending $8.55

Tuesday: With Valentine's Day this week, our 1st grader has been pretty excited for her class party coming up. Josh mentioned right away in the month, "Did you grab Valentine's?" Nope! I figured we've got plenty of craft supplies on hand, we'd make our own this year. Well I guess mom was wrong ha! Good thing our oldest had almost a whole box of leftover Valentine's from last year because there was just enough to send for the entire class. Plus the bowling alley staff handed out several sheets of free game cards during their league practice over the weekend so we included those as well.

I also spent most of Tuesday evening baking monster cookies for Josh to take to work the next day. Using ingredients we had on hand of course.

Wednesday: I have to say I'm really impressed with how little gas I've used in the van so far. Josh and I both ran out of time on Jan 31st and forgot to fill up the vehicles. Josh had to fill up his car, $40 there. I've still got a good half tank left. The end of this week will mark three weeks since I've gotten gas. Hopefully I can make it two more weeks.

Thursday: I had two cakes to bake and decorate that night. I have a good stash of butter in my freezer along with several other supplies but I still had to make a trip to the store. I will say though, it's not bugging me as much as I thought it would; to go into the grocery store and only walk out with what's on my list. I normally don't buy too many things off my list but it does take some self-control especially at this point of the week, when I'm all out of bananas, the hubby's almost out of pop, etc, etc.

Friday: That leaves us with today, Valentine's Day. We don't usually do much for this holiday so it's no biggie to not spend any money. It's been a long week so I'm looking forward to relaxing tonight anyways.

Unfortunately we will have to spend money on a new garbage disposal this weekend. Ours quit working on Tuesday, so that's on the agenda.  Let's hope nothing else in the house decides to break on us!

I realized some of you might be wondering what the heck we've been eating all week. Here's our menu from the past week:

Friday: BBQ ribs, baked potatoes, baked beans
Saturday: homemade chicken strips and fries, salad
Sunday: dinner at my parent's
Monday: lasagna, homemade breadsticks
Tuesday: tacos
Wednesday: beer-can chicken, rice and veggies
Thursday: chicken and noodles, salad

See that's not too bad is it? So far it's been a breeze menu planning. I've got next week's just about all planned out, we might start having to get creative soon :)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pepperoni Pizza Bread

We're just about half-way through our month long no spending challenge. Meals have been somewhat simple a lot of days. Although I don't think I've made anyone eat anything too terrible yet ha ha! The cupboards are starting to get more bare, I'm afraid of what they'll look like come the 28th.

It's been fun trying to be more creative with our meals and snacks, using up every single ingredient we have. That's how this light lunch/appetizer was created. Last Saturday after bowling league we were scrounging for something to eat. I happened to have two cans of biscuits in the fridge that my mother-in-law left from Super Bowl Sunday.

Along with some lone pepperoni and mozzarella cheese in our drawer, I instantly thought of this pull apart bread. I remember using these biscuits to make monkey bread growing up, it's one of the first recipes I recall preparing. I don't normally purchase store bought biscuits anymore and like to make these types of things from scratch, but hey we can't let them go to waste can we?

Our youngest enjoyed helping me prepare this, she's always so eager to help with just about anything she can. It was a fun and quick little lunch we prepared together and it turned out pretty good too! I added in lots of diced up pepperoni, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese and Italian seasoning. We dipped the bread into pizza sauce and called it good.

Pepperoni Pizza Bread

2 can biscuits {8 ct. each}
15-20 slices pepperoni, diced
Parmesan cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1-1/2 tbsp Italian seasoning
pizza sauce, to serve with

Lightly grease a round bundt pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut each biscuit into fourths using kitchen shears. Place half of biscuits into prepared pan. Sprinkle half of pepperoni and 1/2 cup of the cheese on top of biscuits. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and half of Italian seasoning. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Bake for 20 minutes in oven, or until top is lightly browned and biscuits are cooked through. Immediately slide bread onto a serving platter or plate. Serve warm with pizza sauce.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chocolate PB-Banana Breakfast Smoothie

Mornings when I don't particularly feel hungry I like to make up a big, healthy smoothie. Usually one like this, full of fruit, yogurt and a healthy green like spinach or even kale. I usually have a least a few kiddos begging for a glass too!

Today I had a full carton of chocolate almond milk staring me in the eyes. So I went a different route with my smoothie, one that will curb those sweet cravings in fact. I really like this combo, I think it's a new favorite.

Chocolate PB-Banana Smoothie

2 cups chocolate almond milk
1 banana
1 tbsp peanut butter
Crushed ice

Add almond milk, banana and peanut butter to a blender. Blend together until smooth. Add a couple of handfuls of crushed ice and blend until it's reached your desired consistency.


I have to say we're still going strong in our spending strike. We did spend some money this weekend but we had already planned for this expense. Josh and our oldest bowled in a fundraiser tournament in memory of a close friend's brother that passed away three years ago unexpectedly at the age of 35. The proceeds go to scholarships for the youth bowlers so it's a great cause.

We also started having issues with the plug in our bathtub. It was being stubborn and of course last night Josh tried to pull it up and it snapped right off. So that will need to be replaced sooner than later. I've got two little ones that love their baths!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Spending Strike Week 1 Update

Tomorrow marks one full week of our month long spending strike. It's really been a pretty normal week around here. I'll try to give you a little run down for each day.

Last Friday I made sure to do our normal weekly grocery shopping, I did spend a little more than I normally do but at the same time made sure that I wasn't going crazy. In the evening when Josh got home from work we headed to Sam's Club for a couple items and then I stopped by the milk store to add money to our card {we get a nice discount and it's just like a debit card} and to grab a gallon of milk.

Saturday: Our girls have their bowling league every Saturday morning, we eat breakfast and then head out. We've talked about our no-spending month for quite some time now so they knew the drill. No quarters for after league. They usually get one or two quarters to put into the machines and get something small. All ended well, they didn't even ask for anything.

Sunday: Most of our day was spent preparing the house for our families to come over and watch the Super Bowl with us. It was sort of a last minute plan but worked out great. Between myself and the others, everyone brought over plenty of food to enjoy and we had a great time with our loved ones. Obviously having just gone grocery shopping, it was easy to make up a few appetizers with what I had on hand. I made bacon-wrapped crackers, a guacamole dip, Kit Kat barrel cake and these buffalo chicken egg rolls.

My husband also got very lucky and won a couple of football pools he had entered a couple weeks back. He ended up winning $500 on one and then $100 on another. Yay for extra money!

Monday: Mondays are one of our busiest days of the week. After work, it's rushing to get dinner on the table and then off to dance class for the girls and I and bowling league for Josh. Usually he goes out to dinner afterward instead of eating with us. Not this week! That saved us about $15.

Tuesday: I was low on milk at this point and had to make a trip to the milk store, $3.29 was taken off of our card.

Wednesday: Another night of dance class. Nothing too exciting going on and no money spent.

Thursday: Our oldest had an orthodontist appointment in the morning, which resulted in more driving than I would like to have done. I've still got about 3/4 of a tank left and I also forgot to fill up before our challenge started. So I've technically gone 2 weeks already on the same tank of gas. We'll see if I can make it the full month.

Our six-year old also had Girl Scouts last night, so we did have to give her $1 for dues. She also brought home cookies to begin selling this weekend. We've already told the girls, sorry, we have to wait to purchase any until March. Of course it might be tempting with boxes of delicious cookies sitting around but they'll survive. I just might have to make some homemade cookies for them to enjoy in the meantime!

Not a whole lot went on this last week. We're pretty easy going people, complete homebodies and as you can see this no-spending challenge so far doesn't seem to be too much out of the ordinary. My goal for this weekend is to menu plan from what I have on hand. I'll also be needing to go to grab some produce, I only have $8 of my $15 remaining, since I spend about $7 on milk.

If you're joining in on the challenge, please, let me know how it's going for you and your family. I'd love to hear your stories!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Kit Kat Barrel Cake

Sunday we ended up celebrating the Super Bowl at our house, it was sort of a last minute decision but definitely a lot of fun. We had my husband's side of the family along with my parents over. Everyone pitched in with food, especially my mother-in-law and I stayed within terms of our spending strike.

Without going into too much detail, because I do plan to post on Friday our progress from the first week; we've done great so far. I did our regular grocery shopping on Friday so I had plenty on hand to make up a few appetizers for the game with no problem.

The girls helped me make this cake. I have this huge bag of M&Ms leftover from Christmas time when I was working on a cookie order. I've made one of these cakes before and thought it would be a fun addition to our spread.

I love it not only because it's so easy to decorate, it's a great cake for any occasion. Since M&Ms come in  many fun colors for all of the holidays, you can easily coordinate it to your theme.

For our cake, we stuck with a classic chocolate cake and chocolate buttercream. Lots of chocolate all in one dessert, can't get any better than that! Most everyone took a plate of cake home with them since we were stuffed to the gills. It's better that way, I didn't want to be tempted with cake all week!

Kit Kat Barrel Cake

2-layer chocolate cake, baked and cooled
10 packs regular size Kit Kat bars
Cake board or platter of some sort to place cake on

Chocolate Buttercream:
2 sticks butter, softened
2-lb. bag powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup chocolate flavored milk powder {Nesquik, Ovaltine, etc}
Heavy cream or milk, for thinning

To make buttercream: In the stand of a large mixer or a large bowl, cream together butter and vanilla extract. Gradually start adding in powdered sugar and both chocolate milk powder and cocoa. Alternating with each other. I only use about 3/4 of the powdered sugar. Thin with either heavy cream or milk to your desired consistency.  Set aside when done.

To assemble cake: Trim tops of both layers of cake. Place one layer on prepared cake board, plate or platter. Add a big dollop of frosting to the middle and spread evenly. Top with the second cake layer.

Frost the entire cake, sides and top with the chocolate buttercream. Should look like this:

Carefully unwrap all of the candy bars and break them apart into individual pieces. Start lining each piece around the cake. You should have a couple pieces leftover. Sprinkle M&Ms on top of cake. Tie a ribbon around the cake if desired.

Serves 12-15, depending on how big you cut your slices.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Banana Nut Coffee Cake

I teased you all on Facebook last week with this photo. My mom texted me before church last Sunday and asked if we'd like a pan of banana coffee cake if she made it. Of course! So before the blizzard like conditions set in for the night, we made a quick trip over to their house to grab this pan.

Amazing is one way to put it. I've fallen in love with this new recipe. Apparently she's been busy selling this at the deli she manages. I can understand why!

It's not like your traditional cinnamon coffee cake, but rather a banana cake with a sweet, nutty topping. It's perfect for breakfast, snack, dessert, really anytime throughout the day. I'm pretty sure you won't be able to stop at just one piece either...really.

Banana Nut Coffee Cake

3/4 cup shortening
2 eggs
5 tbsp milk
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla

1 stick butter, cubed
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped nuts {my mom used walnuts, but pecans would be good too}

In a large bowl, cream together shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in eggs, milk and mashed banana. Gradually mix in flour and baking soda. Add vanilla extract and beat well to combine.

Pour into a lightly greased 9x13-inch cake pan and set aside.

In a bowl combine brown sugar and nuts for topping. Cut in cold, cubed butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over cake batter.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 mins. or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Remove from oven, let cool just a bit before serving.

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