Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pumpkin Cheesecake

As if I haven't experimented with enough pumpkin recipes for the year, I decided to add another...cheesecake. I wanted to make something extra-special for Thanksgiving and what's more appropriate than something boasting the season's bounty? I'm a nut for cheesecake anyway but add cinnamon, pumpkin and a drizzle of caramel (and whipped cream, or ice cream...) and I'm in cheesecake heaven. For some reason, cheesecake has always intimidated me so I never make them. After a few flops, I decided to try, try again. I chose to adapt a recipe for pumpkin cheesecake bars into a cheesecake (and by adapt I mean I used a springform pan instead of the 8X8 pan called for). No biggie. If you have never tried to make your own cheesecake out of fear, let me put your worries to rest. Follow the recipe and you'll be fine. Make sure you let the cream cheese soften, really soften. Leave out for at least two hours prior to use or else you'll end up with lumps, no matter how much you mix. Next, cook until just set and starting to crack. Nothing says failure like a dry, burned cheesecake! Lastly, Let chill for 4-5 hours but preferably overnight. Warm cheesecake is a no-no. But it turned out to be a perfectly yummy farewell to pumpkin. I think it's time to move on to the chocolaty, minty, and cinnamon-y flavors of Christmas. Goodbye, fall, hello winter (almost!) Here's one last hoorah before bidding adieu to pumpkin!!
Here's the recipe:

20 cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies, blended into crumbs and pressed into pan.
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Press cookie crumbs into desired pan then combine remaining ingredients and pour into pan. Bake at 350 ° for about 45 minutes, or until center is set. Let cool and chill overnight if possible, but at least 4 hours.

adapted from

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmastime in the 951

Christmas has come early this year. If it wasn't for the fact that I hosted Thanksgiving and felt it only fair to give my guests one last glimpse of fall, Christmas would have been in full swing much sooner. But the next day, it was on! Our tree is up, candles are lit and garland has been hung. There was no fooling around. My kids and I started early and by lunchtime, Christmas had arrived. I only hoped my hubby wouldn't be too put that we didn't wait for him...he survived. Happy trimming!! What are your favorite decorating traditions??
Preparing for Thanksgiving...
                                                                 Hello, Christmas!!!

                                                                Don't forget the stairs!!!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Party Favors

I hosted Thanksgiving this year and as with any gathering, I must make favors. No party or get-together is too small for favors, in my opinion. It's so much fun to see guests off with a small, handmade token! So Thanksgiving was no exception! I racked my brain for the perfect treat...toffee? cookies? mini pies in mason jars? Cute, but no. Everyone would be stuffed to the gills and probably wouldn't be in the mood for more treats so I came up with butter mints. You know the fluffy, soft and sweet mints you get from restaurants? Yep, I made them! There were plenty of recipes out there, most very simple so I figured I'd give it a whirl. They were so easy to make, I let my kids help and since a double recipe is no more work, I doubled it! Here is the recipe if you want to copy and make this delicious minty treat! Note: I omitted the food coloring.

Butter Mints
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar plus more for rolling out
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
Food coloring (if using..)
Combine ingredients and mix with electric mixer until dough comes together. Dust counter with powdered sugar and roll out small logs and cut into bite-sized pieces. Let air-dry 2-3 hours then store in covered container.

                                                          Gather your ingredients...

                                                          Mix and form into a ball
                                                Separate into several logs and start cutting!

                                                    Enjoy the buttery bits of mintiness!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving...on $50???

Recently, while reading a holiday magazine, I came across an article on how to create a Thanksgiving dinner for ten people under $100. "That's easy", I thought, "give me a real challenge!" So Thanksgiving under $50 was born. Now you may have already done your Thanksgiving dinner shopping but Christmas is just around the corner, and then New Year's so with all the parties and hosting you'll be doing, here are a few ways to keep your budget in check.
- First, keep your main dish around $15. Think it can't be done? Think again. Whole turkeys and hams are usually around $0.79 a pound during peak season but that doesn't mean you're stuck with just those options. A big lasagna, a bag of chicken, or a large roast can easily be transformed into a mean main dish!
- Then, choose one or two killer appetizers. Think a yummy homemade dip or cheese platter with fruit. You don't need the chips/dip AND the veggie platter AND the fruit!!
- Keep your drink selections to a minimum. It's amazing how quickly your drink tab can add up! Choose a main beverage like iced tea or lemonade and water and call it a day! 
- Keep side dishes simple. Potatoes, casseroles and salad go a long way.
- Don't go crazy with dessert. So many times, people are so full by the end of a big meal, they either decline dessert altogether or choose something small. So keep dessert options basic. Apple pie a la mode or brownies and cookies are enough!
Lastly, keep your eyes peeled for coupons around the holidays. I always get great coupons from Vons in the mail and from Target with my receipt. Just this week I got a 4-pound bag of chicken breast with a FREE marinade, bag of rice and veggie. At Target, I've gotten several $5-off coupons towards groceries. Shop wisely, keep your menu simple and you will save!!! What are you making this year???

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Holiday Dinner

What do you make year after year for your holiday dinner? Turkey? A ham? Something less traditional? Well, this year, being in my streamlined mode, I decided to make Thanksgiving and Christmas easy. No stress, no fuss even though I am hosting family. I promised myself that after years of being tense and terse prior to those holiday get-togethers, I would finally let go. No more scouring aisle after aisle in search of the perfect gift that does not exist, no more going over budget to make more treats and purchase "one more gift", and no more running like a chicken with it's head cut off in the hour before guests arrive for dinner. What's the point? Are people coming over to critique my housekeeping and cooking skills or to fellowship, laugh and share their blessings of the year? Exactly. So everyone is pitching in and I am keeping our meals pared down to a couple good appetizers, a mouth-watering main dish and a handful of homemade sweets. I'm going to focus on making memories this year and developing traditions for my children. I want them to look back on the sweet treats made in the kitchen with mommy and remember the fun, not the stress on my face when the powdered sugar was spilled or the frosting was smeared. And I want them to remember what the reason is behind the season. Here's to living in the moment! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Christmas Nightmare

Saturday night was the Bass Pro Shop opening night for their Christmas Wonderland. They were going to have carolers, milk and cookies and coloring books for the kids, fun activities and of course, visits with Santa. Although we'd been fighting the sniffles and I would have rather been in bed, we waited patiently for Daddy to come home so we could go. Dressed in their Christmas best, my kids were bouncing off the walls, eager to get out the door and on with the fun. Only fun was not to be had right away. First, walking into the shop, we realized that there was just no way we were going to see the big man. The line was wrapped halfway around the store, and the store is HUGE. So with my daughter in tears, we walked around, trying to engage the kids in the activities...letters to Santa, remote control cars, the carousel and shooting range, all to no avail. They had one-track minds that night, Santa.
So after a failed attempt at making the night better, we tried to console the kids with the milk and cookies...that they had run out of. Not to be deterred, we bought the kids a snack and took a little break. As my daughter continued to fight tears, we were about to give up and head out when, wouldn't you know it, the line had eased up. Finally! We got in line and while the kids watched The Elf on the Shelf to pass the time, we were there before we knew it! A cute picture and a chat with Santa and we were on our way. Our night was salvaged and after I popped some Thera-Flu and headed off to bed, I was relieved that somehow what started as a Christmas disaster ended a fun family night! And you better believe we are heading back with the free kids meal coupons we received!! I highly recommend going now that opening night is over and things have settled!

                                                  Finally happy after their visit with Santa!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Starbucks Copycat Cakes

I simply adore Starbucks coffee cake. It's moist, full of flavor and that topping is to die for. Crumbly and sweet and full of cinnamon, it's a splurge on the rare occasions I actually go to Starbucks. So I considered myself lucky when I stumbled upon the recipe for it a couple years ago and I've been making it ever since. It's what I bring for potluck breakfasts and brunches and something I like to have on hand for a snack. It is definitely a treat though, as it's full of sugar and butter and quite frankly, I don't even want to know the calorie count. Ignorance is bliss. Anyway, I've been thinking about making small loaves of this for my neighbors this year for Christmas but decided to do something a little different. I thought a chocolate spice cake would do the trick and let my fingers do the walking in search of a perfect recipe. As luck would have it, and thanks to my Pinterest obsession, I found another Starbucks copycat recipe! This one is a Chocolate Cinnamon Loaf that sounds amazing. I've never actually had it at Starbucks but I gave it a try and it was awesome!! Soft, chocolaty, with the slightest bit of kick thanks to ginger, cloves and cinnamon, it is perfect with a cup of coffee. Here are the recipes for both cakes...which is your favorite??

Chocolate Cinnamon Loaf
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cocoa powder
pinch ground cloves
pinch of ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 350F and thoroughly grease a 9×5″ loaf pan.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time, waiting until the previous egg has been completely incorporated before adding the next. In a medium bowl, sift together all purpose flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk, water and vanilla extract. Working in two or three additions, alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture to the sugar mixture. Begin and end with an addition of the flour mix. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. In a small bowl, whisk together topping ingredients: sugar, cinnamon, cocoa powder and ground cloves. Sprinkle evenly on top of the loaf cake.
Bake at 350F for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool in pan for 10-15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and turn out onto a wire cooling rack.
Cool completely before slicing.
Adapted from

Coffee Cake
1 Box Yellow Cake Mix (plus ingredients on back of box)
2 Sticks cold salted butter
2 1/4 Cups flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 3/4 Cups sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Prepare cake mix in large bowl according to directions on box. Spray 2 9X13 loaf pans or one 9X13 pan with non-stick spray. Pour batter into pan. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until center is just barely set. While cake is baking, prepare crumb topping. In large bowl of electric mixer combine, butter, flour, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla until all crumbly. Immediately after cake is removed from oven, break crumb topping into marble size pieces with fingers, sprinkling over top. Put back in oven and bake an additional 10-15 minutes (topping will begin to look a little less wet/raw). Let cool fully then dust with powdered sugar, using a sieve.
Cut into squares and serve.
I like to serve this one chilled, like they do at Starbucks!!!

share with friends
Adapted  from

Sunday, November 11, 2012

This Week's Menu

This week I decided to ditch my boring and blah "same-old, same-old" dinner routine. I had gotten a recipe recently that both my sisters raved about and decided to give it a shot. It was a sweet potato and black bean taco dish but being that my hubby is a carnivore through and through, I decided to twist it up and add some ground chicken, some extra veggies and make it my own. Now, I hate to admit this, but aside from throwing some frozen sweet potato fries in the oven here and there, I've never made a sweet potato. Boy, was I missing out! I simply diced the potato and cooked in a skillet with some olive oil for about ten minutes, until the potato was soft. My son wanted a taste and LOVED it just that way, plain and simply. But I wasn't done. I added some onion, garlic, chopped red pepper and ground chicken to the mix. Then, as if that wasn't hearty enough, I threw in some Mexican rice to seal the deal. Not only did this dish taste great, but it yielded a ton...enough for two meals! I urge you to try sweet potatoes if you haven't! They will add body and texture to meals and are also chock full of vitamins a and c and picky kids will go for them!! So here it is, this week's menu, including the tacos:

Friday: Chili
Saturday: Dinner out!
Sunday: Sweet potato tacos/black beans
Monday: Grilled cheese/fruit smoothies
Tuesday: Teriyaki chicken burgers/oven fries
Wednesday: Pasta/garlic bread
Thursday: Leftovers

Here's the original recipe for the tacos!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Great Gifts for $10 or Less!

This year, I'm streamlining my gift-giving and trying to keep my gifts simple, practical and thoughtful. Also, I'm trying to avoid a ton of unnecessary "extras" and use our Christmas cash wisely. Here are a few inexpensive but useful gift ideas:
- Gift cards to coffee, fast food, the movies...etc. I can't think of anyone who would not appreciate this. If you include babysitting in the deal, even better!! We are all watching our spending these days and it's nice to be able to treat yourself!
- Bake something!! Giving a homemade gift is priceless and neighbors, co-workers, and friends alike will appreciate a goody. Think outside the box, though- instead of more cookies or brownies, make something like granola or jam or create a do-it-yourself baking mix. Don't forget the packaging!Cellophane and a ribbon go a long way!
- Splurge on quality votives and tuck them into a clear gift bag with chocolate kisses and a few gift basket shreds (don't forget the ribbon!!). For under $5, you've got the perfect gift for your hairdresser, your kid's teachers or the women in your bible study or bunco group. It's a great gift for a group as it's inexpensive but looks pretty and come on, who won't use a candle??
- For parents and grandparents, buy a holiday themed frame and add a picture of your kids!
- Buy small, hand-picked boxes of See's Candies chocolates for everyone. Or choose from a TON of gifts under $10 and let's not forget the best part...the free sample!!!

Cookie Mix Jar            St. Nicholas Square Jingle Bell 5 x 7 Frame

Happy shopping!! Got any other ideas for under $10???

Friday, November 9, 2012

Santa is Tightening His Belt This Year

As I prepare my gift list for this year's Christmas shopping, I am trying to keep our budget in mind. It's hard to stick to a certain dollar amount when you find the perfect gift that is over the limit, want to buy extras like jammies for the kids, baking ingredients for special treats and fun photo cards. It's no wonder most of us either go into debt during the holidays or dip into funds beyond our Christmas cash! Here's what I have in mind to stick to our budget this year- simplify, simplify, simplify!!
It really does make a difference when you streamline your shopping and put blinders on, avoiding potential spending on items you didn't want in the first place. For example, I was lured into the cosmetics section the other day at Kohl's because there were a TON of "buy-one, get-one" deals on items like body wash, lotion and perfume spray. The thing I failed to remember in that moment?? I didn't need those and nobody on my list was getting them so I moved on!! Here's how I'm keeping myself in check this year and maybe my tips will help you too!
- First, set a total spending limit then divide it by how many people you have to shop for...easy enough, right?? Don't be discouraged if you have a smaller budget this year. You can find some great gifts for under $10, believe it or not!! (more on that tomorrow...)
- Write down your ideas for people before you shop or you might end up in a Bermuda Triangle, circling the store and wandering aisles aimlessly..
- Keep gifts simple and useful. Also, consider a "theme". For example, if you know the women in your family or a group of girlfriends really will use bath and body products, then by all means, stock up and take advantage of the deals and give them all the same gift. Or give everyone pajamas, coffee gift cards or subscriptions to magazines.
- Instead of ordering expensive photo cards, print them yourself at Walgreen's, Target or Wal-Mart for as little as fifty cents each. Or, buy boxed cards (they even have them at the 99 Cent Store...) and let your kids decorate them.
- I'm going to forgo matching jammies for my kids this year. They have sooo many already and it's just not necessary!
- Host a clothing swap with friends and put together fun holiday outfits. There's no reason you have to buy new outfits for every Christmas party, photo session, dinner...etc.
How will you save this Christmas???

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Zesty "Garbage" Soup

Normally, I'm not a fan of the garbage soup. Perhaps it's because it took on a new meaning growing up. My dad could make soup out of anything but it didn't always have the most appetizing end result. I could never be sure if there were leftovers from people's plates in there or perhaps leftovers gone bad...So I never partook (love ya, Dad!) But now that I'm an adult and not only cook the food but have to pay for it every week, I have a new appreciation for the saying "waste not, want not". The worst thing I can do in the kitchen is throw food away. I hate doing it!!
So as the leftovers from the other night's chicken and couscous sat for a day or two, I decided to turn them into a delicious soup. I started with an onion, garlic and green pepper, the veggies I had on hand and simmered on low with some olive oil. After letting them cook about ten minutes and soften, I added chicken broth (36 oz. box..), a can of tomatoes and the leftover chicken (diced) and threw the couscous in at the end, when the soup was boiling. I also threw in some random seasonings I had on hand, but most of the flavor comes from the broth. I topped it with some crushed tortilla chips and sour cream and turned something drab into something fab!! What will you (re) create tonight???

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Homemade Holiday

I know, I know...Halloween just passed and I'm already on to the next holiday...Christmas!! I know what you're thinking, "that's not the next holiday, Emily!" but really, it's the next big thing. Yes, we have Thanksgiving to contend with but it's just really the opening act for the main event. So out come the tubs of Christmas decorations and off I go planning, making lists, turning up my Christmas music, and most importantly, getting my DIY activities going. No, I don't do it all homemade and I take the help where I can, but part of the fun of Christmas is putting together a gingerbread house with the kids, making a Christmas wreath and baking homemade goodies for the neighbors. So with projects in mind, I have the perfect one to get you started!! It's super easy, requires very little effort but has a stunning outcome. Oh, and it's very inexpensive to make. Last year, I crafted the perfect wreath for my front door using some bulb ornaments, foam, tissue, and hot glue. That was it!!! Here's how it turned out!

First, cut your foam (or cardboard, or wood...) into the desired shape. I chose rectangle as it would look a little more modern and give my door some character. Next, hot glue tissue all over (cut tissue into squares and twist bottom to make little "puffs" to give dimension...) then glue bulbs in tissue, placing all over and creating a pattern so the bulbs are evenly distributed. Then hang!! It takes less than thirty minutes to create this one-of-a-kind Christmas decoration that you made yourself!
To get more ideas, I always check out Pinterest, the Martha Stewart website and am constantly scouring magazines for displays I want to copy. What are you going to make??

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Santa Clause is Coming to Town...Rancho Cucamonga, to be Exact!!!

Yo, check it...every year since my daughter was born, we've taken her (and now my son..) to Bass Pro Shops to visit Santa. It is the best Santa by far, we have ever experienced. Being that my hubby is keen on all things for an outdoorsman, off to Bass Pro we would go on any given browse, to eat, to window shop..but the year we had our daughter, our eyes perked at the sight of the Santa display. Actually, a display doesn't do it justice. It's a wonderland. They have a working carousel, a kid's area with activities that include coloring, games, and a shooting gallery and most importantly, visits with the big man, including a picture, absolutely free. Oh, and they usually have coupons for free kids meals at the restaurant, the Islamorada Fish Company, which has great food and is the perfect way to end the day. This year, Santa will be arriving Saturday evening, Nov. 10th at 5:00 and stay until 8:00. It sounds like it will be amazing, complete with cookies and hot chocolate for the kids, free giveaways and carolers on top of everything else I mentioned. Don't miss this first night with Santa!! If you can't make it, fear not for Santa will be there until Christmas eve. I highly recommend going, even if you have to drive a little to get there. If you plan to take your kids to see Santa this Christmas season, this will not disappoint. Oh, and there are plenty of photo ops for your Christmas cards!! We plan on going this weekend so I'll keep you posted!! Here are some pics from last year:

                                                                  At Santa's village
                                                          Getting in on the drawing!!
Photo op out front..
For more info, check out

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Son Sleeps in My Bed...Wanna Make Something of it??

No, I'm not trying to pick a fight!! We all have our weaknesses, the chinks in our armor as moms. Maybe you give your kids sweets before breakfast, fail to follow through on punishments or in my case, allow your baby in your bed long past their infant days. Actually, I may do all three...but I don't think I'm the only one. Despite our best efforts as moms to feed our kids healthy, balanced meals, take them outside to play, dress them nicely and teach them manners, we all fall flat at one point or another. Some days I am just way too tired for another stinkin' craft, don't have the energy to walk to the park and don't always get the bath in at the end of the day. So when my son cries at 2:30 a.m. because he wants mommy, I'm not fighting it. I know at some point, he's gotta outgrow it and I pray daily that he will sooner than later 'cause mommy is tired but I'm not ready to face that battle just yet.
All too often us moms are hesitant to disclose our weaknesses and it's no wonder. With Pinterest crafting projects, Facebook posts with pictures of perfection and bloggers boasting their kids latest accomplishments (cough, cough)'s no wonder it looks like we have it all together!! But that's just on paper. The day to day?? Forget about it! My floors are always sticky, my kids seem to have perpetually dirty faces and clothes, and I never, I mean never seem to have enough time in the day to do it all. Scrapbooking?? Color-coordinating outfits on Sunday with a perfect homemade lunch to follow? Forget about it!! I do my best to keep it together and I'm betting you do too. So let's go easy on each other, sisters. And go easy on ourselves!!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

My Menu

This week I was a little unprepared for grocery shopping. I didn't have time to compile recipes and make the usual 7-day menu but have a few meals in mind...

Saturday: Chicken salad on croissants
Sunday: Pesto pasta with garlic bread
Monday: Chicken with couscous and broccoli
Tuesday: Grilled cheese w/fruit
Wednesday: Dinner out!
Thursday: ???
Friday: Shopping day, thank God!!
What's your meal plan?? Any good recipes? Share them here!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Supermarket Savings...How I Did!!!

So last month after facing the music and reconciling our bank account, I was SHOCKED to see that my hubby and I had spent a whopping $776.49 for the month. Just food. I'll let that sink in for a moment. Of course, we have to eat but not to this excess! Half was spent just on fast food alone and the other was on groceries but also included things like soda, unhealthy snacks, odds and ends for the house and indulgences like ice cream and sweets...things that we certainly did not need (also..our Jack-In-The-Box shakes...sigh.) So I sat my hubby down and gave him the cold, hard facts. We were overspending.
We decided for the month of October we would set some parameters: spend no more than $100 a week on groceries and limit our eating out to once a week each and once a week as a family, which kept things realistic. We were also very conscious of frivolous spending. No trips to Target just because (I would end up spending money on nonsense, naturally) no more random drive-thru stops for cookies and a soda (did we need either?? don't think so!!) and most importantly, less eating out altogether! Eating more at home would naturally cause us to eat healthier, or so we hoped. So how did we do??? Drum roll please....we spent $453.88 on food in October. That gave us a savings of $322.12 in one month, not bad if I do say so myself!!
Over the course of a year, that's over $3600!!!! That's A LOT of money! In just a year, we'd have enough for a family vacation, a new car, a huge chunk o' change toward debt or hello, money in our  savings...not eaten. So how can you save money too????
- Make a list and menu for the week with a meatless night or two thrown in. It's amazing how much food is wasted when you don't have a plan and meat every night can be pricey.
- Rethink dinner out. If you need a break from cooking, (who doesn't??) hit places with coupons or where kids eat free.
- Pack lunches for work. This is huge!! Lunches cost at least $4 so that's $20 in just one week!
So, are you up for the challenge??? How will you save?