Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tuscan Chicken Pasta

Since I forgot to take a picture of my delicious Tuscan Chicken Pasta, I had to rob one from the foodie images online!  Sorry!!  But this is what it'd look like if you used elbow pasta.  I, of course, did not use elbow pasta but rather spaghetti noodles.

Since so many asked for the recipe via email, here it is:

Tuscan Chicken Pasta

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" pieces
2 cans (14 1/2 oz. each) Italian Style Stewed Tomatoes
1 can (15 oz) red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
1 cup water
1 jar (4 1/2 oz) sliced mushrooms, drained
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
4 cloves garlic (minced)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
6 oz uncooked spaghetti *  (I changed this up - see info below)

Places chicken, tomatoes, beans, tomato sauce, water, mushrooms, bell pepper, onion, celery, garlic and italian seasoning in slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low 4 hours or until veggies are tender.  Stir in spaghetti * and cook 35 min. or until pasta is tender.  (I didn't like doing this because cooking the raw spaghetti soaked up all the good juices and made it dry).  Instead, cook the pasta on the stove first and drain and then add to the crockpot and cook for maybe 15 min.  Then serve!  Makes 8 servings - or more!

This dish was awesome!  We will definately have it again.  It's even better the next day for leftovers!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Idea for a Frugal Mother's Day Gift

I'm not sure about you, but money is tight this year!  I am constantly trying to figure out inexpensive ways to celebrate the minor holidays (that is what I call any holiday that doesn't include Christmas!) and birthdays without breaking the bank.  Mother's Day crept up on me this year.  Even though I still have some time left, I know I need to get on the ball with my potential gifts!

Being a "foodie" I decided this year to make something in that category for Mother's Day.  My idea?  Homemade vanilla extract!  Not only is this a useful gift, it is a bit expensive if you buy the good stuff (Watkins) at the store! 

Strolling through blogland yesterday, I stumbled upon someone's idea (wish I could remember what blog it was!) of homemade vanilla extract.  What an excellent idea!  It's rather easy to make too!  It requires only two ingredients:  vodka and vanilla beans.  Yep, believe it or not...that's it!  You'll also need a pretty bottle to store it in with a lid that seals completely.

Now, on the net, there is great debate on just how long the vanilla beans have to soak in the vodka.  Some say 4 weeks, and others say the longer it soaks, the more potent the flavoring is.  And, get refresh it?  Just add more vodka!!  Brilliant!!!

So, here's the recipe:


2 Cups (16 oz.) vodka
6 Vanilla Beans

You can easily cut this recipe in half and use 3 vanilla beans and 1 cup of vodka.

Pour the vodka into a glass container.  A mason jar works good.  Cut the vanilla beans and cram them down into the vodka so they are covered up.  Put a lid on the jar and put somewhere out of the light.  Shake the liquid occasionally to mix the contents.  You will be able to taste the vanilla flavor after a few days but the longer it sits, the stronger it will be.  (I hear 8 weeks later it will have a nice amber color to it! Pretty!!)

Then you just add your homemade concoction to a pretty bottle, decorate and give as a gift.  You can add instructions to the bottle recipient that when the bottle is half full, they can refill it with vodka to replenish it.

I also plan to print up a little cookbook with some vanilla flavor recipes to go along with the vanilla flavoring!

Since I'm pinched for time and don't have 8 weeks till Mother's day, I plan to also add on the instructions to let it sit for at least 3-4 weeks before using! 

I bake a lot and I know the folks I'll be giving this to bake too.  Having some good vanilla flavoring on hand is essential when baking. I hope they enjoy this little handmade gift!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Planting and Cooking Like Crazy!

Sorry to be MIA for a while!  Work's incredibly busy right now and I have ten different things pulling me at once.  I did make time this weekend for a little baking.  Used the recipe on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa can (while making more homemade chocolate syrup) to make their "Perfectly Chocolate Cake" and homemade chocolate frosting!  As you can see from the picture, it turned out divine!  My cake was still a little warm and you can see the frosting oozing out a little in the middle.  It only made it more delicious!!

I took a break between the storms this weekend and did some flower planting.  A friend was generous to come over to the house and bring me several flower starts she did earlier in the month.  I planted some Sedum by my little bunny figurine.  This plant will spread since it is a type of ground cover.  And, yes, it does flower!  She also brought me some more day lillies so I could finish filling out my bulb bed! 
The little droopy plant is bee balm.  This was planted under my birdfeeder with hopes to attract hummingbirds this summer.  We have a lot of hummingbirds - even with just a feeder.  But the plant will make them come in droves!
This will be a Rose of Sharon and will eventually hide the ugly sewer pipe in this flower bed!  It will share the space with a Seven Sister's Rosebush (you can just see the edge of a leaf from that).  On the other end is a peach colored Hollyhock.  (can't see that - sorry!)
She also brought me some mint.  I will have to eventually move it to a bigger space.  But, for now, it occupies a small corner by the steps to our back door!
She also brought me zinnia's, 4 o'clocks, and some veggie plants.  I also got an oregano plant!  That will be great to use in recipes!

Speaking of recipes...I made two crockpot creations.  I made something called Tuscan Chicken which had  italian seasonings and tomato paste and stewed tomatoes in it.  It was yummy!!  And I also made chicken enchilladas last night.  The ingredients were simple too!
1 lb of chicken breasts cut into strips

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup chicken broth
1 tsp oregano
1/2 chopped onion
1 small can chopped jalepenos (drained) - this can be omitted if you don't like spicy foods

In a ziplock bag mix flour and salt and add cut up chicken.  Seal and shake until completely covered.  Pour into skillet and brown lightly.  Add to crockpot.  Pour chicken broth into skillet and loosen any pieces in the pan and then pour over chicken.  Sprinkle with oregano and toss in onion and jalepenos.  Cover and cook 7-8 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high.

Mix together:

1/2 cup milk
2 TBSP flour

Pour into crockpot with cooked chicken.  Cook 30 more minutes.

Put on large tortillas and add sour cream and mexican cheese mix and wrap.  Delicious!

I also thought instead of using the flour and milk mixture, you could substitute with some of that delicious white cheese sauce like they serve at the mexican restaurants.  Con Queso?  And then eliminate cheese on it when you make the wrap.  That would also be delicious over hot rice!  Just a recipe variation suggestion!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Tragedy

My sweet husband was mowing the lawn this weekend. As I watched him mow from the porch swing, he lept from the mower and ran around our fence and disappeared into the neighbor's yard.

What in the world?! I went to investigate.

He met me coming around the privacy fence with a little brown ball of fluff in his hands. "What is it?!" I exclaimed, not able to tell what it was because his hands were huge around it.

He opened his hands to show me and the little bunny did some serious kicking and bucking and next thing you know, quick as you could blink, it darted up his chest and lept to the ground and took off like a shot into the neighbor's yard behind us...right into the eyeshot of two German Shephards.

I don't need to give you the details but before I could scream out, they had the little thing. I don't think they meant to kill it but rather play with it. But, needless to say, it did not survive.

We both were so bummed out about it when he finished mowing we went inside and sulked.  I hate when something like that happens.  It really is a tragedy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Earth Day is April 22!

I was so inspired by Stephanie Lynn's creations for Earth Day at her blog Under the Table and Dreaming!  I am planning to use my Wilton Sports Ball pan and make her world cake!  How easy is that?!  I loved her rice krispie pops too!  So creative!  Sometimes I just can't seem to think outside the box!  The only idea I had come up with for Earth Day was a round cake pan shaped cake frosted blue with green continents cut out of fondant; not a bad idea, but much harder!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Country Pear Cobbler

I had a couple of cans of pears in my pantry for some time now.  Sundays, for some reason, make me want to bake.  Today, it was my goal to find a way to use the pears to make something sweet.  After a quick internet search, I found a pretty basic cobbler recipe using pears.  The recipe called for fresh pears but this recipe can be adapted to use any canned fruit (apple, peach, cherry, blueberry, etc.). 

Here's the recipe for you:


3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 TBSP all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 dash cloves (I had only whole cloves, so I substituted a hearty sprinkle of cinnamon)
2 TBSP lemon juice
2 cans pear halves (I sliced the halves and only used the syrup of one can)


1 cup all-purpose flour
2 TBSP sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk (I never have this so I made my own with milk and lemon juice)
3 TBSP butter/margarine (melted)
1 TBSP sugar

Combine all filling ingredients, except pears, in a large skillet.  Stir in sliced pears. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Make topping:  Place flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda in mixing bowl.  Beat on low with electric mixer about 30 seconds.  Add buttermilk and melted butter/margarine.  Continue to mix on low for about 30 seconds, or until well blended.

Pour hot filling into 8 or 9" baking pan.  Top evenly with large spoonfuls of topping batter.  Sprinkle with 1 TBSP sugar and cinnamon.  Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 min. or until pears are bubbly and topping is golden brown.  Serve warm with ice cream or whipped topping.
This will be great to have for dessert tonight with my lemon herb chicken!  Hope you have a great Sunday!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

Thanks to Fingerprints on the Fridge's Feature Yourself Friday, Sugar Bananas shared a wonderful and easy recipe to make homemade Chocolate syrup. You can see the recipe here.  Thanks Sarah! 

Our family goes through some serious amounts of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup.  The large bottle at our local Walmart is now costing over $3.50.  Times are tight for everyone and we're trying to save every grocery dollar possible.  I have memories as a child of my own mother making homemade chocolate syrup for me. Why I never thought of this till Sarah mentioned it is beyond me!  So, I made some today!

I assembled my ingredients.  I had everything I needed to make this recipe.  I cooked the sugar and water together.  Added the other ingredients and ended up with this wonderfully chocolate concoction! Yum!! 

Let it all cool and pour into a container to store in the fridge.  Sarah used a glass container.  I'm using my old standby because it has a pourable top! 
I ended up with almost 2 cups of syrup!  I think it tastes even better than Hershey's brand!  I will definately be making this again!

Glass Etching

While my husband did some computer work and my son played a video game last night, I got a little bored and decided to dabble in some glass etching. When I got my new Cricut Expression at Christmas, it came with a bottle of etching solution.  I'd read a lot on blogs about how easy it is to etch glass using your Cricut.  I designed our initials on my Cricut and then printed out the image on vinyl.  I used the reverse-transfer technique where you actually remove the cut out letters and use what is left over.  I had a pretty glass candle holder from Target and decided to monogram that.  It turned out pretty good.  I think I need to pile on more etching cream next time and maybe let it sit a little longer.  But overall, I'm happy with it!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Springtime Around My Area

I really do have a gorgeous drive to town.  I cross over a bridge with these gorgous views on either side.  Then, I am so in love with this huge Sycamore tree.  It is huge!  Along the way, someone has this gorgeous Wisteria blooming in their driveway.  I just HAD to stop and get a picture of it!  The scent from it was wonderful!  Even better than a Lilac bush!  Driving outside of Logansport is a grove of Sycamore.  I can remember, as a child, knowing when I drove through that grove of trees, I was leaving my home town.
How are things looking in your area with spring in full bloom?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More Bulb Planting

This sweet little bag of iris bulbs  became this last night!  I just love working out in the yard!  The weather lately has been wonderful!  I am hoping these peach irises fill in this area under our Bradford Pear.  Now if I can just find someone to donate some Tulip bulbs!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Craft Room Update!

The work on our spare bedroom conversion to a craft room continues.  To give you some idea of what the room looked like before all the work began, I thought I'd post a couple of before shots.  It was your typical small, spare room with a bed, messy computer station, and various pieces of furniture that were really way too big for the room.  But, as I said before, we helped out someone in need and donated the furniture.  This freed up the room to be made into what I'd always wanted; a craft room!
In the first picture you can see the soft color of the accent wall.  It is very soothing.  My husband bought some birch plywood and made some very long, sturdy work tables.  He also added some pretty trim and plenty of powerstrips for my crafting equipment!  You can click on each picture for a bigger, more detailed view.   The tv/dvd player is hung from the ceiling to save space.  It's not hooked up yet in these pics.

  I loved the accent wall so much that I decided this weekend to add a stripe of the same color around the room.  I really like how that turned out.  With the white trim, it really makes it pop!  One little project I had my husband do is drill a tiny hole in my yardstick so I could hang it up!  I am always needing this inexpensive supply!  I plan to add some jute string to hang it from but I can't find any of my craft supplies right now.  I will be organizing them soon when I get containers for everything!
We decided to move our computer into the craft room after some debate.  It really made sense to do this since I do some digital scrapbooking; and having a computer and printer in the same work space would be very convenient.  It used up some of my workspace, but I think I'll still have plenty!

I couldn't wait to bring in my Cricut Expression.  I was so excited to finally have a "home" for it!  We will be adding shelves on the walls next, and a pegboard.  I plan to paint big polka dots in the accent color on the pegboard (to continue the color theme).  I also want to add a magnetic board for small magnetic containers (see pic to the right) to store small embellishments like buttons, brads, etc.  I have some of these on my refrigerator and love them! I have been seeing some really cool subway art on some very creative ladies' blogs.  I have plans to incorporate some of these in my room decor.  And, of course, I plan to use my Cricut to make some creative themed wall quotes. 

We still want to put a fabric skirt under the table to hide cords and table legs.  I want to use burlap but my husband isn't real crazy about the idea.  I assured him I'd wash the burlap to cut down on that rustic smell.  He said it wasn't that, that made him hesitate.  He just didn't like the look of burlap.  We are still discussing this.  It's his room too and I want his input!  I had some other ideas like maybe using an aqua gingham fabric or crisp white fabric.  He said he could install inexpensive curtain rods under the table to hang cafe length curtains from so we could open the curtains to store stuff if we needed to and then close it to hide what's underneath.  What do you think?  Whatever I use, I plan to also use it to make a valance for the room's one window.  I want to make sure lots of light comes in.

Remember the inspiration picture I posted in an earlier post?  I still want to have him build the island work station you see in that picture.  I loved the bookshelves on the ends.  How handy would that be for craft books?!  And, perhaps some of that wall cabinetry you see in the picture.  One thing a craft room must have is lots of storage!  We will be adding to the room as we go.  I'll be sure and post some future pictures so you can see the progress.  For now, I am thrilled with what we have done!  I now have a beautiful place to create and spend time creating with my husband!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Spare Bedroom Re-Do

For a few weeks now, we have been working to convert our spare bedroom into a craft room.  It is definately a work in progress.  We've always used this small room as a bedroom.  It first housed a Japanese-Homestay Student (Minami).  Then it housed my neice's daughter until she went off to college.  Then my daughter and granddaughter used it briefly.  Once it was finally empty of people (laugh), we decided we wanted it to be a craft room instead.  My husband likes to do wood crafts.  I like doing all sorts of crafts.  We lucked out a couple of months ago when it was brought to our attention through a friend of a friend that a young man was living pretty destitute and had nothing, furniture-wise.  We ended up giving him the entire bedroom of furniture - lamps, bedding, bed, dresser...everything!  In our opinion, it was a win-win situation.  It helped the guy out and it helped us rid the room of everything in it!   The photo above has been my inspiration for the room.  It's a PB ad.  Love them...just not their prices!!

Next we had to decide on paint colors.  The room was painted two colors:  a chocolate brown accent wall and the other 3 walls were cinnamon cake.  Both Behr brand paints.  We decided we really wanted to lighten the room up since it only has one window.  So we went off to HD and picked out two more colors:  limelight and hushed white.  Limelight sounds green but it's actually a very pale aqua color.  I fell in love with it once it was on the wall.  It was an accent color so I painted that wall last.  If I'd known how beautiful and calming the color was going to be, I would have painted all the walls that color!  We left the trim glossy white.

My husband custom built 2 long craft tables and anchored them to the walls.  They are about 2 ft wide and about 7 ft long, I believe.  It made an "L" shape table on two walls.  Ample space for he and I to do our crafting.  He mounted a small tv/dvd combo from the ceiling to free up space.  He also put speakers and music into the room for me so I can listen to that too when I am creating.  We stained the worktable tops a stain called Gettysburg and added some decorative moulding that we painted the same glossy white as the rest of the trim in the room.   We were sad to paint over the beautiful Birch wood, but the color was really nice! He also drilled a hole through each table and ran two power strips for me so I can have lots of ways to plug things in.

That's all we've done so far.  This weekend I want to add a burlap skirt under the tables, perhaps a valance for the window and do touch up painting.  I have some pictures of it so far, but not with me today.  I will post them on Monday, with hopefully, more photos of the updates we do this weekend!  I am very excited about getting this craft room ready to fill.  I got a Cricut Expression for Christmas and it will have a nice new home in the craft room!  I plan to use it with vinyl to make some wall words for the space along with some subway art pictures.

What are your plans for the weekend?  Anything fun?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Memories from Photos

This sweet little photo is of my daughter when she was about 4 years old.  She had just learned to ride her little bike without training wheels.  She was so proud of herself and I decided to call Sears and see if I could get her picture made with her bike.  I never realized what a small feat that would be!  Sears didn't like the idea of her having her bike in the picture.  What if it fell over?  She could be hurt!  We could sue!!  Geesh.  I finally talked them into it promising to keep the training wheels on it to hold it up.  So if you look really close, you can see them. 

Isn't it funny what memories a photo brings out?  You look at this photo and see a cute little girl with her hat on backwards and her bike beside her.  I look at it and I remember how the day before the photo, her Dad and I went riding around in the car and she was eating Dorito chips in the back seat.  She rubbed her eyes with her hands and got the dust in her eyes.  The next morning she woke up with red, swollen eyes.  You can't see it in this picture but in the 8x10, those eyes are red!!!

I have an Olan Mills picture of her when she was 2.  She wore a sweet little baby blue peated dress and looked like an angel.  But what was that??  Look really close and you'll see a wad of chewing gum clenched between her back teeth as she grinned!  LOL  I want to scan that and share that on here but I have to find it first!  It's hilarious!  I was a little upset with her at first when I saw the photos and then I laughed and realized that catching her with gum in her mouth in a photo actually made it memorable!

Do you have any funny professional photos of your kids?