Monday, October 31, 2011

Money Saving Tips For Holiday Gifts

Tip #3 - Make-over something you already have at home. Look through your closets and other storage areas to find items you aren't using anymore. Get creative and turn them into gifts everyone on your list would love!

Here are a few thoughts to get you started - 

     - A fresh coat of spray paint can make an old picture frame "new" again.
     - Some ribbon and a cute flower can dress up a shirt or bag.
     - Use some cute stencils and bright colored paint to turn that old bookshelf into a great playroom storage shelf.
     - Old glass jars can be dressed up with ribbon to create darling candle holders.
     - Create a unique pillow by sewing the openings of a smaller T-shirt closed and stuffing it. My 10-year-old daughter would love it!

There are plenty more ideas on the internet I'm sure. Let your creative juices flow and you'll be able to come up with something to do for everyone - but you'll have to get started early so you have time to finish your projects.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Breadstick Bones

Breadstick bones are a quick way to add some fun to a Halloween party. We always serve these with "vampire blood" (pizza sauce) for dipping. These are requested every year as a healthy treat at the school parties.

Begin with your favorite pizza dough recipe or use frozen dough you have thawed. You'll find our favorite recipe here. Roll it out and cut into strips that are about 3/4 of an inch wide and 8-9 inches long.

Roll the strips into snakes.

Tie each end in a knot by looping the end and tucking it back inside.

Place on a greased baking sheet.

Leave enough space between each breadstick bone to allow for them to rise.

Bake at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Brush with melted butter and enjoy! These can be made ahead and frozen. To reheat, thaw and wrap the whole bunch in foil. Heat at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Halloween Ghosts

When holidays are approaching, I always pick up the ingredients I need to make the traditional treats the family is accustomed to. I do this a month or two early so I can count the ingredients as part of my 3 month supply. If an extra stressful time hits your family right around a holiday, it is helpful to still be able to eat your traditional foods. 

These little ghosts are so simple. My preschoolers love the chance to help make them!

They take three ingredients - Nutter Butter cookies (those of you with nut allergies could look for a similar shaped cookie) white dipping chocolate, and mini chocolate chips. All of these ingredients will store for quite a few months.

Melt the dipping chocolate in the microwave. Dip the cookies in the chocolate being sure to coat them well.

Lay on waxed paper to harden. Place two mini chocolate chips on for eyes before the chocolate hardens. Enjoy! They will store dipped for quite some time also if you can keep yourself and your kids from eating them. They work great for school parties because they can be done ahead of time and sent in with your child if your schedule does not allow you to take something in the time of the party.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Garlic Butter Spread

Garlic bread is a favorite around here. Making your own garlic butter spread is very easy and saves you quite a bit of money.

Begin by putting butter, margarine, or whatever kind of spread you have at home in a small container. (The Smart Balance is dairy and gluten free for those with allergies.) I usually do about 1/4 cup. Allow to soften.

Sprinkle in some garlic powder and dried parsley. I never measure. The parsley is just for color so you don't need much. The garlic adds the flavor. Add it to taste.

This is what it looks like with the seasonings added.

Stir together.Store in the fridge in an airtight container.

It is delicious on homemade warm ciabatta bread. It is also quick and easy to turn a store bought loaf of French bread into garlic bread when you want it to go with dinner. I love having some of this mixed up ready to go.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Money Saving Tips For Holiday Gifts

Tip #2 - Consider making some of your gifts this year. If you get an early start, you can put together some very thoughtful gifts with items you already have at home so the cost is very minimal. 

Here is a quick list to get you brainstorming. These can work for neighbors, co-workers, teachers, friends and even family.

- Homemade bread or rolls for their holiday table
- Homemade jam or pie filling
- Pancake or waffle mix 
          Here is an whole grain mix recipe
          Here is a pumpkin waffle mix recipe
- Family Home Evening Packets or preschool games- there are many ideas for these online. We got a few of these one year and it has been wonderful to just pull out a file and have the lesson and activity all laminated and ready to go! We have used them repeatedly over the years.
- Crochet or knit stockings or a scarf and hat set. Look online for a free pattern.
- Make a quiet book for children using fabric scraps
- Sew a set of bean bags for younger children
- Make pillowcases out of holiday or themed fabric they would love
- Put together a coupon book offering services that can redeemed later such as babysitting, house cleaning, a lunch date, etc.
- How about a family history gift? Write down some of your stories from growing up in story book format to share with your kids or grandkids. 

This list is meant to get you thinking. We always end up doing some homemade gifts every year. It gets me in the spirit of the holiday a little early as I work to put them together. It also helps to keep us within our holiday budget.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blackberry Turnovers

We were invited to pick a friend's blackberry patch for Family Night a few weeks ago. All the while we were picking, the kids kept coming up with more things we could make with the blackberries. Blackberry pie, blackberry jam, blackberry syrup, blackberry smoothies, blackberry ice cream, blackberry turnovers - here is my attempt at the turnovers.

Remember all the freezer jam I was making? This is a great use for it!

Begin with pie dough. Any pie crust recipe will work. I had some in the freezer I pulled out.

Roll it out thin between two pieces of plastic wrap. You don't want to add any additional flour or else you will get the fat to flour ration off and your crust won't be as crispy.

I have this little turnover cutter, but you could cut out circles with a large cup or a small bowl.

Once I've used the bottom of the tool to cut circles, I place the circle in the top of the tool.

Here's that tasty blackberry freezer jam. Any flavor jam would work and it wouldn't have to be frozen. You could use store bought, bottled jam. I just love the fresh flavor of the frozen jam.

Place a little (1-2 tsp) on one side of your circle.

Fold dough in half. And crimp closed.

Place on a baking sheet.

Use a fork to make sure they are crimped very well around the edges. Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes until just slightly brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Once cooled, you can drizzle with a little powdered sugar icing. I usually make some, but I found this little bit of frosting left in the fridge and used it instead. Heat in the microwave for a few seconds so it will pour out.

Slowly pour over the turnovers and allow to harden. (I placed the turnovers back on the baking sheet to do the frosting to contain the mess.)

These didn't last two minutes once the kids came home from school. I had to hide one so my husband, James, could have a taste!

You could use this same idea to make homemade poptarts. The concept is the same. They are just made in a different shape. Just roll out your pie crust and cut in rectangles with a pizza cutter or knife. Place a little filling on each rectangle and top with an additional rectangle. Crimp the edges and bake. Frost as desired.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Money Saving Tips For Holiday Gifts

The Christmas holiday season will be here before we know it. It is always a challenging time for families who are trying hard to stick to a budget. I thought it might be helpful to share a few tips we've learned over the years that have helped us stay on track with our other financial goals. I will try to list a few tips each Monday for the next few weeks as the holiday approaches. 

Tip #1 - Set a holiday gift budget. It is more difficult if you set one large lump sum and never break it down. We usually build up to reach our big number. We set an amount to spend for each child and another amount to spend on each other.We then consider how much we'll put toward extended family gifts, neighborhood gifts, and teacher gifts for the school children. We also set aside an amount we use for charitable giving during the holiday season. Other things to consider is an amount for decorations and specialty holiday foods. If there is something else you traditionally spend money on, add a category for it. One area might be holiday travel. We are blessed to have family in the area so we don't find ourselves traveling at Christmas time, but I know there are many families that do.

Add all these areas together to determine how much your holiday budget is. If it is higher than you will be able to save for, you need to make some adjustments. The holidays cannot be considered an "EMERGENCY" - you cannot pull from emergency savings to cover holiday expenses. You know they are coming every year so you need to begin to plan for them.

Once I have set my budget, I begin shopping and watching sales and clearance racks. I really try to have most of my shopping done by the middle of November so I can enjoy the holiday events and not be tempted to purchase last minute items that always push me over budget.

This is enough to get you thinking. I'll share more thoughts next week - 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Freezing Peppers

Peppers are easy to prepare for the freezer. It is a simple way to preserve your garden bounty or to take advantage of a sale at the grocery store. All varieties of peppers freeze well.

Wash the peppers, cup open and remove all the seeds.

Be sure to wear gloves, I purchased a pair of kitchen gloves that have colored trim on the end. This way I know which ones to wear when preparing food and I won't mix them up with the ones that I do my cleaning with. When you are doing quite a few peppers at a time, the oil can really build up on your hands and it really burns if you have any cuts on your fingers or if you get it in your eyes.

You can chop in a food processor. This really minces the peppers which works great for making salsa or adding to soups for a little flavor. If you want larger pieces or even slices for making sweet and sour chicken or something similar, then you can just chop by hand with a knife.

Once chopped, place in a ziplock freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to a year. I chop a few at a time as they ripen in the garden and then I pull them all out for salsa making day.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pineapple Craisin Coleslaw

My son, Spencer, grew a HUGE cabbage in the garden this year! We've been having to get quite creative in figuring out ways to use it all.

It really was as big as 5 or 6 heads of cabbage from the store. I just kept cutting a wedge at a time and then would make something with it. Cabbage really keeps quite well in the fridge. Sometimes the outer leaves wilt or get some dark spots on them, but when you peel them away the inside is still perfectly fine.

For coleslaw, chop the cabbage in small pieces or you can slice it into shreds with a food processor.

Place the chopped cabbage in a bowl.

To this coleslaw, I added chopped onion.

I also drained a can of pineapple tidbits to add.

Craisins added nice color and great sweetness.

Mix it all together in your bowl.

I made a simple coleslaw dressing. The basic recipe is 1/2 cup mayo, 1/4 cup white sugar, and 1 Tbsp apple cider or red wine vinegar. For bigger salads you just double or triple the batch.

Mix it all together until smooth.

Pour over salad and stir to combine. Taste and add a little salt if needed.

Enjoy! I took this to a potluck and received many great comments.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chewy (egg-free) Molasses Cookies

If you love ginger snaps, you'll love the flavor of this chewy cookie. It's a molasses cookie with a snickerdoodle texture. They are a Fall favorite at our house and at the many potluck events we attend this time of year. I altered the recipe to make them more healthy but I didn't have to give up any flavor or texture. No one will ever guess that these cookies have half the fat of their original counterparts!

Begin by creaming the butter, bean puree, molasses and brown sugar. In these photos, I am doubling the recipe. The dough freezes so well that I like to fill my mixer and have some waiting to bake another day.

Add the flour - I used hard white wheat to grind into the wheat flour. The mix of wheat and white flour adds whole grain without making the cookie too dry.

Add the remaining dry ingredients.

Drizzle the oil in a little at a time as the dough pulls together.

Roll into balls and then in granulated sugar.

Place on a greased baking sheet.

Smash down slightly with the base of a glass.

Bake at 350 for 9 minutes. Do not over bake. Cool on a wire rack. You can freeze the cookies once they are cooked.

You can also freeze the dough before you bake it. I just wrap it in two layers of plastic wrap and place in the freezer. It thaws pretty quickly the day I want to bake it.

Chewy (egg-free) Molasses Cookies
3/4 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup white bean puree
2 cups brown sugar, loose
1/2 cup molasses (mild flavored)
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup oil

Cream together the butter, bean puree, brown sugar and molasses. Do not pack the brown sugar when you are measuring it - this is a change from most recipes. Add the dry ingredients. Begin to mix the dough with your mixer and drizzle the oil a little at a time until it pulls together into a soft dough. Roll into balls and then roll in granulated sugar. Place on a greased baking sheet and flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass. Bake at 350 degrees for 9 minutes. Do not over bake. Cool on a wire rack. Makes about 5 dozen.