Saturday, August 31, 2013

Quick and Easy Skirt

Keeping growing children in clothes that fit is a constant challenge that can blow budgets fast. A few basic sewing skills and a little creativity can go a long way.

I found this bright colored summer dress on clearance for $2.50. As a dress, it was too short for my daughter. We decided to turn it into a skirt.

I measured how long she needed the skirt to be (from her waist to her knee) and then added 1 inch to allow for me to turn under the waistband. I cut off the extra top portion of the dress.

Then I used my serger to finish the raw edge. Next,I turned the top down 3/4 of an inch or so and did a quick seem on my traditional machine. I didn't need to add any elastic at all. It was that easy.

Now, my daughter has a cute, new skirt that can be casual or dressy depending on what she pairs it with. It was so very simple!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Salsa Day Prep

The garden is producing and we are harvesting as things are ready. 

It makes "Salsa Day" so much easier if I have already chopped and frozen many of the ingredients.

A food processor makes for quick work.

Be sure to wear gloves so the pepper oils don't bother your hands. (Or worse, get into your eyes because you touch them after working with the peppers - that was a painful lesson learned a few years ago!)
I have a blue pair of gloves I reserve for using with food - my yellow ones I use for cleaning.

Label your bags of chopped ingredients and freeze them until the big day arrives. If you won't be making salsa this year, you can still chop and freeze your peppers and onions this way to use in other recipes.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Applesauce Day

Here's the view out my living room window - we had a productive day! It was a little smaller operation this year - it was just us not the entire family this time. See last year's post here.

It began with us steaming the apples in the juicer to get them soft. Doing it this way keeps the juice undiluted.

Each of the kids took their turn squishing the apples - they all still vie for turns.

I added kool-aid to some of the sauce then sweetened to taste with sugar and added some of the juice back in to make it the right consistency. 1 packet of kool-aid will flavor 6-7 quarts of sauce.

It was then into the canner for processing. We put up 34 quarts today - some regular and some strawberry flavored - all good!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Raspberry Syrup with Ultra Gel

We got to pick my parent's raspberry patch recently. It is a highlight of the summer - the kids are getting old enough that they can actually be helpers and know that we will make some delicious items with what we pick. I often make freezer jam with all of them, but this year I decided to make some raspberry syrup as well. 

I stretched my berry puree with applesauce for the syrup just like I do with the freezer jam recipe. I used about 6 cups of berry puree and 2 cups of applesauce to get my 8 cups of fruit puree called for in the recipe. It was a little bit of guessing since I just poured some puree into my 2 qt measuring bowl and added applesauce and tasted to make sure it still tasted as much like raspberries as I wanted. You can use all berry puree if you want to. The applesauce just stretches the more expensive berries and we can make more syrup or jam that way.

This recipe is very versatile. You can use whatever variety or mix of fruit puree you would like. You can also buy the frozen juice concentrate at the store and turn it into syrup - let your imagination dictate the flavor you want to try.

Soft Set Jelly/Syrup

8 cups fruit juice or puree
1 cup corn syrup
½ cup lemon juice
1 ½–2 cups Ultra Gel*
4 cups sugar

Combine fruit puree and lemon juice in a non-reactive pan. Combine sugar with 1 cup ultra gel and then add to fruit puree. Sweeten to taste with corn syrup (or honey or agave nectar - use the sweetener that you prefer) Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in additional ultra gel gradually until it reaches the thickness you desire - leave it thinner for syrup or thicker for jelly. Return to heat and boil 1 minute. Ladle into jars immediately and process for 35 minutes in hot water bath. Makes approximately 5 ½ pints.

*Ultra Gel is the same as ultra sperse and instant clear-jel and these can be used interchangeably as the thickener in the above recipe.

**This recipe can be frozen instead of processed with great results.

***If you are on a sugar-free diet, use whatever you desire to sweeten this syrup. Just store it in the freezer instead of canning it since we are cautioned against canning an untested recipe.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Best Ever Cheesy Squash Burger Bake

Summer brings lots of zucchini and squash to those of us who plant a garden or to those of us who have neighbors who plant a garden. The first few weeks the kids and I search each day, eager to find new ones to pick. After a few weeks, the novelty wears off and the kids are tired of all the ways I try and hide zucchini in everything I make. 

Knowing I had a basket full of squash on the counter and another ten growing in the garden, I decided to get creative. I came up with this recipe that doesn't hide the squash at all. The squash is the main ingredient! My husband and kids sat down to the dinner table quite sure they would want peanut butter sandwiches for a snack real soon since they wouldn't like dinner. They were skeptical to say the least. Little did they know. . . dinner was delicious! They all asked for seconds and emptied the entire 9x13 pan.

Cheesy Squash Burger Bake
4-5 summer squash
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 lb hamburger, browned
Nacho Cheese Sauce - double recipe
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 cup bread crumbs

Use zucchini, yellow squash or patty pan. If your squash are larger, slice in half and scoop out the seeds before slicing. You want enough to cover the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Cook sliced squash, onion, and green pepper in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain. Place in 9x13 pan. Top with browned hamburger. Make a double batch of the nacho cheese sauce recipe and pour over the squash. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 5 minutes or cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes until heated through and squash is tender. Mix bread crumbs with melted butter and spread on top of casserole. Place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to brown. Serve and enjoy!


1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup hot water
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
⅛ tsp pepper
½ cup Mozzarella cheese, grated
1 tsp dried, minced onion reconstituted

In a saucepan, whisk white sauce mix and water together and cook until smooth. As sauce begins to thicken, add remaining ingredients. Serve over tortilla chips. Top with chili, spiced hamburger, sliced black olives, salsa, etc. You can use pepper jack cheese for a more spicy sauce.

White Sauce Mix
Mix up a large batch—believe me, you'll find a million uses for it. It will become a great time saver.

3 cups non-instant dry milk powder
2 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

Mix together and store in an airtight container. Use in any recipe that calls for making a white sauce using milk, butter and flour. It is a completely fat free alternative and tastes great! It will store for up to 5 years on the pantry shelf.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Snickerdoodles for an Army or just a Family Reunion

When put on kitchen duty for our family reunions, you can feel like you're in the army assigned to KP! We had 90 people this year from my Mom's side of the family at the reunion - and that is only about 1/3 of us. My grandmother is still living and is 93. (This is a recipe I copied from her box many years ago.) She has 68 grandchildren and well over 100 great-grandchildren with more on the way! We are so glad she was healthy and able to make the trip. I love taking my kids to these events because it is important to understand that they are part of something so big and that there are literally hundreds of people who know who they are and love them.

I had my daughter mix up the cookie dough. We tripled the batch since I have a large enough mixer to handle that size. I did have her add some cinnamon into the dough. We added 1 tsp per batch so 3 tsp for our big mixer full. Instead of rolling them into balls and then in cinnamon/sugar, I decided to try shaping them into a log and slicing them. I knew this would be faster for the number of cookies we needed to bake. This is why I put the cinnamon in the dough. I wanted to be sure they had enough cinnamon flavor. 

After rolling into logs, refrigerate the dough until firm - it will be easier to slice. Slice into thin, even slices and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. (I keep a bottle mixed up in my spice cupboard. Mix 1 tsp cinnamon with 4-5 Tbsp sugar.) Then bake as directed. Depending on how thin you sliced them, you may need to adjust the baking time. 

They turned out delicious and very fast to do. If you don't want to bake all the dough at once, just freeze the logs and pull one out of the freezer when you are ready to bake. You can have fresh tasting cookies in a flash! 

Snickerdoodles are also one of the least expensive cookies to make since they don't call for any chocolate chips or other more spendy ingredients so when cost is a factor, this is a recipe I turn to.


½ cup butter
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup shortening
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs

Cream butter, shortening, sugar, and eggs. Add dry ingredients. Roll into balls and place on cookie sheet to freeze. Transfer to ziplock bag when frozen. To use frozen dough: Take out as many as you want to bake. Thaw just until sticky. Roll in cinnamon and sugar. Place on a greased cookie sheet to thaw a little longer; press down lightly. Bake at 400° F 8–10 minutes. Makes 3-4 dozen.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Taco Filling or Taco Soup for 100

Every now and then, I get the assignment to be in charge of feeding a large crowd. Sometimes it is a family reunion, a neighborhood party, or a church social. I decided I should start recording what I did so I could refer back to it the next time an assignment comes around. I figured there were others out there like me. You could easily reduce this recipe if you didn't have such a large crowd. It freezes very well so I always make it ahead and store in the fridge or freezer until the day of the event. When ready to serve, just heat and eat. This served 100 when we had about 40 kids in our group. If you were serving only adults, you should plan on it feeding 80.

Taco Filling for 100

4 lbs dry red beans (or pinto)
4 cups brown rice
10 lbs hamburger
2 large onions, chopped
2 cups taco seasoning mix
1-2 lbs frozen corn
3 #10 cans crushed tomatoes

Toppings - 
6-9 lbs of lettuce salad mix (2-3 large bags lettuce from Costco)
2 quarts Ranch dressing
4 lbs sour cream
3-4 lbs shredded cheese
2 quarts salsa
9 lbs tortilla chips (3 large bags of Costco tortilla chips)

Soak and cook the dry beans. Cook the brown rice. Brown the hamburger with the onions. (See my trick on how to do this large quantity here.) Mix the beans, rice and hamburger with the remaining ingredients. Store in gallon ziplock bags until ready to heat and serve. It fills 6-7 gallon bags. This mixture freezes well so you can do it well ahead of the big day.

To serve - Place tortilla chips on the plate and top with taco mix. Add additional toppings as desired. This mix could also be rolled in flour tortillas.

To make taco soup, add 2 more #10 cans of crushed tomatoes, adjust taco seasoning amount to taste, and add water if needed. Serve in bowls and top with chips and other toppings as desired.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Birthdays that Build Memories not Debt

There seems to be a growing trend among families in our area to plan large birthday parties and have everyone meet at the local arcade, bowling alley, water park, etc. All these places have special birthday packages where you can do a party for $150 or $200. For our family this could easily cost us $1000 over the year - we have chosen simpler, home based parties that still build lots of memories. 

It is a little more work on my part, but I have to remind myself of what other things we can use that money for - after all, "A penny saved is a penny earned." If I figure it takes me 2 hours of planning per party times the 5 parties we have in a year, that means that I have earned savings at the rate of $100 an hour - not bad at all!

Here is a homemade hot air balloon cake that the birthday boy helped me frost.

He's one happy 6 year old.

We had a night of minute to win it games perfect for entertaining a group of 9-11 year olds.

Here is another homemade cake- frosted quite simply. It cost me about $3.00 to make.

Another fun activity is a party full of relay races. Here is a photo of one doughnut eating race we had.

Get a little creative and remember that memories don't have to cost a lot.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Browning Hamburger for a Crowd

We were assigned the taco meal at our last family reunion. It meant we needed to make taco filling for 90 people! That's a lot of tacos. Thank goodness it is a recipe that can be done in parts and well ahead of time. I will share the taco filling recipe soon. Today I am just going to share my secret for browning the hamburger. I decided to brown my 10 lbs of hamburger all at once. I put it all in my turkey roasting pan. I then chopped a couple of large onions from our garden and added them to the pot. The hamburger chubs were still a little frozen in the middle so I broke up what I could and then put the lid on. 

I baked it at 300 degrees for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours stirring it occasionally to break it up. It took a while to do, but I did not have to be constantly watching it. I made and served dinner, did some laundry, and bathed my younger kids. It worked great! 

Once it was done, I lined two jelly roll pans with paper towels and used a slotted spoon to move the hamburger to the trays. I then worked to mix all the taco filling - more on that another time.

If you are not making tacos, just let the hamburger cool and package in ziplock bags to freeze for another day. Having hamburger pre-cooked speeds up dinner preparations many nights. Sloppy Joes, spaghetti, tacos, casseroles, and hamburger helper style meals all require that you brown the meat first. This way, you can skip that step and have dinner on the table that much faster.