August 29, 2011

How to Wow Your Neighbors with a Mix-in-a-jar

I recently discovered that you can wow people by giving them a mix in a mason jar.  It's one of the simplest gifts you can give to someone, and if you put the ingredients in a layer at a time, it ends up looking pretty cool, like so.

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Pretty cool, right?  All you have to do is attach instructions for turning the mix into a final product and you have yourself a pretty, inexpensive, homemade, delicious gift.  I gave my grandma a brownie mix for Mother's Day.  My grandpa got a cornbread mix for Father's Day.  They make great new neighbor gifts, Christmas presents for get the idea.

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So how, pray tell, do you make one of these marvelous mixes?  Easy peasy.  Just take a recipe for something that you already love--for instance, the sweet cornbread recipe that I posted a while back.  Combine all of the dry ingredients, one at a time, making each layer flat before adding the next layer.  If you have way more of one ingredient than the rest (often flour or sugar), just split it up into two layers with another ingredient or two between to make it look prettier.  For the cornbread recipe, I added the dry ingredients in the following layers:

1/2 the flour
1/2 the cornmeal
White sugar
Baking powder
The other 1/2 of the flour
The other 1/2 of the cornmeal
Brown Sugar

As long as your ingredients are relatively the same texture, you can really put them in whatever order you like because they're just going to get mixed together eventually anyway.  The thing to keep in mind with layering is that you want to put the heavier ingredients toward the bottom and any ingredients that will have space between pieces (like chocolate chips or beans, for example) are on the top.  That way flour or whatever doesn't filter down in between them and make your layer look funny.  Making the layers vary from light to dark colors makes it look really nice too.  Just look how good these muffins in a jar look!

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When all of your layers are in place, put the lid on the jar, tie a ribbon on it, and include instructions for adding the rest of the ingredients and cooking it.  Bam!  That was easy.

You want to try it now, don't you?  Well, my culinary friend, here is a website that has tons of ideas for mixes in a jar to get you going.  Happy mixing!

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Chili in a jar, anyone?

August 26, 2011

Strawberry Banana Protein Shake

When we first got married, my husband and I used to go running together.  We would run, I would get angry, and we would go home and make a smoothie.  I would feel better.  So if the endorphins you get from exercise aren't quite enough to make it worth the effort, just tell yourself that when you're finished you'll get to drink this smoothie.  It's all about motivation, people.

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Strawberry Banana Protein Shake

1 banana, broken up into a few pieces
2/3 cup frozen strawberries
1 scoop chocolate whey protein powder (we get the kind from Costco)
1/2 cup milk
1 packet Emergen-C (optional, if you want an added bit of flavor or feel under the weather)

1. Put all ingredients in the blender.  Blend!
2. Drink!  Be happy that you exercised and now get to drink this shake.

August 25, 2011

The Everyday Shopper's Guide to Buying Produce

Ever wonder how to pick the perfect avocado?  Do you have a hard time remembering when tangerines are in season?  Ever walk around the produce section pretending to look at produce but secretly watching the people who look like they actually know what they're doing when they pick out their vegetables?  If so, these two articles may just be for you.  They're from a website called Wise Bread that puts up all kinds of articles about frugal living.  Hopefully they will be of some help to you, as they were to me.

The first article, The Produce Worker's Guide to Choosing Fruits and Vegetables, is all about how to pick out some of the most common fruits and vegetables that people buy at the grocery store.  It's full of all kinds of little tips and tricks for picking the freshest produce and keeping it fresh at home.

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The second article, Fresh Fruits and Vegetables By the Month, deals with which fruits are in season at which times throughout the year--especially helpful if you're like me and have never successfully grown your own plant of any sort and have to buy all of your produce at the store and consequently have no idea when anything gets ripe.

Check these articles out!  You'll be happy you did.  And happy produce shopping!

August 23, 2011

Spiced Cantaloupe

I was recently asked to bring cantaloupe to a baby shower.  The only issue was that generally I'm not too much of a fan of melons.  So in an effort to make the cantaloupe more delicious to my taste, I pulled out my trusty Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook and turned to the Vegetables & Fruits section.  Lo and behold, there was a recipe for spiced cantaloupe.  With just one minor tweak to fit with the ingredients I had at home, this recipe was what I took to the shower.  And guess what?  People actually asked for the recipe!  I think I've found my new favorite way to eat cantaloupe.
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Spiced Cantaloupe
(this recipe can easily be doubled, tripled, etc. depending on how much cantaloupe you have on hand)

2 cups cantaloupe, cubed
2 Tbsp lemon juice (or lime)
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1. Put the cantaloupe cubes in a medium-sized bowl.  Pour lemon (or lime) juice over the cantaloupe, then sprinkle on the sugar and nutmeg.  Toss gently to combine.
2. Enjoy cantaloupe for possibly the first time ever (if you're anything like me).

August 22, 2011

And the Winner is...

Well, folks, today is the day that I announce the winner of my blog award.  Here's a big shout out to...

Breanna and her amazing blog Project Bake!

Project Bake is the amazing winner of this lovely award because her blog inspires me to bake things, even though baking is probably the kind of cooking that scares me the most.  Baking always seems so complicated and intimidating, but Breanna makes it seem easy.  Her blog also features some amazing photos, including this one of the beautiful Breanna herself.

Doesn't she just make you want to go put on your apron right now?  Do yourself a favor and check out her blog ( because it truly is amazing.  Congratulations, Project Bake!

August 19, 2011

Tex Mex Potato Casserole

I found this recipe as an alternate suggestion for a potato casserole on Potato Goodness Unearthed.  It was originally a microwave recipe (and you can go here to find that one if you're into microwave cooking), but I tweaked it a little to become a regular oven casserole recipe.  It's inexpensive to put together (roughly $1.46 a serving) and is a fun, original way to make potatoes.  Happy cooking!
Tex Mex Potato Casserole

1-1/4 lbs potatoes (the original recipe calls for Yukon Gold potatoes, but I just used regular russet)
1 cup onion, minced
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 can (4 oz) diced green chiles
1/2 cup canned black beans
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible (a mandolin or Saladmaster would help a lot here, but you can do it with a knife).  Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, combine broth, chili powder, and cumin.
3. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 square baking dish, and (listen carefully--this can get a bit confusing) place 1/3 of the potatoes and 1/2 of the onions in the dish.  Layer with 1/3 of the cheese and 1/2 of the green chiles and beans.  Repeat layers.  You should have the final 1/3 of the cheese and potatoes remaining.  
4. Top the entire casserole with the remaining potatoes, creating a solid layer of potatoes with no gaps, if possible.  Essentially, you want to seal in the moisture with that top layer of potatoes.  Top with remaining cheese.
5. Pour the chicken broth mixture evenly over the whole casserole.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for and hour or so until potatoes are tender.  The thinner your slices, the faster they will cook.
6. Serve with avocados and salsa!  Taste the goodness.

August 9, 2011

Homemade Ranch Dressing Mix

Another make-it-yourself mix from the fabulous Melissa.  Enjoy!

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Homemade Ranch Dressing Mix

1/4 cup powdered buttermilk
3 Tbsp dried minced onions
3 Tbsp parsley
1 Tbsp dried minced chives
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container until ready to use.

To make into ranch dressing:
1. Combine 1-1/2 Tbsp ranch dressing mix with 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup mayo.  Less milk makes it creamier, more milk makes it thinner.  
2. Ranch your salad, your carrots, your celery, your french fries...

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One-Pot Spaghetti

My husband stumbled across this recipe one night for a jazzed up version of spaghetti.  We thought it was pretty good, but when we had the leftovers the next day we realized that we'd found a keeper.  If all you have is ingredients for spaghetti but want something slightly more sophisticated (that actually tastes good the next day), this is the recipe for you.

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One-Pot Spaghetti
(adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook--14th edition.  Apparently my "New" cookbook isn't new anymore, now that there's a 15th edition)

1/2 lb ground beef
1 can (6 oz) sliced mushrooms, drained
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth OR 1 can (14 oz) broth (or try beef broth for a different taste)
1-3/4 cups water
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp black pepper
6 oz uncooked spaghetti
Parmesan cheese

1. In a large saucepan, combine ground beef, onion, and garlic.  Saute over medium heat until meat is brown and onion is tender.  Drain any drippings.
2. Stir in mushrooms, broth, 1-3/4 cups water, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, and black pepper.  Bring mixture to a boil.
3. Add spaghetti (it helps if you break the noodles in half before you put them in) a little at a time, stirring constantly.  Return to a boil and reduce heat to low.  Simmer gently, uncovered, for 17-20 minutes or until spaghetti is tender and sauce is desired consistency.  Make sure to stir it frequently or some will stick to the bottom of the pan and some will stick out the top and not cook.  
4. Sprinkle on a little parmesan cheese, and you're in business!

August 4, 2011

Homemade Taco Seasoning

This recipe was sent to me by my lovely friend, Melissa.  Making your own taco seasoning is apparently super easy and delicious.  Give it a shot next time you want to make tacos!

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Homemade Taco Seasoning

1 Tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sea salt (or regular, if that's all you've got)
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (optional, if you want an added kick)

1. Mix all ingredients together in a ziploc bag and shake until well blended.
2. Store in a dry place until you're ready to use it.
3. Brown meat, add 1/4 cup water, and as much seasoning as you want to make it flavorful.  Stir and let sit for about a minute.
4. Enjoy your tacos!

Thanks Melissa for sharing your recipe!
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