Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday ~ Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall

Since last week brought us the first day of Autumn, I thought it would be fun to dedicate this edition of Wordless Wednesday to the Summer of 2011.
Now that Grace is getting bigger, we had a lot more options available for summer activities.  Even though we didn't travel anywhere for a week-long vacation, we still managed to have a wonderful and fun-filled summer while staying pretty close to home!

Grace's great grandmom gave her a season pass to Sesame Place for her birthday, this made it possible for us to enjoy the water park and  visit Grace's favorite characters   several times this summer and we plan on going a couple more times during the fall. 

* Thanks, Visit Philly for the great pic of Grace with Bert and Ernie! 

As much as Grace loves Sesame Place, it's hard to say which one of us has more fun!

Grace enjoyed her first McDonald's Happy Meal this summer!

I loved watching her gobble up her french fries and play with her toy, but I hated how much she looked like a big kid!  Where did my baby go?

Along with Grace's Aunt Barb, I took her to see her first movie: Winnie the Pooh.  She had a lot of fun, but her attention span wasn't long enough to accomodate the previews AND the movie!  We'll have to remember to show up after the previews the next time! 

BUT, she did LOVE the big tub of popcorn!   

One of our local parks has an old carousel that they open a few times during the summer. We took Grace last year and she hated it!

We decided to give it a try again this year and she loved it!  I'll share more photos from our day at the carousel in a future post. 

Another local park has a great play structure in the shape of a castle

Even though she is still a little too young for that part of the playground, it was still a lot of fun climbing and exploring with her! 

We also enjoyed spending time right in our own back yard. 

Flying kites,

playing in the sprinkler,

and watching pinwheels spin in the breeze

Whew!  What a busy summer! 

A couple of weeks ago, we got a head start on the fall festivities and took Grace apple picking.  We all had such a wonderful time, that we're looking forward to berry picking next summer.  But, we don't want to rush things! 

Now, we want to enjoy some nice brisk days at the pumpkin patch (click here, here and here for pics from last year's trip to the patch), going on hayrides, jumping in leaves, taking Grace to the zoo, and we can't forget Trick or Treating at Sesame Place!  I can't wait! 

I'll be linking this post to the following blog carnivals and linky parties: 


Monday, September 26, 2011

Menu Plan Monday ~ Week of September 26th

Although we didn't get to all of the meals planned, last week's menu plan went well.   
We tried three new recipes last week and really love the way they all turned out!  Whew!  I'm always nervous about trying new recipes.  I worry that we won't like them or that I'll screw it up somehow.  So, planning three new recipes in one menu plan was pretty daring for me!  (Yes, my life is so boring that the most exciting and daring thing I do, is try new recipes!) 

The first of the three new recipes was Hearty Un-Stuffed Cabbage Soup which was inspired by Katie's Beef Cabbage Soup.  This was my favorite meal of the week.

Next up, we enjoyed a very filling, slow-cooked, Vegetarian Lentil Chili.  I followed this recipe as close as possible, making a few adjustments here and there.  I really liked this recipe a lot and have plenty left over to store in the freezer for future meals. 

Another new recipe we made this week, was Zesty Chicken and Vegetables in the Crock Pot.  This recipe was so simple!  I made a few changes to the original recipe, mainly because I was trying to use up the last of the veggies in the bin and the dressing on the fridge door!  I'll definitely be making this again! 

This week, I'll be cooking from the freezer and pantry as much as possible.  I'm low on fresh veggies, so we'll have to pick a few things up from the store...but since we're there twice a week for milk, that won't be a problem.  I'll just stick to the list and try really hard not to add anything else to the shopping cart! 

Here are some of the things we'll be eating this week: 

  • Rotisserie Chicken.  Grace loves chicken!  And while we do love the convenience of picking one up from the deli, it's no where near as good as the chickens we cook in our Set It and Forget It Rotisserie Oven by Ronco (it makes great hot dogs, too)!  I'll be serving this with Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes and steamed carrots. 

  • Zesty Chicken Salsa Muffins.  Not to be confused with last week's Zesty Chicken recipe.  I'm really looking forward to trying this recipe for a savory muffin using leftover chicken, corn bread stuffing mix & salsa (and a few other ingredients as well)!  I'll be serving this alongside a bowl of leftover Weight Watchers Zero Point Vegetable Soup in place of our usual grilled cheese sandwiches. 
  • DiGiorno Pizza.  I've been hooked on DiGiorno ever since I hosted a DiGiorno Pizza & Hoops House Party!  When digging around in the basement freezer, I discovered a frozen pizza and knew immediately that I wanted to add it to this week's menu.  I'll also make some oven fries and a salad to serve with the pizza.  Fast food on a budget! 

  • Asian-Style Pepper Steak.  This is my favorite Pepper Steak recipe!  I plan to serve this over rice with a side of steamed broccoli.  Depending on how well we do on keeping the grocery budget low, I may have Joe pick up some egg rolls on his way home from work. 

  • Tuna Noodle Casserole.  This is one of the meals that we skipped last week.  I have most of the ingredients on hand for this recipe (we'll have to pick up peas) so it makes sense to include it in this week's plan....hopefully, I'll get to it this week! 

  • Blueberry Pancakes, Fruit Salad, yogurt.  In addition to macaroni 'n' cheese, chicken, & spaghetti, Grace we can sometimes get her to eat pancakes, waffles or frech toast...if she's in the mood.  So, I'll whip up a batch of pancakes this week and hope she'll eat 'em! 

So, that's what will be cooking at our house this week!  What's on your menu?  Let us know in the comments or follow me over to I'm an Organizing Junkie and link up your weekly menu on Menu Plan Monday!   

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Vegetarian Lentil Chili ~ A Crock Pot Recipe

Since lentils are cheap and healthy, I've been looking for new ways to prepare them.  I've made lentil soup a few times and the recipe I use makes a lot.  Normally, that's not a problem.  Except in this case, Joe doesn't care for the lentil soup and that's a lot of soup for just me.  Even if I freeze it, it still seems to last forever. 

I was happy to find this recipe for Vegetarian Chili.  Since I'm always looking to try new chili recipes, this seemed to be right up my alley! 

I started off by following the recipe as written, substituting the liquid for organic tomato soup used in the original recipe.  After letting it cook for a few hours, I adjusted the recipe slightly, to make it a better fit for our tastes. 

Vegetarian Lentil Chili

  • 16 oz. bag of lentils
  • 1 cup dry pinto beans, soaked overnight
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with mild chilis
  • 2 chipotle peppers in 2 tsp. adobo sauce
  • 32 oz. vegetable broth
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1/2 can tomato paste
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup mild salsa
  • 2 Tbs. Italian Seasoning
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1 Tbs. cumin
  • 2 Tbs. molasses
  • 2 Tbs. cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. 
  • Cook on high for one hour.
  • Reduce heat to low and cook for 10-12 hours, stirring occasionally. 

  • We both enjoyed the way this chili turned out.  Good thing, since it made A LOT! 
  • This took longer to cook than I anticipated.  Even with soaking the beans ahead of time, it took a while for them to start to soften up, then even longer to get them to the texture I desired.  Next time, I will let this cook over night as stated in the original recipe.  Or, I will cook my beans and lentils ahead of time, then combine in the slow cooker with the rest of the ingredients.
  • We've been trying to incorporate more meatless meals into our weekly menu plans.  Not only is it healthy, it also helps keep food costs down. 
  • Serving this over rice or a baked potato or even cornbread really stretches this pot of chili into several meals, depending on the size of your family. 
  • This recipe is a definite keeper.  I love that it's frugal and contains ingredients that I almost always have on hand.  It's also very filling and healthy. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Crock Pot Kielbasa Soup

Kielbasa Soup is one of our favorite fall/winter meals.  Growing up in a Polish neighborhood, I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to Kielbasa.  While the pre-packaged links at the grocery store will do fine for some recipes, we both prefer the flavor that the double-smoked kielbasa that we get from our local Polish Market gives this hearty soup. 

Crock Pot Kielbasa Soup

  • 16 oz. double smoked kielbasa, sliced in half lengthwise, then cut in half
  • 58 oz. homemade Chicken Stock
  • 15 oz. can pinto or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 medium celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 14.5 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes with liquid
  • cooked rice
  • Combine all ingredients in crock pot and cook on low setting for 6-8 hours, or until beans are tender. 
  • Ladle into bowls, adding rice if desired. 
  • Shredded cabbage would be a wonderful addition to this soup as well. 


I'll be linking this post to the following blog carnivals and linky parties: 


Zesty Chicken and Vegetables in the Crock Pot

I've been having a difficult time getting myself motivated to cook dinner lately.  I realized that I was in a rut and was getting really bored with making the same things for dinner over and over again.

The fall weather always puts me in the mood to cook, but with this new season, I wanted to find some new dinner ideas to incorporate into last week's menu plan.

While checking out some recipes I found online, I was looking for two things.
  • One, the recipe had to be pantry-friendly. I didn't want to have to hit the grocery store for a bunch of ingredients we didn't have, when I have a pantry full of food just waiting to be added to a recipe!
  • And Two, I wanted to use my crock pot. I wanted to be able throw dinner together in the morning so I could enjoy the rest of my day with Grace.
This recipe definitely fit my criteria.  After a quick check of my fridge, I saw that I had slightly more than enough Zesty Italian dressing to put together this simple, crock pot meal! 

I increased the veggies (with the addition of onions and green beans) and used 1/4 more of the dressing since it was the last of the bottle.  Since our refrigerator door is always stuffed to overflowing with condiments, there was no way I was going to put JUST a 1/4 cup of dressing back into the fridge.  Plus, with the added veggies, I figured a little more liquid wouldn't hurt. 

Zesty Crock Pot Chicken and Vegetables

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 6 potatoes, diced
  • 5 carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion
  • 3 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. Italian Seasoning
  • 3/4 c. Zesty Italian Dressing
  • frozen cut green beans, thawed
  • Mix all ingredients together in crock pot. 
  • Cook on low for 4-6 hours, or until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender. 
  • Near the end of cooking time, add in the thawed green beans.  Cook until beans are heated through. 

  • My crock pot seemed to cook this really quick.  My guess is because my crock pot is too big for this recipe.  Next time, I will either double the recipe or use a smaller crock pot and allow to cook longer.  Or, just use this quicker cooking meal for one of those mornings that I can't seem to get the crock pot started early enough! 
  • I loved the simplicity of this meal and the fact that I had all of the ingredients in my pantry and freezer.   
  • This recipe is a keeper! 

I'll be linking this post to the following blog hops and linky parties: 


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday ~ Apple Pickin'

Last weekend, we took Grace and our nieces apple picking for the first time. It was a new experience for all of us and we had a really great time!

Solebury Orchards offers many varieties of pick-your-own apples but I wanted to be sure to visit the orchard for Honey Crisp season since they are my favorites! 

Grace really loved that she could fit under the trees!  It was difficult getting her to understand that we didn't want the apples that were on the ground!  She saw one rotting apple covered in ants and was completely fascinated! 

Look at that big, juicy apple!  Mmmm! 

Finally, we were able to get her to pick the apples from the trees!  Once she figured it out, we couldn't get her to stop! 

The orchard provides an area for the kids to play while waiting our turn for the apple wagon to take us out to pick.  Grace loves to play in the hay and I really think she would have been fine with that being the only activity for the day! 

In addition to a variety of pick-your-own fruit options throughout the seasons, Solebury Orchards also has a beautiful cutting garden where you can pick your own flowers!  I would have loved picking the beautiful flowers (especially since Zinnias are one of my favorites) but I think Grace would have caused too much damage to the pretty blooms! 

After we finished picking our apples, we rode the apple wagon back to the little shop to weigh and pay for our apples.  We picked over 30 lbs. of apples!  Since I'm not fond of baking, I sent 10 lbs. of the apples home with my nieces, and delivered another 10 lbs. to Grace's Aunt Barb, keeping just over 10 lbs. here for snacking! 

Oh!  I forgot the best part!  Back at the little shop where we weighed our apples, they sell Apple Cider Donuts!  Just as we were getting ready to pay, they brought out a huge batch of still-warm donuts!  We were good and only bought a 1/2 dozen which was just enough for all of us!  I wish I would have taken a picture of Grace enjoying her donut! 

Since we're about half way through our 10 lbs. of apples, I think it's time we go back for more donuts....I mean apples!  :) 

I'll be linking this post to the following blog carnivals and linky parties:

Hearty Un-Stuffed Cabbage Soup

Joe and I both love cabbage, but for some reason, we don't make it very often.  I used to make a casserole that reminded me of stuffed cabbage, it was one of those meals I could eat the entire week!  Great for when I was still working or when Joe was out of town and I just didn't feel like cooking.

When I saw Katie's recipe for Beef Cabbage Soup over at The Cutting Back Kitchen, I knew we had to try it!  And I am so glad we did! 

I made a few changes and was very pleased with the results! 

Hearty Un-Stuffed Cabbage Soup

  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. bulk sausage (I used Bob Evans Zesty Sausage)
  • 1/2 head cabbage, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 28 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 15 oz. cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/4 cups. tomato sauce
  • 5 cups water
  • 2 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 c. instant rice, uncooked
  • Brown the ground beef and sausage in bottom of dutch oven or soup pot.  Drain.
  • Add all of the remaining ingredients (except the rice) and bring to a boil. 
  • Stir in rice, cover and reduce heat.
  • Allow to simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. 

  • Thanks to the rice and beans, this was a very filling soup!  The rice thickened the soup a bit and gave it a very nice, hearty texture! 
  • This super-easy recipe could be made even simpler if you have pre-cooked ground beef/sausage in your freezer! 
  • Serves about 8, depending on your serving size...we like hearty portions! 

We really enjoyed this hearty and frugal soup and I'm sure I'll be making it again and again throughout the fall and winter months!

What is your favorite way to prepare/serve cabbage? 

I'll be linking this post to the following blog carnivals and linky parties: 


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Menu Plan Monday ~ Week of September 19th

Beautiful fall weather has hit Pennsylvania this past week.  I took a peek at the 10-day forecast and see that we're going to have more low temps!  Mid to low 70s.  Soon it will be time to take the air conditioners out of the windows, stack firewood on the back porch and bring out the warm blankets for snuggling on the sofa while watching Sesame Street with Grace! 

All of that sounds good to me!  I can't wait! 

Have I mentioned that Autumn is my favorite season?  I really do enjoy the cool weather so much more than the hot, 90+ degree days that summer brings.  I don't handle the heat well (never have), so once the weather starts to feel more comfortable, we start to plan more outdoor activites. 

We took full advantage of the beautiful weather and took Grace and our nieces to the apple orchard to pick apples.  It was a first for all of us and we had a really great time!  I plan to share some photos from the day just as soon as I get a moment to edit them. 

After a day picking apples, we are really looking forward to taking Grace to the pumpkin patch this year!  She enjoyed herself so much that we took her 3 times! 

In addition to playing outdoors, I find that I enjoy cooking so much more during the cooler months.  This crisp, cool weather has put me in a soup kind of mood!  Soups, stews, casseroles....mmmmm!  Sure, I sneak a few of those meals in during the summer, but they are so much better when the outside temps are cooler!

Here's what's cookin' at our house this week: 

  • Vegetarian Lentil Chili.  This sounds like a perfect pantry meal!  I always have lentils and pinto beans in the bean drawer in the pantry.  The fact that this is a crock pot recipe makes me love this recipe even more!  I cannot wait to make this one night this week! 

  • Beef Cabbage Soup.  I've been wanting to try this recipe for a while now.  I used to make a casserole very similar to this, but I love the idea of it being a soup!  I had Joe pick up a big head of cabbage so I can finally make this recipe!  Mmmmm!  I could probably make this in the crock pot, too, but I think my dutch oven has been feeling a bit lonely this summer!  This recipe will put it to good use! 

  • Zesty Crock Pot Chicken and Vegetables.  Zesty Italian Dressing is another staple in my pantry.  It's my favorite dressing to use when I make pasta salad.  I'm sure it will be super-tasty in this super-easy recipe! 

  • Crock Pot Cranberry Pork served with mashed sweet potatoes.  After finding a pork loin in the freezer while taking inventory last week, I decided that it was time to make this recipe again.  I only made this once, but I remember it being really simple to throw together!  Gotta love easy! 

  • Weight Watcher's Zero Point Soup.  Joe actually requested that I make this soup.  I used to make it all the time.  It's been a while since we've had it.  At least 2 years, since I haven't blogged about it.  It's a meatless soup, that I like to serve along with baked potatoes and/or a salad.  Sometimes Joe will cook some bulk sausage and add it to his portion. 

  • Tuna Noodle Casserole.  This is one of those meals I keep adding to the menu plan, but never seem to get around to making it.  Silly, since I almost always have all of the ingredients on-hand for this easy, comfort-food recipe! 

Now that you know what we will be eating this week, how about letting us know what's on your menu for this week?  Share in the comments or follow me over to Menu Plan Monday for more recipes and menu planning inspiration! 

I'll also be linking up to Follow Us Monday Morning, since the question of the week asks: 
What do you love most about fall?  


Monday, September 12, 2011

Menu Plan Monday ~ Week of September 12th, 2011

Hi, friends! I hope you all had a great week last week! 

While last week flew by for us, it was a very crazy and tiring seven days!  It seems that Grace has hit the terrible twos.  She has been very ornery and stubborn this past week.  I really have no idea where she gets it!  (It couldn't possibly be because both Joe and I are stubborn and hard-headed.  Could it?)  We had a couple of really bad nights where her temper tantrums kept the whole house awake...even the dog!   

As far as cooking goes...I didn't get to two of last week's meals.  Leftovers stretched further than I thought they would.  That always works for me! 

I made a big pot of hamburger soup and that was dinner for two nights, plus I have some to put in the freezer!  I'll be posting that recipe later this week! 

For now, here's what's on the menu for this week: 

  • Monday:  Chicken Fajitas, Cheesey Spanish Rice Bake, salad.  We had company for dinner last night.  I needed something easy, that both adults and teenagers would enjoy.  Fajitas were the perfect choice!  I made 2 batches of Cheesey Spanish Rice to serve on the side.  We had plenty leftover, so that's dinner tonight! 

  • Tuesday:  Greek Chicken with vegetables, salad, biscuits.  We enjoyed this so much the last time I made this, that it's making the menu again!  This time, I'll remember to write down the specifics and take a picture!  I was telling my mom about this meal and she's looking forward to preparing it at her house soon! 

  • Wednesday:  Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, breadsticks, salad.  I have plenty of meat sauce in the freezer so this meal will be super-easy! 

  • Thursday:  Leftovers.  I'm sure by Thursday, the fridge will be filled with leftovers...making this a no-cooking night for me!  I'm thinking Fried Spaghetti

  • Friday:  Chili dogs, Chili-Cheese Tots, salad.  One of our favorite fast food dinners is Coney Island Hot Dogs and Chili-Cheese Tots from Sonic!  But for me, they are just too messy to eat in the car!  Especially, when I still need to help Grace with her food.  A while ago, I made my own version of this meal using leftover Cowboy Stew.  This time, I'll be using canned Hot Dog Sauce from Walmart.  It tastes exactly like the chili that Sonic uses!  For 50 cents a can, I like to keep a few cans on hand for a quick take-out alternative! 

  • Saturday:  Chicken a la King.  This is one of the meals that I didn't get to last week.  Since I'll have plenty of chicken leftover from Tuesday night, this will be a perfect way to serve it in a different way. 

  • Sunday:  Another leftover night.  I'd love to have a nice Sunday Dinner, but looking at the rest of the week, it seems as if there will be plenty of leftovers to use up.  Plus, I'm not sure what are plans are for the weekend.  I'd love to take Grace apple picking or something else outdoors if the weather is nice.  Leftovers will make mealtime pretty easy when we get home.  Especially if we just fend for ourselves...I, of course, will help Grace reheat her dinner!  :) 

(I didn't get to post too much last week, but I did manage to post the recipe for Chicken Stew that I made the week before!  It turned out really tasty and we enjoyed it for several nights!) 

So, that's what we're eating this week!  What's on the menu at your house?  Let me know in the comments!  Be sure to follow me over to Menu Plan Monday hosted by I'm an Organizing Junkie for more recipes and menu plan inspiration! 

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