Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pin This!

I'm so in love with Pinterest (in fact, you can read about my slight obsession with Pinterest here) that I decided I needed to start a new series solely dedicated to pins I find and love. Every Wednesday, I'll share the best pins of the week, and I hope you'll share some of your favorites with me, too!

Here's the best pins I found this week:

Starbucks Caramel Apple Cider Recipe
Stuffed animal sleeping bags - LOVE!!!
These would be great as catch-alls and for men's Christmas gifts.
Mushroom pasta sauce... my mouth is so watering!
Dreamcatcher bracelet - I so want to try to make one of these!
You can view all of my Pinterest boards here. If you're on Pinterest, please let me know the link to your boards so I can follow you!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In My Mailbox


Here's what we received in our mailbox this past week:
  • Coupons for $2/1 Tidy Cats litter (we use these at Wal-Mart to get free litter and overage toward our bill; you can read more about this here and for details on how to order the coupons)
  • Twinings organic tea samples in green tea, green tea with jasmine and Earl Grey (we sampled the green tea with jasmine last night - YUM!)
  • Garnier Fructis Color Shield shampoo and conditioner samples
Share with us: What awesome freebies have you received in the mail?

Monday, November 28, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Fruitcake Cookies


Jess and I recently bought ourselves a new Christmas tree, as our old and cheap one just wasn't cutting it anymore. We went to Begick's when they were having a big sale, and they were offering refreshments to the first few shoppers that showed up in the morning. Needless to say, Jess and I were the first there. Part of the refreshments were these yummy little cookies that were so good. They were obviously homemade and not just purchased off the shelf at Wal-Mart. When we asked the cashier about them, she directed us to the recipe and offered to sell us the main ingredient (a fruitcake bar). We bought two bars (enough to make four batches) and actually debated another bar. We made the cookies for our Thanksgiving feast and they turned out splendidly, getting a good review from both of Jess's parents.

Ingredients
  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp rum extract
  • 1/2 lb. fruitcake, cut up into little pieces
Directions
  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
  • Combine cake mix, eggs, oil and rum flavoring in a mixing bowl.
  • Mix until well blended. 
  • Fold in fruitcake pieces.
  • Form into balls about the size of a walnut and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 10 to 12 minutes (ours took closer to 12) or until brown. 
  • Do not over bake.
On top of how simple they are, if someone gives you an unwanted fruitcake for the holidays now you have a use for it :)

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What's for Eats This Week

Beef and beer

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes
Crockpot oatmeal

Lunch
Choice of:
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick
Turkey sandwiches
Leftovers

Dinner
Pasta, homemade garlic bread
Leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner
Crockpot creamy turkey noodle soup
Crockpot lasagna casserole
Taco bowl
Steak, baked potato with broccoli
Beef and beer

Snacks/Desserts
Cheese sticks
Apples
Broccoli salad
Fruit salad
Cherry cheesecake
Fruitcake cookies

Recipes coming soon:
Broccoli salad
Fruit salad
Cherry cheesecake
Fruitcake cookies

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saving the Moola: playing the drugstore game (and a new series announcement!)

Ever since Jason and I really started cracking down on our finances in order to meet our short- and long-term goals to buy a new-to-us car in cash, save an 8-month emergency fund and pay cash for a condo/home, we've been following blogs led by money-savvy minds, we've been couponing, and we've been shopping at Aldi, Sam's and other warehouse-type stores.

One thing we've never, ever done, perhaps on account of stupidity, was play the drugstore game. Each week, drugstores like CVS, Walgreen's and Rite-Aid offer "free," "near-free" or "good deal" items. To start getting these types of items, you have to lay out some cash up front. For example, if Walgreen's is offering Colgate toothpaste for $3 with $3 back in Register Rewards (RR) (for CVS, these are called ExtraCare Bucks and at Rite-Aid, this is called Up Rewards), I would have to spend $3 initially to get $3 back in Register Rewards to use on my next purchase. But once I get my Register Rewards going, the goal is then to spend nothing out-of-pocket (OOP).

Playing the drugstore game doesn't really involve a lot of time, depending on how crazy you choose to be. For very little craziness, you can easily save around 90% on average.

There's three things I would advise anyone to know about the drugstore game:
  1. Learn the entire coupon policy and carry it with you to the store. This will help you to follow the rules and get the most bang for your buck or rewards.
  2. This is also related to #1. Be nice to the employees! Kindness really goes a long way. If the employee informs you an item isn't really on sale (and it's not in the ad so you have no real proof) or the variety of item isn't the variety on sale, etc. etc., seriously, just listen to them and let the item go if you don't want to pay what they're saying it costs. The customer is NOT always right.
  3. Keep track of every single item you purchase so you can learn what you're actually paying per item (whether the item is a rewards-item or not). My biggest issue with not playing the drugstore game before this weekend was that I didn't think it would actually be worth it at the end of the day. But I'm keeping track of every item, and I can tell you that very soon, my average cost per item will be less than $1 and for the items I'm purchasing and what I would normally pay, this is a very good deal and very worth it for me.
This weekend was a great weekend to start my drugstore game due to "Black Friday" deals, which is the reason I chose this weekend to start! We used part of our DATS budget to do this. This is what we bought at Walgreen's between Friday and Saturday:



Our total out-of-pocket cost between the two days was $18.73. I'm currently at an average cost of $1.70 per item.

Here's the cost breakdown:

Friday's Shopping Trip
  • Colgate toothpaste - $3 (with $3 back in RR)
  • Crest toothpaste - $2.50 (with $2.50 in RR)
  • EOS Shave Cream (2) - $6 (with $4 in RR)
  • Reese's sugar-free candy - $2.39
OOP cost: $14.58
Register Rewards: $9.50

Saturday's Shopping Trip
  • Colgate toothpaste - $3
  • Crest toothpaste - $2.50
  • Hair ties - $3 (with $3 back in RR)
  • Denteks floss picks - $2 (with $2 back in RR)
  • Shick razor - $8.99 (with $4 back in RR)
Coupons: $4.25
RR I used on this purchase: $9.50
OOP cost: $4.15
Register Rewards: $9

I bought the EOS shave cream because I've been secretly lusting to use some of EOS' products for awhile now. Homemade shaving cream is way cheaper, but I was getting my Register Rewards started so I thought I'd check out EOS shave cream and get RR, too. Also, Jason spotted sugar-free Reese's, which we had never seen before, so we bought that, too.

On Saturday, we had to be really careful. Part of Walgreen's policy is that a customer cannot use (for example) the RR from Colgate toothpaste to buy another tube of Colgate toothpaste and get the RR again. I was okay with this because we were on our last tube of toothpaste and I wanted to stock up. Looking back, I could have completed separate transactions to get each tube of toothpaste for free, but I'm starting out simply to try to not hurt my brain.

Another part of Walgreen's policy is that a customer cannot buy (for example) Denteks floss picks plus the razor and use two coupons and two RR coupons. A customer can only use the number of coupons that matches but not exceeds the number of items. I had found, very easily on the internet (I am not very coupon-savvy; I don't take the time/money/energy to find and clip coupons from a newspaper so I rely on printable coupons only at this time), a $1.25 coupon for Denteks floss picks and a $3 coupon for a Shick razor. Using these coupons would make the Denteks floss picks only 75 cents, then I would get $2 back so technically, I'm "making money." The coupon for the Shick razor would drop the price to $5.99, plus I would get $4 back in RR, which would make the razor's end price only $1.99. The razor comes with an extra blade, and there is nowhere I can find razor blades for less than $2/blade. This is a very, very good price.

When I was checking out and explained to the employee that I was new to all of this, I also explained that I had been careful to read the coupon policy in advance. She let me know how grateful she was to me for this and told me horror stories of couponers who demanded they be allowed to use three coupons on one item. I sympathized with her, and when the hair ties I originally picked up didn't match what was on sale for RR, she helped me find the right item and was very patient with me.

In the past, I, like many others I've talked with, have found playing the drugstore game to be confusing. I'm going on this journey to prove, or as the case may turn out, disprove that playing the game is worth it and a real money-saver. Each Thursday, starting December 1, I'll show you what I bought that week and let you know what my price per item has dropped or raised to in a new series called "Winning at Walgreen's" (and the goal, of course, is to never have to change that title to "Losing at Walgreen's").

This Book Room

A wall went up around Alex Brady's heart when his father, a New York firefighter, died in the Twin Towers. Turning his back on the only woman he ever loved, Alex shut out all the people who cared about him to concentrate on fighting crime. He and his trusty K9 partner, Bo, are determined to eliminate evil in the world and prevent tragedies like 9-11. Then the worst fire season in California's history erupts, and Alex faces the ultimate challenge to protect the community he serves. An environmental terrorist group is targeting the plush Oak Canyon Estates. At the risk of losing his job, and his soul, Alex is determined to infiltrate the group and put an end to their corruption. Only the friendship of Clay and Jamie Michaels—and the love of a dedicated young woman—can help Alex drop the walls around his heart and move forward into the future God has for him.

Additional notes: This is the third and final book in the 9/11 series. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here. This book was actually titled Remember Tuesday Morning (or at least, the version I read of it was), but on goodreads.com, the book is shown as Every Now and Then.

My thoughts: This book's message was really powerful and something I struggle with a lot - letting go of your life and what you think needs to be done to allow God to show you what you need. I want to control everything in my life, but that's now how God wants it - He is the controller, He's the one mapping it out and if I'm getting in the way, I'm losing out on not only what God has planned for me (which is always so much better than my plans) but I'm also losing out on loving Him as much as I can. Great book!

Kelli London once dreamed of being a songwriter. As crazy as it seemed, she hoped that God would use the lyrics that came to her while she slept. She dreamed about Brian too, that the love they shared would be a forever kind of love. But choices she'll forever regret upended her hope . . . and turned her dreams to dust. When those dreams come knocking once more, she's forced to deal with the pain of the past. Heather Anderson's life has spun out of control-first, an affair with a married man, then a one-night stand with the drummer of a popular Christian band that left her devastated. Broken and alone, she cried out to the only One who can save her. And He did. But that's just the beginning, because now she must leave behind the only life she's ever known. Two women with shame-filled pasts form an unlikely friendship. What does God's forgiveness look like for them? Will they ever believe that He loves them . . . and can still offer them a life where they are cherished?

Additional notes: This is Kim Cash Tate's second book and contains the same characters from her first book, Faithful. Each book can absolutely be read stand-alone as most series books can be, but I would highly recommend reading Faithful first. You can read my review of Faithful here.

My thoughts: I enjoyed Kim's first book, Faithful, more, but this book was still great. The characters felt a little cliched, and the story line didn't feel as unique and powerful.

As a spokeswoman on behalf of abused and battered women, Mary Madison seems to have no equal. Affluent and respected, she moves with ease in the corridors of power. Beneath her dignified reserve, though, lurks a secret that threatens her image and her peace. Only one great, redeeming love can save her.

My thoughts: This book was ah-mazing. Change-my-life kind of awesome. I will never, ever forget this book. Everyone in the world needs to read this book. I wish I would've read this a teen, when I struggled with confusing affection from others as love. Please read this and tell me your own thoughts. I would love to hear from you!!!

Settling in to her new life in Canaan, Colorado, Katie Ann Stoltzfus gives birth  to a beautiful baby boy. The boy's father - her estranged husband - died before their son is born. Despite his infidelities, Ivan was her one true love. She mourns his loss, vows never to trust another man, and resolves to fill the role of both mother and father to her son. Then Eli Detweiler arrives in Canaan from Middlefield, Ohio, to attend his niece's wedding. He's been raising his kids alone in Middlefield since his wife's death fifteen years ago. Now each child is married, so Eli looks forward to living a less-structured life-and eating shoofly pie for breakfast every morning. There's no one to care for except himself. When a meddling-but good-hearted-Englisch woman plays matchmaker for Katie Ann and Eli, they find themselves facing an unexpected, hopeful future…brought together by God's wondrous love.

Additional notes: This is the second (and newest) book in the Land of Canaan series. You can read my review of the first book here.

My thoughts: First off, I was so pleased when I won this book (you can read details of that here) because Beth is so nice and a great author. I love Amish Christian stories, although at times, they can be a bit cliched. I was really looking forward to this book because Katie Ann is in many of Beth's books, and let's just say, her life hasn't been easy. Beth certainly gave Katie Ann a very happy ending, and the plot was well thought out, especially in terms of how the whole Lucy situation played out.

A voyage to the very ends of the world. Narnia... where a dragon awakens... where stars walk the earth... where anything can happen. A king and some unexpected companions embark on a voyage that will take them beyond all known lands. As they sail father and farther from charted waters, they discover that their quest is more than they imagined and that the world's end is only the beginning.

Additional notes: This is the fifth book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. There are seven books in this series, and all have been released.

My thoughts: In all honesty, this is one of my least favorite of the Narnia books. I had read the first four some years ago and am wrapping up my list of books that I ever wanted to read in my lifetime. I did see the movie of this book first, which may have aided in my un-liking of this book. I would definitely still recommend reading the entire series, but I think you'll find this book is lacking a bit.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

In the Kitchen with Jason (and Jess): a heaping of thanks

We hosted Jess' parents today for dinner, and it was yummy! Below are some pics from our feast and day of fellowship:

Appetizers
Our lovely Mum

Preston napping with Grampo (or Dad, as he is known to Jess and Jay)

A feast

We hope you and your families are having a marvelous Thanksgiving. We are truly blessed to have you in our lives and hope we are enriching your lives as much as you enrich ours. We thank you for coming to the blog, reading and learning, and sharing with us your own tales and tips.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We love you all and wish God's blessings for each of you.

xoxo-
the Carlson Mocny family

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In My Mailbox


It's sort of appropriate that the week of Thanksgiving was a great freebie week! I have much to be thankful for this week in terms of what freebies I receive in my mailbox (and in many, many other areas of my life, too!).

Here's what we received this week:
  • Popular Science magazine
  • Whole Living magazine
  • Woman's Day magazine
  • The Wonder of Your Love book
  • iTunes gift card
We signed up for Popular Science and Woman's Day through websites that were offering a year-long subscription to each for free. I redeemed RecycleBank points to get a year-long subscription to Whole Living.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a Facebook chat party to celebrate the release of Beth Wiseman's new book, The Wonder of Your Love, which is the second book in the Land of Canaan series. I was selected as a winner, and my prize was a copy of Beth's book and an iTunes gift card! I love Beth as an author, and now, from getting to know her at the party, I can say I like her a whole lot, too.

Share with us: What awesome freebies did you receive in the mail recently?

Monday, November 21, 2011

In the Kitchen with Jason: Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya


Back about 4 jobs from where I am now, I worked at a location where lunch was provided. My favorite meal provided for us was the jambalaya. After telling Jess that she would like it multiple times but never actually getting around to making it, a jambalaya recipe showed up the November issue of Cooking Light. Not only was it good, but Jess liked it too, just like I said she would (although she said she could have liked it more without the sausage).

Ingredients
  • 2 tsp EVOO
  • 6 oz smoked sausage, cut in half and then sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup white rice, uncooked
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) chicken broth
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup shredded cooked chicken
Directions
  • Heat a dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  • Add EVOO to the pan and swirl to coat.
  • Add sausage and saute for 1 minute.
  • Add onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic to pan and cook for 6 more minutes.
  • Add rice, water, thyme and chicken broth.
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Stir in tomatoes and chicken and cook for 3 minutes.
  • Serve warm.
It makes about 4 servings with each serving having 341 calories, 5.8g fat, 19.3g protein, 50.6g carb, 2.8g fiber, 44mg cholesterol, 3.2 mg iron, 723 mg sodium, and 59mg calcium.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What's For Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes
Crockpot oatmeal

Lunch
Choice of:
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick
Turkey sandwiches
Leftovers

Dinner
Chunky vegetable soup
Pizza, carrots
Pasta, homemade garlic bread
Swedish meatballs and noodles, carrots
Thanksgiving dinner
Leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner (x2)

Snacks
Cheese sticks
Carrots
Apples
Bananas

Recipes coming soon:
Lots of dishes from our Thanksgiving feast!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saving the Moola: the benefits of a big freezer

For many months, Jason and I had been considering the purchase of a chest or upright freezer. We knew having a freezer, despite the initial cost for the item itself and the energy costs, would ultimately save us money, but we wondered if it was too weird to buy one and have one in an apartment. We also wanted to be sure, absolutely sure, it was a wise investment.

Frigidaire 7.2 CU
After talking to many people, some of whom had owned a freezer in an apartment, we ultimately decided a chest freezer was the way to go for us. About a month ago, we completed our research and price-compared at Sears, Best Buy and ABC Warehouse. We decided on the freezer pictured here and received an ah-mazing deal. We've made it a point to bring in our research when buying big-ticket items to negotiate the price, and it always, always helps to pay in cash. We got a steal of a deal on our freezer and couldn't be happier with it so far.

Annually, the freezer will cost around $30 to run. I've always been a big believer in you have to spend money to make money, and this is one of those instances where this rings true. Yes, you have to spend physical money of some amount to obtain a freezer. And yes, it will change your energy bill each month (by a couple of dollars). But, if you are a smart consumer, your freezer will work for you to save you more money than you spent on it. Here are some ways we plan to make our freezer work for us:
  • Buying extra turkeys around Thanksgiving when turkey prices hit rock bottom for use at Christmas and other random points of the year (turkey is good for up to six months in a freezer)
  • Picking berries in the summer ourselves and storing them for future use, all year round
  • Picking asparagus from a relative who has graciously offered to give us all the asparagus we could ever want for free (we plan to pick a LOT!)
  • Purchasing frozen items from the store in bulk when they are on a sale (such as Meijer organic frozen pizza - a pizza is normally $5, but earlier this year, they went on sale for $3.50 - we bought as many as we could to fit in our tiny freezer, but that is about 3. If that sales comes back around, we'll probably buy 10!)
  • Freezing meals that make several portions for leftovers that we could not eat before we consider it "expired" in the fridge (such as lasagna, soup)
Freezer Inventory Printable
Some people prefer an upright freezer because it allows them to more easily see their inventory. I can understand this, as I remember looking into my parents' chest freezer as a young girl and having great fun in seeing what I could find at the bottom of the freezer and seeing if I could even identify what the item was under all the freezer burn.

Organizedhome.com is a great website that has fantastic printables, such as freezer inventory sheet. We're utilizing this printable to make sure we know what's in the freezer and we use it before it expires (most items are good for up to a year in a freezer).  Organizedhome.com also has printables for the pantry and loads of other things - I love this site!

Tune in December 3 to hear the #1 way our freezer is working for us and learn about a great way to help support a small business and people in your community.

Share with us: Do you have a big freezer? In what ways do you make you freezer work for you?

This Book Room

Take a trip to Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, where you'll meet the women of the Kauffman Amish Bakery in Lancaster County. As each woman's story unfolds, you will share in her heartaches, trials, joys, dreams ... and secrets. You'll discover how the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle can clash with the 'English' way of life---and the decisions and consequences that follow. Most importantly, you will be encouraged by the hope and faith of these women, and the importance they place on their families. Naomi's Gift re-introduces twenty-four-year-old Naomi King, who has been burned twice by love and has all but given up on marriage and children. As Christmas approaches---a time of family, faith, and hope for many others---Naomi is more certain than ever her life will be spent as an old maid, helping with the family's quilting business and taking care of her eight siblings. Then she meets Caleb, a young widower with a 7-year-old daughter, and her world is once again turned upside-down. Naomi's story of romantic trial and error and youthful insecurities has universal appeal. Author Amy Clipston artfully paints a panorama of simple lives full of complex relationships, and she carefully explores cultural differences and human similarities, with inspirational results. Naomi's Gift includes all the details of Amish life that Clipston's fans enjoy, while delivering the compelling stories and strong characters that continue to draw legions of new readers.

Additional notes: You can read my review of the first book in the series here, the second book here, and the third book here. This series will include six full-length novels and a couple Christmas novellas.

My thoughts: Any reader of this series will be glad to see a book dedicated to Naomi, and Amy definitely brings a good story and ending for her. The book was a tad predictable, but I still enjoyed it.

In this new novel by Karen Kingsbury, three years have passed since the terrorist attacks on New York City. Jamie Bryan, widow of a firefighter who lost his life on that terrible day, has found meaning in her season of loss by volunteering at St. Paul s, the memorial chapel across the street from where the Twin Towers once stood. Here she meets a daily stream of people touched by the tragedy, including two men with whom she feels a connection. One is a firefighter also changed by the attacks, the other a police officer from Los Angeles. But as Jamie gets to know the police officer, she is stunned to find out that he is the brother of Eric Michaels, the man with the uncanny resemblance to Jamie s husband, the man who lived with her for three months after September 11. Eric is the man she has vowed never to see again. Certain she could not share even a friendship with his brother, Jamie shuts out the police officer and delves deeper into her work at St. Paul s. Now it will take the persistence of a tenacious man, the questions from her curious young daughter, and the words from her dead husband s journal to move Jamie beyond one Tuesday morning. Jamie Bryan took her position at the far end of the Staten Island Ferry, pressed her body against the railing, eyes on the place where the Twin Towers once stood. She could face it now, every day if she had to. The terrorist attacks had happened, the World Trade Center had collapsed, and the only man she d ever loved had gone down with them. Late fall was warmer than usual, and the breeze across the water washed over Jamie s face. If she could do this, if she could make this journey three times a week while Sierra was in school, then she could convince herself to get through another long, dark night. She could face the empty place in the bed beside her, face the longing for the man who had been her best friend, the one she d fallen for when she was only a girl.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the 9/11 series. You can read my review of the first book here. There are three books in total for the series, and all have been released.

My thoughts: This book was super interesting, and while I haven't found myself enjoying all of Karen's books, I truly enjoy this series. I highly recommend this.



Marriages may be made in heaven, but they must be nurtured here on earth. Dr. Chapman explains how people communicate love in different ways, and shares the wonderful things that happen when men and women learn to speak each other's language.

My thoughts: I had reservations about this book going into it, but I truly enjoyed this book, and Jason and I had many insightful conversations about our own love languages. We regularly now ask each other what our love tanks are at and try to help raise each others' levels to a 10. I highly, highly recommend this book - I don't care if you're married or not: if you have a partner in your life you care for, read this book.

Experience Christmas through the eyes of adventuresome settlers who relied on log cabins built from trees on their own land to see them through the cruel forces of winter. Discover how rough-hewed shelters become a home in which faith, hope, and love can flourish. Marvel in the blessings of Christmas celebrations without the trappings of modern commercialism where the true meaning of the day shines through. And treasure this exclusive collection of nine Christmas romances penned by some of Christian fiction’s best-selling authors.

My thoughts: Overall, I enjoyed this book. Some stories didn't grab me as much as others, but some have stayed with me for days now. I would also recommend checking out A Prairie Christmas Collection if you like A Log Cabin Christmas.

Gretchen Daniels has recently moved into an apartment with her two children to be closer to her mother, Miriam. She and her children are building a life together in a new community when a mysterious young woman, Melissa McCreary, moves into the apartment next to them. She has few possessions, little personality, and keeps to herself. One day, a local landlord who is looking for Melissa knocks on Gretchen’s door for assistance. Melissa’s mother has died and in the coming weeks the landlord needs Melissa to empty her mother’s apartment. Gretchen reaches out and offers to help, but the apartment is a gut wrenching shamble of a home. There is little worth saving except for a few photos and a note that is discovered on the crate beside the bed. It is unfinished but in the two scribbled lines, Melissa discovers she has a brother and a sister that she never knew about. Even more shocking, she begins to uncover family secrets that show her who she really is. Can two very different women embark on a journey that explores a long-buried need for forgiveness, hope, and redemption?

My thoughts: I thoroughly enjoy all of Donna's books and was so excited when I saw this was coming out this year. I read it in one evening and really enjoyed it. A great Christmas story that makes you want to consider others before jumping to judgments.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Life & Style: Day-After-Thanksgiving Shopping

The day-after-Thanksgiving has become almost a holiday all on its own. Shoppers, way back in the day, traditionally went out on this day to get a start on their holiday shopping. As a result, retailers have chosen to offer deals on their products in an effort to move even more stock and make more money. Now, shoppers tend to go out, not just to get a head start on their holiday shopping but to score deals on all kinds of items for both recipients on their Christmas shopping lists and for themselves.

So what deals are available the day-after-Thanksgiving that are good deals? If you're shopping for electronics, this is typically the day shoppers pick up these items, although Jason and I do not shop for these items this day. People often camp out hours, or even days, ahead of Thanksgiving, and these people really just remind me of crazy couponers. I don't have the personal will or desire to spend that much time attempting to get a good deal that quite frankly, I don't need. I'm trying to be a good steward of all my resources, and that includes both time and money.

We tend to shop for home goods, like kitchenware, picture frames, linens and the like. The best stores to shop at, in my own opinion of course, are Kohl's, JCPenney's and Joann's. The best website I've found for viewing the DAT ads is theblackfriday.com. The owners of the site upload ad scans and post a list of available products and their prices.

The big question this year for regular DAT shoppers was what time to actually start shopping. In the past, stores opened sometime in the wee hours of the night/morning, usually around 4 AM on average. But recently, there has been a trend for stores to open at least at midnight, and sometimes even on Thanksgiving evening. For my family, we won't go out on Thanksgiving, just because of our personal preferences (we would prefer to get some sleep before shopping). This year, we plan to head out around 2 AM, with the goal to shop at both Kohl's and JCP and end up at Joann's around 5:45 for their 6 AM opening (you wouldn't believe how long the fabric cutting line gets!!!).

To compile your shopping list, I would recommend that you, at first, skip looking at the ads and instead write down those wants you've had throughout the year. I've been pining for two bar stools and a griddle. Seriously, pining. We also want to get a couple of pillows for the air mattress for when friends/family come to stay the night, another nightlight, candles, long-sleeved polos for Jason, and a whole lot of items from Joann's for crafts in the new year. So first, you have to write down what you want.

Then, take a look at the ads to see if these items will be on sale. If they're not listed on sale, you could still check out the stores on the day-after-Thanksgiving: sometimes, items are on sale but not listed specifically in the ad. If the item is sort of low on your want list, you could just move it off and wait until a sale actually occurs sometime in the year or wait for next year's DAT.

Once you have a finalized list of things you know you want that you know will be on sale or think you could find on sale that day, then look at the ads to see what, if any, additional items catch your eye. Maybe you'll end up finding an item for a Christmas gift for someone on your list, or maybe you'll just find an extra item that would fit well in your home or your life. As a general rule, Jason and I do not look through the ad for additional items, but we like to look through the ads and sometimes, we  are reminded of other items we've said we want that we have forgot we want. In that case, we evaluate whether we really want the item (if we've forgotten we want it, then we probably don't even really want it!).

If you've decided to shop the DAT, have a good attitude about it! Jason and I often sing Christmas carols (yes, out loud and yes, at the top of our lungs (and yes, we annoy everyone and don't care!!)), and we always make friends with the customers in line around us, often watching their things while they dash to grab one last item and chatting about great deals, what they did for Thanksgiving, their children - you get the idea.

Lastly, but most importantly, I would just stress that a deal is only a good deal if you actually have the money for it. An item may be 75% off and only $10, but if you don't have $10, then it's not a good deal! Jason and I pay strictly in cash and debit cards the day-after-Thanksgiving (we do not use credit cards ever, any day of the year). This keeps us in line - when the money is gone, it's gone and it's time to head home. It also helps us rein in impulse purchases. We respect our money and want to be good stewards of what we are given, so if an item we find in the store isn't on the list, we skip it this year and add it to next year's list. Then, next year, when we compile our final DAT list, we'll decide whether we still want that item. Trust me, most times, we don't.

Share with us: Are you shopping the day-after-Thanksgiving? What specific items are you looking to pick up? We'd love to hear!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Crock Pot Vegetable Soup



This recipe comes from the Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook. It was called The Soup.

Ingredients
  • 2 (14.5 oz.) cans vegetable broth
  • 2 vegetable bullion cubes
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 (14.5 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped carrots
  • 1 chopped zucchini
  • 1 chopped yellow squash
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 3 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • Crusty bread, thickly sliced
Directions
  • Combine all non-bread ingredients in a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker.
  • Cover and cook on low for 9 hours.
  • Serve with slices of crusty bread.
This soup is amazingly good, but it makes about 100 servings. Jess and I have been having it for lunch for about a week now and there is still some left. If only making this for 2 people, I would recommend halving the recipe. I know we will in the future.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    In My Mailbox


    This past week, we received:
    • Every Day Food's December issue
    • At the Throne of Grace
    I'm receiving Every Day Food as part of a free year-long subscription I redeemed from RecycleBank. I signed up for the At the Throne of Grace freebie through moneysavingmom.com awhile ago.

    Share with us: What awesome freebies did you get in the mail recently, or what awesome freebies have you signed up for? I'm looking forward to getting free granola bars from Nature's Path!! Click here if you want to sign up, too!

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    In the Kitchen With Jason: Santa Fe Cheesy Chicken Burrito


    This recipe originated in Hungry Girl 1-2-3 cookbook (Santa Fe Cheesy Chicken Stir-Fry, pg. 26), but didn't quite fit what Jess and I were looking for. So after we altered it to fit our desires, we ended up with the following recipe, which we ate like there was no tomorrow.

    Ingredients
    • 1/2 lb boneless, skinless, chicken breast, chopped
    • 1/2 cup canned black beans
    • 1 tsp lime juice
    • 1/4 tsp chili powder
    • 1/8 tsp ground cumin
    • 1/8 tsp black pepper
    • 1/2 cup frozen corn
    • 1/2 cup onion, sliced
    • 1/2 cup bell pepper, sliced
    • 1/2 cup shredded fat free cheddar cheese
    • 1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
    • 4 Smart and Delicious large burrito wraps
    Directions
    • In a bowl, combine chicken, beans, lime juice, chili powder, cumin, and black pepper.
    • Mix well and set aside.
    • Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.
    • Spray with nonstick spray and add corn, onion, and bell pepper.
    • Cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion softens.
    • Add the set aside chicken stuff to the skillet.
    • Cook for 5 minutes, or until the chicken is totally cooked.
    • Remove from heat and immediately add the tomatoes and cheese.
    • Stir it to get the melting cheese spread around.
    • Split evenly between your burrito wraps.
    • 2 burritos is 1 serving.
    On a side note, the Smart and Delicious wraps are amazing. With the small taco size only having 50 calories and the larger burrito size only having 80 calories, they are the lowest calorie count we have ever found in tortillas. On top of that, just the other day we got a different brand for convenience sake and remembered that the Smart and Delicious wraps have more flavor than the other brands as well.

    Please enjoy!

    -Chef Jason

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    What's for Eats This Week

    Breakfast
    Choice of:
    Cereal
    Oatmeal
    Toast and eggs
    Chocolate chip pancakes
    Applesauce nut bread
    Crockpot oatmeal

    Lunch
    Choice of:
    Tuna sandwiches with carrots
    PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick
    Leftovers

    Dinner
    Chunky vegetable soup
    Chicken and veggie casserole
    Crockpot BBQ chicken and cheesy corn casserole
    Homemade pizza, carrots
    Hot dogs, baked potatoes with cheese and broccoli
    Swedish meatballs and noodles, carrots
    Corn chowder

    Snacks
    Cheese sticks
    Carrots
    Reese's peanut butter banana bread
    Butterfinger brownies
    Easy cheesy bean dip with chips

    Recipes coming soon:
    Crockpot oatmeal

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    This Book Room: a week of books in a series (again)

    Miriam Lapp, who left the Amish community in Pennsylvania three years ago, is heartbroken when her sister calls to reveal that her mother has died suddenly. Traveling home to Pennsylvania, she is forced to face the heartache from her past, including her rift from her family and the break up of her engagement with Timothy Kauffman. Her past emotional wounds are reopened when her family rejects her once again and she finds out that Timothy is in a relationship with someone else. Miriam discovers that the rumors that broke them up three years ago were all lies. However, when Timothy proposes to his girlfriend and Miriam's father disowns her, Miriam returns to Indiana with her heart in shambles.brWhen Miriam's father has a stroke, Miriam returns to Pennsylvania, and her world begins to fall apart, leaving her to question her place in the Amish community and her faith in God.

    Additional notes: This is the third book in the Kauffman Amish Bakery series. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here. This series will have six full-length novels and a couple Christmas novellas.

    My thoughts: I really loved the first book in this series, but since then, the series has somewhat became the standard boy-meet-girls routine. Amy's a great writer, but this book moved a bit slowly and frustratingly for me.

    From bestselling author Gordon Korman, the thrilling conclusion to the adventure aboard the unluckiest ship of all. The Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable - the largest passenger steamship in the world, one of the biggest and most luxurious ships ever to operate. For Paddy, Sophie, Juliana, and Alfie, the Titanic is full of mysteries - whether they're to be found in the opulent first-class cabins and promenade decks or the shadows in the underbelly of the ship. Secrets and plans are about to be revealed - only now disaster looms, and time is running out. The four of them need to find the truth, unmask the killer...and try not to go down with the ship.

    Additional notes: This is the third and final book in the Titanic series. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here.

    My thoughts: What a great conclusion to this story! I love reading about the Titanic and envisioning what it must've been like. This series is great at giving a look as to what that could have been like, especially for youngsters on the ship.

    Unknown to her tiny town of Deep Haven, Isadora Presley spends her nights as Miss Foolish Heart, the star host of a syndicated talk radio show. Millions tune in to hear her advice on dating and falling in love, unaware that she’s never really done either. Issy’s ratings soar when it seems she’s falling in love on-air with a caller. A caller she doesn’t realize lives right next door. Caleb Knight served a tour of duty in Iraq and paid a steep price. The last thing he wants is pity, so he hides his disability and moves to Deep Haven to land his dream job as the high school football coach. When his beautiful neighbor catches his eye, in a moment of desperation he seeks advice from My Foolish Heart, the show that airs before his favorite sports broadcast. Before he knows it, Caleb finds himself drawn to the host—and more confused than ever. Is his perfect love the woman on the radio . . . or the one next door?

    Additional notes: This is the fourth book in the Deep Haven series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here and the third book here. So far as I know, this series is ongoing.

    My thoughts: I really, really liked this book - best one in the series, by far. I like that Susan tackles issues beyond boy-meets-girl silliness. Her books really make me think about my own relationships with others and God and how I'm holding back. Highly recommend this one!

    In the dramatic conclusion to the New York Times best seller Her Mother’s Hope, Francine Rivers delivers a rich and deeply moving story about the silent sorrows that can tear a family apart and the grace and forgiveness that can heal even the deepest wounds. Growing up isn’t easy for little Carolyn Arundel. With her mother, Hildemara, quarantined to her room with tuberculosis, Carolyn forms a special bond with her oma Marta, who moves in to care for the household. But as tensions between Hildie and Marta escalate, Carolyn believes she is to blame. When Hildie returns to work and Marta leaves, Carolyn and her brother grow up as latchkey kids in a world gripped by the fear of the Cold War. College offers Carolyn the chance to find herself, but a family tragedy shatters her newfound independence. Rather than return home, she cuts all ties and disappears into the heady counterculture of San Francisco. When she reemerges two years later, more lost than ever, she reluctantly turns to her family to help rebuild a life for her and her own daughter, May Flower Dawn. Just like Carolyn, May Flower Dawn develops a closer bond with her grandmother, Hildie, than with her mother, causing yet another rift between generations. But as Dawn struggles to avoid the mistakes of those who went before her, she vows that somehow she will be a bridge between the women in her family rather than the wall that separates them forever. Spanning from the 1950s to present day, Her Daughter’s Dream is the emotional final chapter of an unforgettable family saga about the sacrifices every mother makes for her daughter—and the very nature of unconditional love.

    Additional notes: This is the second and final book in the Marta's Legacy series. The first book is titled Her Mother's Hope.

    My thoughts: I could not say enough of this series if I tried. If you enjoy saga-type books, like North and South by John Jakes or Roses by Leila Meacham (by the way, I highly recommend the North and South series as well as Roses), you will highly enjoy these books. They are ah-mazing. I'm super sad the series is only two books... I hope Francine will do another series like this!

    A devoted fireman and a driven businessman, strangers with the same face. Only one will leave the Twin Towers alive, but will he ever find his way home? On the morning of September 11, 2001, two men meet in a smoky stairwell of the World Trade Center. One is Eric Michaels, a driven financial manager from Los Angeles who has been busy climbing the corporate ladder, often at the expense of his wife and young son. The other is Jake Bryan, a New York City fireman devoted to his wife and daughter. In the midst of the crisis, Eric falls on the stairs and Jake stops to help him up. The two men freeze momentarily, stunned by the uncanny resemblance between them. Later, after the building has crumbled to the ground, Eric awakes beneath a fire truck. He is burned and bloody and most of his clothes have been blown off. A fire captain rushes to his side, thinking he recognizes his friend Jake. By the time Jake's wife arrives at the hospital, Eric's face is bandaged and his memory gone. In the months that follow, Eric struggles to relate to a wife and daughter he doesn't remember, while on the opposite coast Eric's real wife grieves and finds comfort from Eric's brother, a single man who has always adored her. The emotional suspense builds as Eric begins to have disturbing dreams and flashbacks---and questions grow in Jake's wife's mind. The only way for Eric to find his way is by following the love of a special woman, and the footsteps of a man who no longer exists.

    Additional notes: This is the first book in the 9/11 series. There are three books in this series, and all have been released.

    My thoughts: I think most people my age or older feel a certain fascination with 9/11 - the people who must've suffered and the people who were left behind who are still suffering, it's just so awful, it's really fascinating. I like this series in that it really focuses on those who selfishly give their lives to us to attempt to save our lives - firefighters and police officers. Karen handles 9/11 brilliantly, and I believe these books are an accurate portrayal of the emotions behind this day for these service men and women. This book was a great insight to that day and period for me.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Crafty Christmas: (insert item here)-of-the-month club

    Christmas Countdown: Christmas is only 6 weeks away!

    Christmas craziness is turning up as more and more Day-After-Thanksgiving ads are released to the public. While Jason and I shop on this day (see more about this in next Friday's Life and Style post), most of our actual gifts for friends and family are handmade. The most recent comments I've heard regarding handmade gifts is that they take too long or the person wanting to hand make gifts isn't crafty enough.

    Well, here's an item that anyone can do! We've all heard of those cheese-of-the-month clubs or bread-of-the-month clubs, right? I'm re-inventing that concept this year for someone on my own holiday gift list with a muffin-of-the-month club! Just make up a simple card to give to the recipient, announcing the item you're gifting each month. Then, make the item each month and hand deliver it to that person. This concept would probably work best for people you normally see on a regular, monthly basis.

    Some ideas for items-of-the-month club include:
    • Cookies
    • Pies
    • Breads
    • Cakes/cupcakes
    • Beef jerky
    • Dips
    • Brownies
    You can find our beef jerky recipe here, olive dip recipe here, pb and j sandwich cookies recipe here and chocolate chip cookies recipe here.

    Here are some of the muffin varieties I plan on making and gifting to my relative:

    Banana Nut Muffins
    Jam-Filled Muffins

    Blueberry Cream Cheese Muffins
    Gifts-of-the-month clubs are great because it's literally, a gift that keeps giving - both to you and the recipient. You get the joy of gifting something year round and cooking for another person, and the recipient gets the joy of receiving all year and enjoying your handmade yummies. That's a win-win for everyone!

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    In the Kitchen With Jason: Broccoli Alfredo


    We've made an alfredo recipe previously, and it was a lot of work. Jess and I recently picked up the Cooking Light: Complete Cookbook and it had a recipe for Fettuccine Alfredo that took a quarter of the work and was just as delicious. We then altered the recipe to have a little more green in it and you have what follows.

    Ingredients
    • 16 oz uncooked fettuccine
    • 1 Tbsp butter
    • 1 1/4 cups half-and-half
    • 3/4 cup (3 oz) grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1/4 tsp black pepper
    • 1 head of broccoli
    Directions
    • Cook fettuccine according to package directions.
    • While fettuccine is cooking melt butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat.
    • Add remaining non broccoli ingredients.
    • Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
    • Remove from heat.
    • Bring a sauce pan with about 3 cups water in it to a boil.
    • Add broccoli and cook for about 5-6 minutes.
    • Drain broccoli.
    • Mix noodles, Alfredo sauce, and broccoli in a large bowl.
    • Makes 6 servings
    Nutrition Information: CALORIES: 416(28% from fat); FAT 12.8g (sat 7.4g, mono 3.5g, poly 0.9g); PROTEIN 17.2g; CARB 58g; CHOL 34mg; IRON 2.8mg; SODIUM 488mg; CALC 244mg.

    If you want, you could always add a cup or two of cooked chicken as well (but then my nutrition information would be all off).

    Please enjoy!

    -Chef Jason

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    In My Mailbox


    This was such a weird week of freebies. First off, up until today, we only received this strange freebie of five USPS Priority Flat Rate boxes. We've carefully checked all our statements to ensure we did not somehow order these without our knowledge. We haven't and our statements agree. I've searched my mind to see if I could ever recall signing up for these for free. I didn't (at least as far as I can remember, and I have a pretty good memory). So I have no clue why USPS would send me these (that's who the boxes came from), but they would make great boxes for Christmas gifts - score one for me, I guess!!

    We also received the December issue of Martha Stewart Living as part of a free magazine subscription I signed up for through RewardsGold.

    Share with us: What awesome or, as the case may be, strange freebies have you received this week?

    Monday, November 7, 2011

    In the Kitchen With Jason: Cook This! Grilled Cheese with Sauteed Mushrooms and Onions


    This recipe needed a little tweaking as the original recipe took me almost 2 full hours to make. For a grilled cheese sandwich, that is just a little bonkers. The unaltered original recipe can be found in Cook This Not That!: Easy and Awesome 350-Calorie Meals (pages 112 and 305).

    Ingredients
    • 1 Tbsp olive oil
    • 1 red onion, sliced
    • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
    • 8 slices bread
    • butter, softened (about 2 Tbsp)
    • 2 cups shredded cheese
    Directions
    • Heat a saute pan over high heat.
    • Add olive oil and onions.
    • Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring two or three times.
    • Add the onions and cook for about 4 more minutes, stirring regularly.
    • Butter each slice of bread.
    • Put the bread in stacks of 2 with buttered sides facing in.
    • On top of each stack, put 1/4 cup shredded cheese.
    • Top this with 1/4 of the onion and mushroom mixture.
    • Finish with another 1/4 cup shredded cheese.
    • Heat a skillet over medium to medium-high heat (you don't want to get this too hot or the outside of your sandwich will darken too much).
    • Add just the top slice of bread from the stack (with all the toppings on top of it) buttered side down to the skillet.
    • Take the remaining piece of bread and put it on top of the filling buttered side up.
    • Cook for 4 minutes(ish) flipping once halfway through.
    You want the bread to be a golden brown color when done cooking and will need to experiment with the length of time and temperature of the pan to get it perfect for your bread/pan/stove top combination. Regardless, once you have this down, you will never look at grilled cheese sandwiches the same way again.

    Please enjoy!

    -Chef Jason

    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    What's for Eats This Week

    Homemade instant oatmeal
    Breakfast
    Choice of:
    Cereal
    Oatmeal
    Toast and eggs
    Chocolate chip pancakes
    Peanut butter banana oatmeal muffins
    Applesauce nut bread

    Lunch
    Choice of:
    Soup and rolls
    PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick
    Leftovers

    Dinner
    Dinner at extended family's house
    Swedish meatballs and noodles, carrots
    Chicken fajitas
    Santa Fe cheesy chicken
    Bursting burrito bowl
    The Soup
    Corn chowder

    Snacks
    Cheese sticks
    Apples
    Carrots
    Bananas
    Reese's peanut butter banana bread

    Recipes coming soon:
    Chicken fajitas
    Santa Fe cheesy chicken
    Bursting burrito bowl
    The Soup

    Saturday, November 5, 2011

    This Book Room: Princess Diaries Edition, Part 3

    This is the last and final post for the Princess Diaries series (sniffle, sniffle). I have so thoroughly enjoyed this series. You can read Part 1 of this series here and Part 2 of this series here.

    These last four books are explosive and remind me so much of my own high school days. Earlier in the series, as you may remember, Mia and Lily are best friends. Which is great. But the whole time, I'm kind of thinking, yeah, but people who are best friends during the early part of high school aren't always friends at the end of high school. And usually, it's just due to drifting apart - personalities changing and all that. So I was more than pleased (but also very sad, too) to see that these books are true-to-life in the natural course of friendships and love. And of course, there's a happy ending. I could read this series over and over and over again... Please enjoy the summaries and pics below.

    Princesses just want to have fun. . . . And Mia does too, despite the fact that the student government over which she presides is suddenly broke. But Grandmère's got a wacky scheme to raise the money, catapult Mia to theatrical fame, and link her romantically with an eligible teen bachelor who's not her boyfriend. No wonder Michael seems to think she's a psycho, or worse: not much fun. Is it possible that Mia, soon-to-be star of the stage, president of the student body, and future ruler of Genovia, doesn't know how to party?

    At last, Mia is a junior. An upperclassperson. Free of her responsibilities as student body president. So why is it that everything is going so terribly wrong? What is she doing in Intro to Creative Writing? When she has made it through Algebra and Geometry, why must she be faced with Precalculus? And for the love of all that is Genovian, why has Lilly nominated her for school prez again? All this is nothing compared to the news Michael springs on her, however. On top of all the mathematical strife, her beloved boyfriend is leaving for Japan for a year. Precalc has nothing on preparing for the worst separation ever! Turns out there is one way she might convince Michael to stay. But will she? Or won't she? No matter what, Mia seems headed for disaster.


    Now that Michael has broken things off, Mia can barely get out of bed, and her parents are making her see a therapist. Just when things couldn't get worse, Mia uncovers an old family secret that could change the fate of the Renaldos forever.

    What's a Princess to do? It's Mia's senior year, and things seem great. She aced her senior project, got accepted to her dream college(s), and has her birthday gala coming up . . . not to mention prom, graduation, and Genovia's first-ever elections. What's not to love about her life? Well . . . Her senior project? It's a romance novel she secretly wrote, and no one wants to publish it. Prince Phillipe's campaign in the Genovian elections isn't going well, thanks to her totally loathsome cousin René, who decided to run against him. Her boyfriend, J.P., is so sweet and seemingly perfect. But is he the one? And her first love, Michael, is back from Japan . . . and back in her life. With Genovia's and her own future hanging in the balance, Mia's got some decisions to make: Which college? Which guy? How can she choose? Especially when what she decides might determine not just the next four years, but . . . forever!

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    In the Kitchen With Jason: Broccoli and Rice Casserole with Buttered Carrots


    This recipe is fantastic. Not only does the food taste good, but the serving size is actually good, and we didn't need to load our plates up a second time to feel satisfied. This recipe was originally printed in the November 2011 issue of Cooking Light magazine (pg. 99 to be specific).

    Ingredients
    • 1.6 oz dry milk
    • 3 cups water
    • 1 (3 1/2 oz) bag boil-in-bag rice
    • 1 small onion (about 1/3 cup), chopped
    • 1/2 green pepper (about 1/3 cup), chopped
    • 1 large celery stalk (about 1/3 cup), chopped
    • 3 cups (about 1 head) broccoli, chopped
    • 1/4 cup (2 oz) cream cheese
    • 2 oz shredded cheddar cheese
    • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
    • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1 cup chicken broth
    • 4 medium carrots (about 2 cups), thinly sliced
    • 1 Tbsp butter
    • Pinch black pepper
    • 1/2 tsp parsley
    Directions
    • Preheat oven to 375F.
    • Combine dry milk and water in a saucepan and heat to boiling.
    • Add the rice (bag and all) and cook for 10 minutes.
    • While the rice is cooking, heat a Dutch oven over medium high heat.
    • Spray the Dutch oven with cooking spray.
    • Add the onions, green pepper, and celery to the Dutch oven and cook for 5 minutes.
    • When rice is done cooking, remove it from the milk mixture.
    • Bring the milk mixture back to a boil and add the broccoli.
    • Cook the broccoli for 5 minutes.
    • Once the veggies have finished, add the cheeses.
    • Stir the veggie and cheeses until the cheeses are melted.
    • Remove it from heat.
    • Add the rice and chicken (don't need to stir it yet) to the cheese and veggies.
    • When broccoli is done, drain it (discarding the milk) and add it to the Dutch oven.
    • Mix it up good and put it into an 8-inch casserole sprayed with cooking spray.
    • Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese evenly over the top of the casserole.
    • Put it in the oven for 10 minutes.
    • With the casserole in the oven, bring the chicken broth to a boil in a small pan.
    • When the broth boils, add the carrots, reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook for 6 minutes.
    • Drain the carrots (discarding the broth) and add the remaining ingredients, stirring until the butter is melted.
    • Makes 4 servings of casserole with 4 sides of carrots.
    Beginner multi-taskers might want to start somewhere else as you always have at least 2 things going while making this recipe. But the reward is worth the effort.

    Please enjoy!

    -Chef Jason

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    In My Mailbox


    We received the November issue of Woman's Day magazine. We're receiving this magazine as part of a year-long free subscription.

    With amazon.com gift cards we earned through SwagBucks, we ordered:
    • The Complete Book of Home Preserving
    • Castile soap (to use when making homemade bubble bath!!)
    • Orange sticks (I would highly recommend ordering these through amazon.com - the cost at Target is 89 cents for 4 sticks. I ordered 100. My order was free, but if you're paying actual money, the cost for 100 is $5.88 - a huge savings!!!)
    Share with us: What awesome freebies did you get the past week?