Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bread and Butter Pickles

Not everyone has the tools needed to can and preserve summer's bounty, but that doesn't mean they can't try their hand at making pickles.  There are no water bathers or pressure canners involved with today's post.  You don't need special jars or lids-  you can recycle ones you already have.  All you need to have is a fridge and a jar with a lid.

This recipe is easy and makes one quart at a time.  It's perfect on days when you don't reap bushels of cucumbers from the garden or someone gives you a few extra from their harvest.  The small batch concept is great for tight schedules.

These aren't the traditional store bought variety, but they are wonderful condiments.  We serve them with sandwiches or as a "salad" at dinner.  My husband's coworkers look forward to these pickles and beg him to bring a jar every now and then.  Sometimes they have to wait, because our boys devour them faster than I can put them up. 

Here are the items you will need:
  • About 3 or 4 cups of sliced, firm, and small cucumbers.  Save the large ones for eating in a salad.   
  • One medium sliced onion.  I like to use thin rings in this recipe.
  • 1 tablespoon salt.  I use canning salt, but table salt will work also.
  • 1 tablespoon mixed whole spice.  This one is a little confusing at first, but I found a whole pickling spice in the baking aisle at the grocery store.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup vinegar (enough to almost cover the cucumbers)

Here is how you concoct homemade bread and butter pickles without a canner:
  • Mix the sliced cucumbers, onion, and salt together in a sauce pan.  Let stand 3 hours and then drain the liquid off.

  • Add the pickling spice, sugar, and vinegar to the cukes and onion. 

  • Bring them to boiling and stop.  Do Not Cook!

  • Pack them in your jar and let rest.  These are not sealed properly so store them in your fridge!
Do you have any pickling tips?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Easy "No Sew" Mermaid Tail Costumes

I am a sucker. 

A few of the daycare girls talked me into making mermaid tails.  I know it's a little insane, but piecing together a couple of skirts was better than their first choice.  A girl had brought a purple knit hat from home and was wrapping her feet together with ponytail holders inside the hat.  As the adult in charge, I didn't really approve of this so we found a new solution.

I don't have a lot of material laying around the house, but I did have a bolt of old blue polyester I inherited from the hubby's grandmother.  It would have to do.  I had considered using paper bags or old towels; If I had a girl's skirt, I might have adapted fins to fit.  Whatever you have on hand will work.

In lieu of dragging out the sewing machine I used hot glue to "stitch" my creation together.  I needed the skirts to be easy and fast.  The little girls were aching to be mermaids and swim around the pretend lagoon in my dining room.

We managed to craft these in about 15 minutes, but they could easily be improved upon.  If I had more time I would have added felt sea shells, sparkle paints, beads, rickrack, and more little details to create a special outfit.  As you can see, I have very rudimentary sewing skills...

Here is what I did use:
  • fabric
  • felt
  • hot glue
  • yarn
  • duck tape
  • scissors
  • nail polish

Here is how I created little mermaid costumes:

  • I cut a double sided rectangle from the fabric.  I measured to fit the width and length of each child.  I cut them a little big to make removal easy and so they don't grow out of them so fast.

  • I put a simple drawstring in the top of the tail and used yarn to cinch in the waist.
  • I used a safety pin to pull the string across the waist.

  • I put the seam in the back and "hemmed" the back edges 1/4 of the way up.

  • Next, I cut half circles from the leftover material.

  • I glued the circles on bottom corners to create the illusion of fins.

  • We cut small ovals and scales from felt and duck tape.  We painted them with sparkly nail polish to add a little dazzle.

  • Finally, we were able pull on our fins and swim around. 

Have you made anything lately? 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Pumpkin Pancakes

The chill of fall was hanging in the foggy air this morning and it inspired me to whip up a batch of pumpkin pancakes.  I put pumpkin in a lot of foods, but this is a wonderful treat worth waking up for on a damp autumn morning.  The spices and aroma fill the house with promises of pumpkin pie and encourage the most hesitant children to rise out of bed.

I am going to serve these delectable orbs with cinnamon butter, roasted pecans, and maple syrup during Thanksgiving when we host the in-laws.  I am hoping to impress them with my faux IHOP menu-  their favorite restaurant.  Besides being packed with a lot of vitamins they will earn me brownie points with my mother-in-law!

Here's what you will need to create these special pancakes:

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon (I also add a smidgen of nutmeg and cloves)
Here's what you do:

  • In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.

  • In another bowl, beat yolks, milk, pumpkin, and butter.
  • Stir in flour, sugar, baking powder, and cinnamon.

  • Fold in egg whites.
  • Cook on a hot, greased griddle.

Do you have any special ways to fix pumpkin?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Peanut Butter Fingers

This recipe hails from my neighbor's house and it is scrumptious.  These peanut butter bars make wonderful after school treats or Scout meeting delicacies.  Maybe it's the peanut butter frosting or the chocolate layer hidden inside, but they are finger licking goodness. 

I involve the children in baking and cooking on a daily basis.  They are more than eager to sniff the vanilla, taste the cinnamon, and stir the batter.  They were feeling a bit neglected in the photo taking so I indulged the kids with a few pictures this morning.  This post is in honor of my littlest helpers.

Here's what you will need:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2-4 Tablespoons milk
Here's what you do:

  • Cream the butter and sugars.  Blend in the egg, peanut butter, soda, salt, and vanilla.  Stir in the flour and oatmeal.

  • Spread in a greased 9x13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  The edges will be brown.

  • Sprinkle with chocolate chips and let stand 5 minutes.  Spread the melted chocolate carefully over the bars.  Let the chocolate harden.

  • You mix the peanut butter, powder sugar, and milk to create a thin frosting.  I like to keep it a little stiff and frost the bars.  My neighbor drizzles the peanut butter glaze over the bars.

  • Refrigerate and let the bars set up.

  • Serve and enjoy!
A friend and I have been debating the peanut butter and chocolate duo.  She feels they should each become a solo act.  I think they work best together.  Do you like peanut butter and chocolate together? 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Crunchy Onion Topped Chicken and Potato Bake

If you look forward to green bean casserole at the holidays, then you will love this!  The french fried onions make this dish.  I need to fill two casserole dishes to feed everyone.

This little chicken recipe is quickly becoming a favorite around these parts.  It's simple, easy, and adaptable to what you have on hand.  This recipe is perfect for popping in the oven on a cool day and the children look forward to picking off the onion bits.  I barely have time to let it stand and cool before the kids are clamoring in the kitchen. 

I deviated from the original recipe.  I used chicken legs instead of breasts, because that is what the children like.  I added mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and substituted milk for the sour cream.  The sour cream adds a nice taste to the sauce, but unfortunately I was out.  We used new potatoes from the garden, so I didn't peel them.  You could probably add a variety of roasting veggies to the mix if you have them on hand. 

Here is the recipe:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I used about 10 chicken legs)
4 large potatoes, peeled and halved
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup sour cream or milk
1 package fresh mushrooms (opt.)
2 cups Swiss cheese (opt.)
1 can French-fried onions

Place the chicken in a greased oven proof dish.  I use a 9x13 pan.  Arrange the potatoes around the chicken pieces.

Combine your soup and sour cream (or milk).  Spread over the chicken and potatoes.  Add your additional veggies if you want.  We added sliced mushrooms.

Next, you may add grated Swiss cheese over the top of the soup.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 1   1/4 hours.  If you used bone-in chicken, you will want to bake for a little longer.  Sprinkle the onions on top and bake for about 20 minutes longer.

Let the chicken and potatoes rest for about 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!

Do you have any fun ways to prepare chicken?

Monday, August 22, 2011


This summer I learned:

It's VERY important to be first player on the Wii.

We had several, and I mean several, days where the big boys would fight and squabble over being first player.  They would argue, call names, and be loud enough to keep the babies from napping.  I began shutting down the Wii at nap time if I heard any bickering.

I don't regret it either. 

The boys naturally gravitated towards legos, the outdoors, or crafting.  As school approached, I encouraged them to review math facts and hone in on their writing skills.  I dug out the old basal's from back in the day and started training.

I did meet a little resistance after I asked the boys to write their first and last names.  An 8 year old boy cried into his folded arms on the kitchen table for over an hour.  He bawled about "daydreams" and more.  I picked my battle and decided to let his parents deal with it.

Here is what an 8 year old put together during one of those afternoon sessions when Mario was banned.  He delved right into a mini assignment.  He wrote, directed, and starred in his own production.  It's entertaining and very short.

Pop your popcorn before watching, you might miss it...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Michelle's Charm World

I was ecstatic Saturday when I stumbled upon a lazy Susan at a garage sale.  I know it's nothing spectacular or special, but I have recently stumbled upon a wonderful idea using this old piece of hardware.  The blog, Michelle's Charm World featured an idea for creating ideal craft spaces.  I don't know if this old gal will turn out as nice, but I am up for an extreme makeover!  No more cans of peaches or stale spices for this Susan.

Look how Michelle worked her magic:

Michelle's Charm World is one of my favorite blogs I follow.  She has a plethora of ideas for the family and educational opportunities to include in your daily routines.  I love her crafts and dedication.  I browsed her blog and thought I would highlight a few of her recent posts that I have enjoyed.   

Drop by and say hello.  Tell her Plain Graces sent you! 

AND THERE'S PLENTY MORE!  Especially, if you like fun ideas and educational resources on a budget.

Stay tuned, I will highlight a few of my favorite blogs in the next few weeks.  What are your favorite blogs to follow?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lemon Pound Cake

My husband doesn't share the love of chocolate that I do.  His sweet tooth leans toward tart lemons or ice cream.  I was reading a cookbook that my husband's 96 year old Texan Grandmother sent me from her church. 

I don't have the abundance of pecans that are required in 95% of the recipes, but I DID have a few lemons lounging in my veggie drawer in the fridge.  I even acquired a tube pan during a recent trip to town.  I was set.

My sons and I worked a little magic in the kitchen and surprised my love with a treat just for him.  It made his day and he loved the fact that this recipe hailed from down South.  It's moist and refreshing- perfect for a late August day.

Here's what you need:
  • 1 cup butter
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract (I used lemon juice)
Here's what you do:

  • Blend the butter with sugar and eggs until smooth. 
  • Sift together flour and baking powder.  Fold into the butter mix. 
  • Add milk and lemon extract.  Beat for several minutes.  You may need to add a little milk or another egg if the dough is too stiff. 
  • The recipe recommends baking for 1 and a 1/2 hours at 250 degrees.  I chose to bake ours at 350 degrees for about an hour.  I just kept an eye on it.
  • I think this cake tastes fine alone, but you could easily dress it up with sprinkled powder sugar or a simple lemon glaze.
What comfort foods do you enjoy?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Simple Biscuits

I am not a perfect baker.  I tend to avoid measuring and I have a knack for flopping recipes now and then.  For years I struggled with pie crusts, but eventually I triumphed over the pastry.  Now I am turning my efforts to making biscuits. 

I WILL create beautiful tasty biscuits-  and they won't come from a can.  I keep telling myself this, over and over.  Positive thoughts...

Biscuits are a staple.  An old standby.  People made these simple flaky tidbits over a campfire on the Oregon Trail.  Guess who can't make one with a relatively new oven and the Internet to help a girl out?  My Grandmother would be so disappointed if she knew my secret.

I grew up watching her mix the dough with her hands, flop the mass on the floured table, roll the dough, and then cut perfect circles with a drinking glass.  Her biscuits raised and were tender, flaky, and buttery. 

My old biscuits could be used as a substitute for a hockey puck.  I have been working on perfecting my method and slowly we are starting to see improvements.   Today we managed to produce wonderful biscuits. 

Maybe, I have mastered my techniques?  I know, I am still crossing my fingers...

Baking Powder Biscuits

  • 3 cups flour
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg beaten
Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt. 

Cut in shortening and work with your hands.

Add milk and egg.  Stir until blended.

Roll or pat out at 1 inch thickness, cut, and bake 12 to 15 minutes at 425 degrees.

What is your Achilles heel in the kitchen?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Baked Chocolate Pudding

It's that time of year again when the children head back to school.  One of our family's annual traditions is making homemade pudding on the first day of school.  It's a treat that we look forward to after dinner and we can share our day over a sweet gooey delight.   This year, I thought I would liven things up and try a baked pudding.

This dessert is a lot like the hot fudge cakes they serve at buffets or restaurants.  My children love the hot syrup over ice cream.  I figure I can't lose.

This was a simple recipe and very easy.  I can't wait to indulge!

Here's what you will need:

First layer:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon cocoa
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 Tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup nuts (optional)
Second layer:
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tablespoon cocoa
Third layer:
  • 1 cup cold water

Here's what you do:

Sift dry ingredients together.  Add milk, butter, and vanilla.  Pour into a 9x9 inch baking dish.  I use a 9x13 pan and double the recipe.

Mix together brown sugar, white sugar, and cocoa.  Sprinkle on top of the first layer.

Pour water over all. 

Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.  It doesn't look very appealing, but once you cut into it you will discover a chocolate syrup formed in the bottom.  We like to serve this warm with ice cream or whipped topping.

What are your first day of school traditions?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Scavenger Hunt

The last few days of summer break are upon us.  The boys know it and have been restless all week.  Literally, my house was shaking from the second floor down to the basement as the boys rumbled and romped around.  In an act of desperation, I devised a nature scavenger hunt that kept the boys busy during part of nap time. 

I managed to get a few minutes of quiet-  just enough to get the babies down for their beauty sleep.

I concocted a list of items that are located in our yard.  I had simple requests ranging from clover and walnuts to specific plant leaves like maple trees and basil.  I included different names for weeds and rocks to encourage a wider vocabulary.  I did throw in a few "hard" items like bird feathers, snake skins, and ripe blackberries.  They were there, they just had to look.

I paired the older readers with the younger crowd and let them run the yard.  They scoured the sand box and garden.  They foraged in the grassy yard and picked the trees.  It was entertaining and kept the boys focused on a goal.  The team with the most objects won the privilege of choosing the movie or show during nap time. 

This is an activity that can be held any season of the year and offers a wide variety for adaptation.  You can discover the beach or a forest floor.  We focused on the backyard this round.

Here are a few guidelines to hold a successful nature scavenger hunt:
  • Keep it simple, but specific.  I like to include measurements or specific colors.  Examples are "5 inches of Maple tree bark" or "a brown pebble".
  • Include a variety of objects that are common.  Rocks to leaves are plentiful in most areas.
  • Vary the height for found objects.  It's okay to have children look for objects a little above their eye level and on the ground.  Encourage them to explore the outdoors.
  • Include a few hard scavenges.  This evens out the playing field and makes the game a lot more fun.  Snake skins and bird nests are wonderful discoveries for children.  Provide them with gloves and let them go!
  • Allow a few creative opportunities.  I include open descriptions like "something that bounces" or "something that flies".
  • Set a time limit.  Give the children an appropriate time frame, but don't give them too much.  You want to challenge them without allowing discouragement or downtime.
  • Provide bags, rulers, gloves, magnifying glasses, and any item the child might need to collect their items.  It sounds simple, but you need a way to haul all those treasures.
  • Ask and answer questions about the items they are finding.  Use this game as a teaching moment.  If you don't know the correct answer admit it and look it up together.

What unique finds do you have hiding in your backyard?

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    Barbeque Beef Cups

    I am becoming an expert in stretching food leftovers into meals.  I have had years of practice, so this is not a new concept for me.  I fixed a roast beef the other day and had a lot of leftovers taking up fridge space.  One of the ways I enjoy fixing over roast is barbeque beef cups. 

    The children love these little guys.  I like them because they are fairly simple and no complaints are heard. 

    I typically make my own biscuit dough, but you can buy the tubes of refrigerated biscuit dough at the store.  If you go that route, you may need one or two biscuits per muffin cup.  I have also made my own barbeque sauce, but I do use packaged sauces on occassion.  It's completely up to you and your family's preferences.

    Another similar meal, is using browned ground beef or turkey and mixing the meat with spaghetti sauce.  You sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the tops instead of cheddar.  Get creative!

    Here's what you will need for barbeque beef cups:

    • biscuit dough
    • leftover roast beef meat, about 2 cups
    • barbeque sauce, yours or a store brand
    • cheddar or colby cheese shredded, about 2 cups

      Here's what you will do:

      • Mix your beef with the desired barbeque sauce.

      • In a muffin pan, divide the biscuit dough and put a ball in each cup.  If you use store biscuits, you will probably need two per muffin.

      • Flatten out the dough, using your fingers, to create a crust.

      • Fill the dough with a tablespoon or more of the barbecued meat.

      • Sprinkle with cheese.

      • Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the biscuit dough is done- flaky and browned.

      • Let rest for a few minutes before removing from the muffin tin.