Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chocolate Texas Sheet Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

I must admit that one weakness I have is chocolate and peanut butter. Be it ice cream, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or this cake. Years ago when I had a house full I would make Texas Sheet Cake because it is easy to make and can be made and served in less than hour. No need to wait for the cake to cool. My recent twist on this old stand by recipe is the peanut butter frosting.  It was very yummy and much enjoyed by my family.

This cake would make a great treat for a winter’s evening with your family. Snuggle up, watch a favorite TV show or movie and enjoy this special goodie!

Chocolate Texas Sheet Cake
2 cups flour (whole wheat, white or a combo of both, choice is yours)
2 cups sugar
¼ t salt
2 sticks butter
¼ heaping cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
½ cup buttermilk or soured milk
2 large eggs
1t baking soda
1t vanilla

Spray a jelly roll pan (18x12) with non stick spray or (as I did) you can line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a large mixer bowl combine the flour, sugar & salt.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and boiling water and use a whisk to mix it well. Let it come to a boil and boil for about 30 seconds. Pour mixture into flour/sugar and stir.

Add butter milk, eggs, baking soda and vanilla. Beat with mixer until smooth and combined. Pour into jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

While the cake is baking make the peanut butter frosting. After cake comes out of the oven you can frost with no need to wait until it cools.

Peanut Butter Frosting
½ cup butter
¼ cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup milk
1t vanilla
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar

Combine butter, peanut butter and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Pour mixture into large mixer bowl and add vanilla. Add 3 cups powdered sugar and mix well. Add more powdered sugar until the frost is smooth and easy to spread (you don’t want it to thick for this cake, you want it on the thinner side so it spreads on the warm cake easily).



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

13 Ways to Help Ease the Winter Blues

I don’t know about you but personally I deal with the winter time blues. It’s not bad but it is something I’ve dealt with for a long time. As soon as the weather warms up, the days get longer, the trees start to bloom, the birds and frogs are back making their spring time noises, I start feeling much better! But in the meantime the stark look of winter and short days are just no fun. However there are a few things that I’ve learned to do over the years to pull me out of it all and learn to make the most of this time of year. 

1. Lights
I’m not talking about the fancy SAD type lights (although I’ve heard they are helpful), I tend to turn on every light in the house during the day. Maybe because I live in an area that can be rather gray and gloomy most of the time I’ve found this to be very helpful.

2. Candles
Candles create a mood, a good mood for me. I find pretty smelling candles and light them. This is especially nice in the evenings.

3. Exercise
Honestly this is not one of my better traits. I’m typically resistant to exercise unless it is something I like doing.. such as swimming in my pond, working in my garden type of exercise. But I’ve learned that a walk in the fresh air is very mood enhancing. And good for my body as well. 

4. New Year’s Goals
Remember those goals you made at the beginning of the year? This is the time most of us have forgotten that fresh outlook and determination to make desired changes for this year. I pull out my list and begin working on whatever I can.

5. Prayer
Don’t forget your quiet time with the Lord. Time spent in His word and in prayer can lighten the burdens of life each and every day.

6. Sleep
I know I seem to sleep more in the winter months. For whatever reason my body just needs it. I look at it a lot like hibernating. ~smile~ I do feel better and more refreshed to start the day when I’ve had plenty of good sleep.

7. Friends
A couple of weeks ago my best friend called and wanted to come and spend the afternoon with me. We had such a good time. We enjoyed coffee lattes made by my daughter and laughed and talked and spent time with our kids. I felt very refreshed after our visit. I can tend to just want to hole up in the winter and avoid people. It was a good reminder to me to take a little time with a friend now and again to just have some fun.

8. Plan a Garden
The garden catalogs are rolling in now and they are fun to look at. I like to think, ponder, create in my mind my dream garden. Even better when I can order some seeds in preparation for spring!

9. Start a Project
Not anything elaborate but I find winter the best time to start a sewing project or crochet an afghan. Or maybe start a craft project. Find something you enjoy and work on it as your time allows. 

10. Eat Healthy
Spending a lot of time indoors in the winter can cause us all to not make the best food choices. We can snack on and eat too much sugar and carbs and then end up feeling awful. Make a point to eat healthy foods and avoid overdoing the junk snacking.  However a treat now and again is a nice way to spend a winter's evening with your family. 

11. Make a Gratitude List
One thing that can always change my mood and give me something to brighten my spirits is a gratitude list. Take a moment and write down all the things you are grateful for in life and hang it on your fridge. Make sure to look at it often and add things to it as you think of them.

12. Do a Little Cleaning & Decorating
I know I feel better when my home is clean and in order. What better time to focus on cleaning up the home. And after you have a room cleaned up, do a little decorating; nothing fancy or expensive. Maybe some flowers, or check out the thrift stores for a little something special that will make your room feel warm and cozy.

13. Acceptance
Finally, instead of fighting winter, accept that we can’t do anything about the time of year. Take on a new attitude. This year I’ve made a point of thinking about how nice it can be to put on a cozy warm sweater, read a good book, snuggle up with an afghan on the couch and a hot cup of tea in the evenings and enjoy family. This season will end and the next will begin so the goal is to walk through it all the best we can!


Monday, January 27, 2014

Menu Monday!

This week I have a couple meals that I had planned for last week but were never made.  I'm also taking advantage of my crockpot a lot this week as well.  I'll share any new recipes that pass my family's taste test with you!

Crockpot chili, chips & salsa, salad

Crockpot orange pork over brown rice, salad

Crockpot chicken philly sandwiches, split pea soup, salad


Crockpot hamburger potato casserole, salad

Sausage gravy & biscuits

Crockpot SW stew, dinner rolls, salad


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Updates from the Homestead

Life seems to be a string of never ending busyness. A home to manage, food to cook, laundry to be done, time spent with family and friends. Knowing how to use my time wisely is something I’ve always taken seriously. Even more so as I started out the New Year my prayer has been, “Lord am I using my time as wisely as I could?”. I see areas where I am and areas where I am not. So lately I’ve been focusing on the areas I’m not and seeing how I could improve on this. We all need down time so lately I’ve been asking myself how much down time is enough? How much time on the computer is enough? How much time spent running around is too much? Not that I’m being hard on myself but just examining the best use of my time.

My son Jacob celebrated his 20th birthday this last week. He is my 6th child and I seriously have to ask myself where did all the time go!!?? He is a great kid.. and I am so proud of him. He works nearly full time (30 hours a week) and is his degree non-traditionally.. He is working on a computer degree.. and almost ready for his last year of college.. he started a little over a year ago. He is determined, goal oriented and willing to work for what he wants. He makes his mama and dad very proud. On his birthday he asked for it to be “low key” .. so I bought pizza and sushi for him and made some chip dip.. he had a couple friends over and his brothers.. on one night they had a Halo marathon (Halo is an xbox game) and the second afternoon was spent on a computer game.. League of Legends.. I know nothing about any of it.. but they were really into it :D ..

My daughter Leanne is currently in Spain! Another adventure for her. She does plan to come home and settle down and begin looking for work. But she saved for and planned this trip (as well as the NYC trip) before she left S. Korea. She is having a great time with her friend Rona (she met Rona several years ago when she went to visit Emily while she was working in Denmark as an au pair and has remained friends with her ever since). Here are a few pics of her and Rona…

Now that I’ve finished doing my cleaning and organizing in my basement storage area I’m coming up with my plans for February’s Homemaking Challenge. I’ll let everyone know what it is in another week or so!

How has your winter been? Ours here in the Pacific Northwest has been mild beyond anything that I’ve seen. We’ve been having highs in the 40’s and basically no snow or winter harshness. On one hand I’ve really enjoyed this. On the other hand the area needs the rain and snow pack to ensure ample water supply for our area in the upcoming year. One of the hardest things I know is dealing with children and my husband having to drive through snow and ice and winter hazards. I spend lots of time praying and pacing until they are home and safe. For that reason alone I’ve been thankful to not have to deal with that this winter. But it is a first since I’ve lived here! We will see what the rest of the year holds. I know so many people in the rest of the country are dealing with a very difficult winter. 

And the last topic for this update is my own personal goal. I started this year with a deep need to spend serious time on my prayer life. Keeping a prayer journal of needed prayers for family and friends is important to me as well as journaling answered prayer. Journaling answered prayer is a huge encouragement when you are dealing with discouraging times. The other reason being very serious in my prayer life is important to me (other than the obvious Scriptural reasons why prayer is important) is that I had one of my daughters ask me a question.. “Why did you choose to follow God when you were at the point in your life you were searching?” .. My answer to her, “My grandmothers prayers”.. My grandmother was a prayer warrior. She prayed daily for all her children and grandchildren and many others. I believe today that her prayers are what softened my heart and played a huge role in my salvation. My prayer today has been.. “May I be a woman, as my grandmother, who prays diligently and fervently for my loved ones”. Do you keep a prayer journal?

That is all from my homestead!! Crystal


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pamper Yourself a Little - Bath Soaks


(Photo Credit: Sierra Miller  ) 

I’ve always loved baths.. super relaxing, stress relieving, and a special treat. You can things to your bath water to help make the experience even more enjoyable. The simplest thing is Epsom salts, just pour some in while the water is running. Epsom salts have are very relaxing to tired, achy muscles. Another good additive is baking soda. Adding a some to the water helps clean and soften skin.

You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to any bath for more enjoyment and aromatherapy benefits.

If you want to do something just a little bit more then I have a couple suggestions. The first is an Oatmeal Bath. Oatmeal is great for dry itchy winter skin as it has the ability to lock in moisture reduce inflammation. However you don’t want oatmeal floating around in the tub and clogging the drain. Here is an easy way to enjoy this beauty treatment.

You will need a clean (old) sock or a knee high nylon and some oats. You can use any type of oats you would like (quick cooking, regular)…
Fill the sock/nylon with the oats. I found the easiest way to do this was using a canning funnel. But make sure to hold onto the sock around the bottom of the funnel when filling..

When the sock is full, tie the sock shut…

To use it run your bath water and let the water run over the sock/nylon while the bath tub fills. You can squish the oatmeal liquid out of the sock several times and rub it over your skin for a softening effect.

Another nice bath soak is a tea bath. Tea is amazing in its aroma therapy effects. It can also help other symptoms as well. To make tea for a bath simply fill a pot with about 6 to 8 cups of water. Add loose tea or 3 or 4 tea bags. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and let it sit and steep to get strong. If using tea bags, remove them. If using loose tea strain. Add tea to tub as you fill your bath.

This batch that you see was made with peppermint tea. The tea is loose. I added about ¼ cup (maybe a bit less) to the water and brought it to a boil.

When it had steeped long enough I strained out the tea leaves and used it in my bath…

As for types of tea to try:
Peppermint and eucalyptus is great for helping stuffed noses. Peppermint is also invigorating and refreshing and I enjoy it for stress relief.

Chamomile tea is good for relaxation and I’ve read helps relieve depression.

Valerian can help with insomnia. However valerian is not the best smell so I would suggest a smaller amount of tea/tea bags be added.. it will do the trick as far as helping you fall asleep, but for this bath you won’t walk away with sweet smells lingering.

Green tea is also good for a bath. While it does not have a lot of aromatherapy attributes it is filled with antioxidants and vitamins that are good for the skin.

Take a little time this week to pamper yourself with a nice relaxing, soothing bath.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Meal Planning Simplicity

This week is all about tuna! I bought a 4# can of tuna and stretched it out to 3 meals (for 6 adult size appetites per meal) that were completely different. Tuna could get old really fast.. but no worries.. your family won’t even realize they are eating tuna for three meals in a row.. I promise..

I bought this huge can of tuna from Costco. It was approx. 4 pounds…

An equivalent to 11/12 regular 6oz cans. My hubby saw the can I bought and said.. wow.. that’s a lot of tuna.. LOL.. I replied.. I’ve got a lot of people to feed honey.. and I made good use of it.. no one complained this week.. just walked away from the table feeling full and happy..

So what did I do?

I opened the can and drained it.. then made tuna patties with it… I ended up with 3 dozen plus 1…

Tuna Patties (bulk recipe)
1 large can tuna, 66.5oz (I purchase mine from Costco) – 11/12 6oz cans
4 cups bread crumbs
8 eggs
2 cups mayo
6 to 8 green onions, sliced
1t salt
1t pepper

Combine all ingredients until well mixed. Measure out ¼ cup for each patty. Fry on each side on medium/hot heat for 3 to 4 minutes .. I ended up with 3 dozen (plus 1) patties...
Print Recipe

For the first night I used the tuna patties for tuna burgers.. Just like hamburgers.. you can use hamburger buns, bread, or as I did, English muffins.. we ate 1 dozen of them.. as I said, I have big appetites to feed here!!

Second night (I forgot to get a picture, the family devoured this meal faster than I had a chance to think about photos!)..

Creamed Tuna over Biscuits
12T butter
12T flour
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups milk (whole milk for richest flavor)
1t salt
1t pepper
1 dozen tuna patties cut up into bite size pieces

Melt butter in a 4 to 6 qt stock pot. Add flour and mix until smooth and bubbly. Add chicken broth, milk, salt and pepper. Stir and bring to a boil. Boil and cook until thick, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add cut up tuna patties. Remove from heat. Serve over biscuits.

Print Recipe
On the 3rd night I made fish tacos…
I cut up the last dozen tuna patties...
Then fried them in a little coconut oil and added the spices..
We used these to make some super yummy fish tacos!

Fish Tacos (from Tuna Patties)

(Photo Credit: Sierra Miller  ) 

This recipe is probably more of a “how to” than an actual recipe. I had about 12 tuna patties left. I cut them up in small pieces.
In a large frying heat a little olive oil or coconut oil until hot. Add cut up tuna patties and gently stir to heat up and crisp up a bit.
1T chili powder
2t cumin
1T lime or lemon juice
salt, to taste
Fill corn or flour tortillas (we used corn tortillas that had been slightly softened in coconut oil) with fish and taco trimmings such as, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado pieces, sliced olives, cheese is optional. Top with a little salsa and enjoy!

Print Recipe
I was pleased that I was able to stretch a large can of tuna that cost under $10.00 over 3 meals to feed the hungry appetites in my home. It was both economical and tasty. And because each meal was completely different and no one was sick of fish by the end! ~smile~


Monday, January 20, 2014

Menu Monday!


Chili, chips & salsa, salad

Chicken pot pie, salad

Sausage & gravy over biscuits, sliced oranges & apples

Bbq baked chicken legs, cheesy brown rice, salad

Chinese beef & broccoli over rice, carrot & celery sticks

Clam chowder, dinner rolls, marinated cucumbers

Sub sandwiches, tomato soup, and Korean salad


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mocha Mayonnaise Chocolate Cake

I was talking to a friend of mine a few days ago and she mentioned a mayonnaise cake and was I familiar with it? Took me a second and then I said, “Yes! My mother use to make them”. I had not thought about them in many years. So I made one for dessert for my family. Oh yum!! And this cake is so easy to make as well.

If you’re not familiar with them you may be thinking, “oh yuck” .. but I assure you, you don’t taste the mayo. The mayonnaise replaces the fat and eggs in the recipe. The cake is super moist and chocolaty .. and my twist to it (different than what my mama did).. I used strong coffee instead of water which made the cake taste even better.

I frosted it with a mocha frosting and in the end decided to name my version…..

Mocha Mayonnaise Cake
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
2t baking soda
¼ t salt
1 cup mayonnaise (not salad dressing such as Miracle Whip)
1t vanilla
1 cup room temp coffee

In a mixer combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt until it is all mixed up well. Add mayonnaise, vanilla and coffee. Mix until well combine and smooth.

Pour cake mix into a greased 9x13 pan. I put parchment paper on the bottom and grease the sides with coconut oil.
Bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes, until cake is done when tested with a fork or toothpick (no batter sticks).

Let cool and frost with Mocha Frosting.

Mocha Frosting
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup very strong, hot, coffee
1/3 cup melted butter
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar

In mixer combine cocoa powder, coffee and melted butter until smooth and well mixed. Add 4 cups of powdered sugar and mix well. Add more sugar until it is thick enough to spread on cake. If it is too thick add a small amount of coffee to thin. If it is to thin, add more powdered sugar. Frosts a 9x13 cake.

Print Recipe

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Homemaking Challenge for January: Update #2


I’m so thrilled with my progress.. It’s taken a bit of time but I’m just about done. My youngest son Isaac has been a great help to me in the whole process.

So for a little recap (you can see all the before pics on the 1st blog post and my progress up to this point on the 2nd post)

When I finished last time I had cleared off this area….

And was ready to tackle this area…

I began by moving items that were laying on the floor and in my way to the other side of the room. Then I took each of the storage totes, one by one, and went through them. I found items I no longer needed and those went into my “give” boxes, I found items that I had to question myself as to why I still had them and those were tossed (no more purposeful life left in them or the items were broken, etc..), and a few items I needed to think about and they went into the “I don’t know” box until I had gone through all totes and could go back and make a decision on them.

When it was all done I had been able to empty out a couple of totes which gave me more space to store items that had previously been sitting on the floor and in the way. The finished picture…
And I did use the area to left (in the above pic) for storage of items as well...

It felt so good to see it all cleaned up and organized I just kind of wanted to sit there in the basement for a bit and take it all it! Ha, ha!!

When all was said and done here is what I had left to give away…

Now I have just one area left to go through. It is the shelves I store soap and other soap making supplies on.
How is your storage area clean & organize project going?

We Can Do This Girls!!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Meal Planning Simplicity


**Warning: this is a long post! With lots of pictures! ~smile~

This week’s Meal Planning Simplicity (making the most from time spent in the kitchen) is focused mainly on ham & beans. I bought a 6# boneless ham from Costco…

I chopped it all up at one time…

I also cooked up a large pot of beans. I used a mix of red & black beans. I cooked about 10 to 12 cups of dried beans in my large 14qt pan. I had enough beans to use in a couple different bean meals during the week and was able to freeze 2qts of beans for future use (one bag is being used this week).

After the beans were cooking and the ham had been cut up I went ahead and cut up a couple large onions for use during the week. I cook with a lot of onions and it was nice to have them chopped up and ready to go as I needed them for the rest of the week.

Here was my plan of action:

Using the cooked beans I made a batch of chicken tortilla soup…

Chicken Tortilla Soup
2lbs boneless, skinless, chicken (thighs or breast will work), defrosted and cut into bite size pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2T olive oil
4 cups chicken stock
4 to 5 cups cooked beans (with a little of the bean broth)
2 cups frozen corn or 1 can of corn (approx. 14/15oz size), drained
2t chili powder
1t cumin
1t salt (or to taste)
1 cup salsa
1 can diced tomatoes
8oz cream cheese, softened and cut into chunks
1 cups milk
~Sour cream and cheddar cheese for topping soup, optional

In a large stock pot sauté chicken and onions until the chicken is no longer pink and the onions are soft.

After the chicken and onions have cooked add chicken stock, frozen corn, chili powder, cumin, salt, salsa and diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil and let simmer 20 minutes to blend flavors.

Add cream cheese and stir to melt. Add milk, heat until hot, but not boiling.

Put a handful of crushed tortilla chips in a bowl, cover with soup, top with a dollop of sour cream and a little cheese and serve.

Print Recipe:

On the next night I used the beans to make Bean Stew. This recipe tasted amazing… but looked really, well, kind of ugly.. LOL.. The bean broth that I added gave the potatoes a blah color.. in the future I intended to rinse off my beans so this does not happen.. so don’t let the finished picture scare you too much… I promise it tastes very good and my family ate it up!!

Bean Stew
2lbs hamburger, sausages, or ham
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups cooked beans
2quarts chicken stock
1 16oz bag frozen veggies of your choice
1lb new potatoes, chopped into bite size pieces
1T worchestershire sauce
Salt & pepper, to taste

This can be done in a dutch oven and baked or on the stove top in a large stock pot. Begin by cooking your hamburger and onions first (if you are using ham then cook up the onion in a little oil first to soften it and then add ham). Now add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. If you are making this in a dutch oven then cover and put it in a 325 oven and let bake for a couple of hours (or until potatoes are soft). If doing on the stove top, cover and reduce heat to a low simmer and let simmer until potatoes are soft (1 hour or so would be my guess).

Print Recipe:

Here are the ingredients all mixed and ready to go in the oven (I used my dutch oven for this .. and it looks pretty here!)…  I used some chicken sausages that needed to be used up for this. But any type of meat will work, hamburger, ham, chicken, etc..)..

The finished product….

So you see what I’m talking about.. ha, ha

As for the ham, I was able to use if for 3 meals. You may be able to get more meals out of it depending on the number of people you are serving. I’m serving dinner to basically 6 adult sized appetites, so do keep that in mind.

The first ham meal was Crockpot Maple Brown Sugar, Pineapple, Bean & Ham over Brown Rice. This, hands down, is the simplest meal ever!! It would also make a fantastic Crockpot Freezer Meal (just put all ingredients in a gallon size ziplock bag and freeze).

Crockpot Maple, Brown Sugar & Pineapple Ham over Rice
3 to 4 cups cut up ham
4 cups cooked beans, drained of any juices
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
1T soy sauce
1 can (14/15oz) pineapple chunks – do not drain

Combine all in crockpot and cook on low for 5 hours. Serve over brown rice.

Print Recipe:

Because all of my ingredients were cut & cooked and ready to go it took me just a few minutes to toss it all into the crockpot….

The second one was ham & cheese bread (made like my pepperoni bread recipe only substituting ham and cheddar cheese for the pepperoni & mozz cheese called for) and split pea soup. This was a winner with my family as well..

The last recipe I made was Ham & Noodle Casserole. Another good one!

Ham & Noodle Casserole
10oz pasta of your choice, cooked & drained
1 medium onion, chopped
2T butter
8oz cream cheese, softened
½ cup (or so) milk
1 ½ to 2 cups cut up ham
1 cup sour cream
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
Salt & pepper, to taste

In a frying pan sauté onion in butter until soft. Add softened cream cheese and stir to melt as well as you can. Add milk to thin to a sauce like consistency (a little thicker than gravy would be). Transfer this to a large mixing bowl and add cooked pasta, ham, sour cream, and 1 cup of the cheese and salt & pepper. Put all in a 9x13 pan and top with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes.

I served this with a large green salad.

Print Recipe:

I liked this plan because a little extra time spent in the kitchen on one afternoon saved me time during the busy week.