Pasta Casserole

 

Pasta Casserole

I used one of my freezer meals today. Prior to surgery I had put some of these together so my husband would only have to pop them in the oven or microwave the first couple weeks after my surgery.

The one I hauled out for today was the Pasta Casserole one. I have a feeling I found the base recipe somewhere on Pinterest but I have long forgotten where so if this is your recipe and I have not given you credit I apologize. I have tweaked it to my own taste and liking and this is the recipe I ended up with.

Pasta Casserole

Brown and drain:
2 pounds hamburger
1 large onion, chopped
3 Tablespoons Italian Dressing

Add:
2 – 26 ounce Spaghetti or Pizza Sauce
16 ounce elbow or rotini noodles (cooked and drained)
5 cups mozzarella (20 ounces)
Reserve 2 cups of cheese for the top of casseroles.
8 ounces sliced pepperonis for top.

Put in 2 – 9×13 foil pans or equivalent smaller size foil pans.
Put mixture in pans.
Top with reserved cheese.
Top with sliced pepperonis.
Cover and freeze for later use.
or
Bake at 350º for 30 minutes.
If frozen, make sure to thaw completely and Bake at 350º for 35 – 40 minutes.

These work wonderful, when you are in a busy time of life or when you want to bring a meal to someone who is needing one. I tend to make them in 4 square foil pans as it is a filling meal and my husband is not crazy about tomato type products. When I serve this I usually sprinkle some parmesan cheese over the top also.

 I love the fact that with some minimal effort I can have 4 meals in my freezer just waiting to be baked or given away.  I really like that when I have some of these in my freezer there are days I don’t even have to think about what to make…..that is a huge plus at this present time.

I am wondering what are some of your favorite shortcuts when it comes to mealtime? What works  best for you to spend less time prepping for meals everyday and more time enjoying those extra moments with your family instead?

 

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Psalm 145:15-16 ESV

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Hippocrates

Meatballs

crockpot-meatballs

In the last while I have been reading various blogs written by busy moms.  Their posts have made me laugh with the memories they brought back.  They have also made me remember how very tired and discouraged a woman could be as a mom and particularly a stay at home mom.

I just want to give a word of encouragement to those who are feeling like they will never again get to use the bathroom without an audience. Someday will come and you will be able to once again lock the door, get in the tub and sit in there till the water gets cold.

Yes…..You will be able to use the toilet without an audience and a 2 foot tall person handing you your toilet paper. You will also be able put your makeup on, fix your hair and even get your teeth brushed before you go out.

I will never forget the Sunday morning when my husband and I were sitting in the “baby benches” (benches reserved for those with small children) in our church. I looked down and could have cried. I had put my sweater on backwards that morning and in the rush to get everyone ready, out the door and alive to church …. I had not noticed till it was too late.  (You may wonder about the alive part – we had three small sons and a 10 mile drive – enough said.)

Once I realized I had not gotten my sweater on correctly; I grabbed a child, took him to the restroom, prayed people would think the kid needed to go, and put my sweater on the right way. In looking back, I am very sure that I am the only person who even remembers that I did that. Now if only I could forget.

Raising children can make even the most capable of people feel totally inadequate. For those of you in those busy years please know that the time will go faster than you know. Know that children are very good at forgetting and forgiving and remembering the good things.

They probably won’t remember how many meals of mac and cheese they had. They will remember that they loved mac and cheese. They will remember the craziest things. Our boys recall (a little too fondly) that their dad would do “kitty-butts” on the farmyard when it had snowed and become icy. They also remember their mom getting dizzy from all the spinning around.

Our sons also recall quite clearly “the Meatball Incident”.  (For some reason they and their dad’s version are different than mine.) The incident occurred one Sunday as we were going to my sister for a potluck dinner. I had made a crockpot full of meatballs and I also had along a decorated cake for my Grandma’s birthday.

We had plugged the meatballs in by my folks house in town while we were at church. After church we stopped to pick them up and I put them in the trunk next to the cake. As we left my folk’s driveway our three sons started encouraging their dad to “peel out” and lay some rubber. I reminded them of the cake in the trunk.

We drove about half way down the block when the whiff of meatballs started wafting through the car. My husband stopped and we all piled out to take a look. It was not pretty. The meatballs had flopped over onto the cake. Hot tomatoey meatball sauce on top of a white decorated cake tends to melt decorator frosting.

I think I would have been fine, had they been apologetic. They started to snicker, it turned to snorts and then full blown laughter.  Someone commented it now looked like potatoes and gravy…….it was a quiet ride to my sister.

We salvaged the cake, no one went hungry, a good time was had by all and no one died due to a slight taste of meatball sauce with their cake. Looking back, I should have laughed with them……I do now.

I am going to share the meatball recipe with you. Just a hint – They are better when they stay in the crockpot till you are ready to eat them…..but if they do land on a cake, it is not the end of the world.

 

Crockpot Meatballs
2 pounds ground beef
2 cups oatmeal
chopped onion (to taste)
2eggs
dash salt
dash pepper
Roll into balls and place in Crockpot
Cover with Sauce

Sauce:
1 can tomato soup
1/2 cup brown sugar
Pour over meatballs
Cook on high for 4 hours.
NOTE: I tend to make 2 ounce meatballs and get approximately 20 – 21 per recipe.

With this recipe I cook them all and then freeze what we do not eat for a quick reheated meal later. This works great as it doesn’t really take any extra time to cook all of them at the same time.  You can also make mass quantities of these and freeze them to be cooked later.

 I love this recipe because it gives me time to spend with my family. I can make it ahead, toss them in the crockpot and forget them till they are done. I have not tried it but I think they would also be good with a cream soup over them instead of the tomato type sauce.

Extend grace to yourself this weekend. Give yourself the gift of spending time with your family  and enjoying those times. If it doesn’t turn out to be a Norman Rockwell moment; it will still be okay and still turn out to be a great memory.

“A family is a place where principles are hammered
and honed on the anvil of everyday living.”

~ Chuck Swindoll

“A man ought to live so that everybody knows he is a Christian…
and most of all, his family ought to know.”

~ D. L. Moody

Read more: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/bible-verses-about-family-20-uplifting-scripture-quotes/#ixzz4ViFLeUpx

 

Anticipation of the Season

top-hats

Only a few more days till Christmas and I have one more cookie recipe to share with you before the day is actually here. This is one is that my youngest two sons wait for with great anticipation as it is their all time favorite. In fact, the youngest told me just the other day; that he did not care what other varieties of cookies there were…..as long as there were plenty of Top Hats.

His enthusiasm for these cookies is contagious.  When I told him I was in the process of making them I could almost hear his smile through the phone line in that one word he uttered, “Yessss.”

It is always fun to find out what things are important to my children and husband on the holidays. Certain foods and certain traditions all speak different languages of love to each of them.  With daughter-in-laws and grandchildren added to the mix; it just makes it all the more fun.

Anticipation of the season for me is about so much more than all the preparation, baking, list making, shopping and so on. For me it is wrapped up in family and the love I see in their eyes for each other. The joy they have when they get together is a blessing to the heart and soul of this mom.

The anticipation of the laughter, the memories, the stories, the good-natured joking has taken hold and added a glow that rivals the brightly colored lights on the Christmas tree in the corner. My mindset is ready for the day to arrive….my preparations are not…..but they soon will be completed and if they are not; it really does not matter.

I finished the last of the cookies yesterday and tomorrow is house-cleaning time. If I figure it right I will be all set to go by the time the kids arrive this weekend.

I am not sure where I got this recipe; as I have been making these for more years than I care to count. These cookies take a little “canooey” work as my Grandma used to say. I will tell you; if you do make them….they are definitely worth the effort.

Top Hats
Cookies:
1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
Filling:
6 ounces cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup nutmeats (optional)
1 cup flake coconut
Frosting:
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons water
Melt and beat in 1/2 cup powdered sugar.

Mix cookie dough and shape into 1 inch balls.
Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 12-15 minutes at 325º – 350º
Remove from oven and thumbprint.
Mix filling and put on top of cookie.
Top with chocolate frosting.
NOTE: I choose not to add the optional nutmeats to the filling as my family does not care for them.

I will be counting the days till my family gathers. (I will also be guarding the cookies till they all get here!) I will be soaking up the joy that is this season and anticipating the contentment that is family.  May you be blessed in your preparations for this season of joy.

Christmas…that magic blanket that wraps itself about us,
that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance.
It may weave a spell of nostalgia.
Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer,
but always it will be a day of remembrance
…a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.

Augusta E Rundell quotes 

Making a List, Checking it Twice….

Melt In Your Mouth Cookies.JPG

Melt in Your Mouth Cookies

I am wondering if you started humming or singing as you read that title?  I can never read those words without putting the tune with it and singing them.  It is definitely the season for making lists I am finding.

In fact I have several lists floating around here at this point.  There is the Christmas wish list that has all our kids and grandkids names on it; complete with things they would like.  Then there is the Christmas dinner list….the one with the menu.  To coincide with that list is the grocery list; with those last minute items that I forgot the last time I went to the grocery store to get the Christmas dinner stuff.

We should also not forget the list for the Christmas Eve party at my folks house. That one contains the food items I need to bring, the gifts we must not forget to take along and other random items that need to journey to their house.

Then there is the list for the things I need to finish up.  Things like getting the bedrooms upstairs ready for kids to stay overnight. Turning the water on upstairs is also on the list. Oh, and we mustn’t forget that the list should also remind me to finish purchasing and then wrapping the presents that need to get under the tree before Christmas day.

I also need to make tags for those gifts that are under the tree. My gift tags have never had names on them…..only stamped images. We started doing things that way, back when the boys were little and could not (or would not) leave their presents alone. Once they started getting married I thought I could put names on the tags; but they all insisted the nameless tags were a tradition….so I need to stamp some tags…..soon!

On one of my lists it reminds me that I need to finish the Christmas cookies that I have started. Today, I could check a couple of those cookies off my list as I finished piping the frosting star on them.

Thumbprints.JPG

Thumbprints

The two I worked on today are called Melt In Your Mouth cookies and Thumbprints. Both of these cookies are real favorites of mine. (To be really honest there are very few cookies that I have met that I have not liked!)

Just in case you are looking for one more cookie to add to your holiday baking; I will share the recipes with you today.

 

 

Melt In Your Mouth Cookies
1 cup butter (do not substitute)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
Milk (a few drops if needed)
Frosting:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter (melted -do not substitute)
1 teaspoon vanilla
green food coloring to make light green color

Cream butter and powdered sugar.
Add vanilla, flour, and cornstarch.
Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on cookie sheet.
Bake at 350º for 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and make a thumbprint in the center of each cookie.
Return to oven and bake another 8 minutes.
Cool and fill center with frosting.
NOTE:  I like to use a #21 star tip and decorator bag to pipe a frosting star on top.

Thumbprint Cookies
1 cup butter (do not substitute)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 egg yolks (reserve egg white)
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Frosting:
1 cup butter (do not substitute)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
Red food coloring to make a light red

Blend butter, sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla.
Add dry ingredients.
Roll into 1 inch balls and dip into slightly beaten egg whites.
Roll in finely chopped walnuts
.
Place about 1 inch apart on cookie sheets.
Bake 5 minutes at 350º.
Remove from oven and make thumbprint in center of each cookie.
Return to oven and bake another 10 minutes.
Cool and frost.
NOTE: I like to use a #21 star tip to pipe a frosting star on top of these cookies.

It is a good feeling to check things off my lists. I do find having them makes it easier for me to relax through this busy season that requires lots of preparation and planning. I think it might be because I know I am not forgetting something. I do find it is also helpful to contain my lists in one notebook. That way I only have one thing to keep track of.

It makes it easier for me to focus on what is important when I know the little things are taken care of or will be taken care of in good order.   It makes it easier to focus on the joy of the season and the anticipation of family gatherings.

So I am making my lists and checking them twice….    I am wondering what little tips and tricks do you use that make your busy holiday season run smoother?

And what are some of your favorite cookie recipes?  Please feel free to leave a link to your blog if you have some of these posted there! Cookies and tips and tricks!  I would love to check them out.

“The best way to get through any challenge is to step back,
look up at the sky, breathe deeply in and out,
smile if you have to…
then dive in.”

Waylon H. Lewis

Hot Chocolate and Cold Wintry Days

Cup of Hot Chocolate & Mix.JPG

Today is a day for staying inside…..if you can. Fortunately, today I can stay inside; other than doing my chicken chores.  The girls do not require too much work at this time, other than feeding, watering, collecting eggs and keeping a path scooped through any snow that falls (they hate walking in snow), .

It sounds like the next few days, in our area, are just going to get colder and colder. The weather people are even telling us it will get to below zero wind chills the rest of this week. I am not looking forward to that at all! I can totally understand why some people flee this area in the winter and head south.

On days that are so cold the best thing you can do is “hunker down”. It is good to have some indoor projects to do on those days. With Christmas on it’s way; it is no problem finding things to do indoors.

The days are much easier to take when you are on the inside of your house looking out the windows. Being outside in this weather is really no fun at all. That wind actually hurts your face if you are out there too long.  Years ago a weatherman reminded us to forego our pierced earrings on those extremely cold days as they would just freeze our earlobes faster because of the metal.

I googled and found out it is only 97 days till Spring!!  Woo Hoo!! I told my husband this and he laughed……he informed me that technically it is not even winter yet.  Nuts…….that means there is still a lot of time for wind chills, ice, snow, snowdrifts, scooping snow, stoking the woodstove, scooping more snow, cold wind chills, scooping more snow…..you get the idea.  That TV program Survivor has nothing on us.

I have a feeling that surviving the winter is what makes the arrival of spring and summer so welcome. I also know that the older I get, it seems like the colder I get. Our folks used to tell us this and we never really believed them. Somewhere along the line they just keep getting wiser and wiser.

To make this season a little more bearable I  usually try to have some Hot Chocolate Mix on hand for the cold days. It is very easy to make and you end up with a large batch.

Hot Chocolate Mix
8 quart box powdered instant  non-fat milk

2 pound box Nestle’s Quik
2 cups powdered sugar
11 ounce powdered coffee creamer
In a large bowl mix all ingredients together.
Store in a covered container
Use 4 teaspoons to a mug of hot water.
(more or less  teaspoons to taste)

Making a batch of this might also be a great gift idea for a teacher, friend or someone you just want to give a little something too.  You could package it with a mug and some mints or marshmallows. I do know it also tastes wonderful with a little mint chocolate piece melted in your cup or if you put marshmallows in it.

There is really something very comforting about curling up in a blanket, sitting in your favorite rocking chair in front of the wood stove, with a cup of this hot chocolate in hand. If you manage to have a good book to go with this; the cold weather is not so hard to take. If you have a friend or your spouse sitting next to you, it is even better.

May the coming winter season treat you kindly and may you find blessings in the waiting for spring to return.

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth,
for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:
it is the time for home.”

Edith Sitwell

(My blogging day mug was a birthday gift this year….pretty cool right?)

 

Thanksgiving Anticipation

Thanksgiving desserts.JPG

I have been spending the last few days anticipating the coming Thanksgiving holiday. This year is a little more work as my husband and I are hosting at our home.

All those things that we have been putting off; are now looking at us and begging to be done. We have finished and installed some baseboard, cleared out cobwebs in places I did not even know there were cobwebs, cleared out those “science experiments” in the back of my fridge (as Bee Organized With Pamela puts it), and just general house cleaning. I have discovered you can only put these things off for so long and then they need to be done.

By the time noon rolled around I had things under control and could start with the baking.  This year I am making the desserts. I made the standard thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie and then I thought I would make a Cream Cheese pie for those who do not care for pumpkin. I also had a request for the Skor Cake that I like to make. (Evidently a chocoholic made that request!)

Here are the recipes.  They are good to make anytime of year. And for those of you who have never eaten or made pumpkin pie, this is your chance to give it a try!

Pumpkin Pie
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2 large eggs
2 cups pumpkin home grown or one can pumpkin pie filling
1 – 12 oz. can evaporated milk
I use home grown sugar pumpkins so I put the pumpkin in my blender
with the evaporated milk and eggs.
I then add the rest into the blender and mix.
Pour into unbaked pie crust. (see recipe below)
Makes a 9 inch pie.
Bake at 425º for 15 minutes
Reduce heat to 350º and bake 50 minutes longer.
Pie is done when you insert a knife into it and it comes out clean.

Betty Crocker Pie Crust
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoons shortening or
1/3 cup lard (I use lard)
1cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 – 3 tablespoons cold water
Cut shortening into flour and salt till they are pea sized
Sprinkle water over and toss with fork.
When flour is moistened form into ball.
Roll out and put in pie pan.

 

Cream Cheese Pie
1 – 8 oz. block cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 – 8 oz. cool whip
Whip filling and put in graham cracker crust.
Refrigerate and top with either fresh fruit or pie filling when serving.
If you could find a gluten free crust this pie would be great.
For those who have gluten issues I have also just put the filling into bowls and topped with fruit.

Skor Cake
1 box chocolate cake mix – bake as directed in 2 – 9 inch round pans.
Filling:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
4 Skor candy bars or Heath
Mix: cream, sugar and cocoa then refrigerate for 15 minutes
Beat mixture to stiff peaks.
Fold in 3 crushed Skor bars.
Cut your 2 round cakes to make 4 layers total.
(I find it works great to freeze them before cutting.)
Divide filling into 4 even amounts.
Put filling between each layer, reserving the last 1/4th for the top.
Crush the last candy bar and sprinkle over top.
This cake will get moister if you make it the day ahead.

The food is a big part of our Thanksgiving celebration, but the best part of tomorrow will be the people. Old stories will be told, new stories will be made and woven through it all is the feeling that God is good and this house full of people loves each other no matter what.

Cherish your human connections
– your relationships with friends and family.
Barbara Bush

Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_family2.html

Thanksgiving Blessings

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My husband and I are working on getting ready to host my family for Thanksgiving on the farm. We have been sorting, cleaning and even getting some more woodwork put on in the hallway.

It is good to have people come over some times. I find that some deep cleaning gets done, sorting and tossing of stuff happens,  and the house gets organized once again. I should probably have company come more often!

I love the thought of having my parents, my kids, the grandkids, siblings and their families all come to our home. To be honest I love it anytime family gets together. I may have inherited that from my dad who is always looking for a reason to gather.

I remember as a kid going to my Aunt Jean’s house. Her home was not that big and there were a bunch of us….a big bunch. The kitchen smelled amazing and by the time we were all seated , no one was able to move from their seats, other than the aunts who served the food. (We were all warned in advance to use the bathroom as it would not be available during the meal.)

It did not matter if the house was small. It did not matter if the windows were drafty or the carpets were worn. It did not matter if the flowered wallpaper was peeling or the woodwork was scuffed.  What mattered was the fact that we were all together and that was the blessing.

The noise level must have been unreal and I am sure there were stressors for the adults. Would the turkey get done?  Would the pie crust be flakey? Would there be a snowstorm? I don’t know if the women worried if there house was good enough or not. As children we were not aware of those things and were just happy to be with cousins.

I hope the memories made during this holiday season will stick for years in the minds of my children, grandchildren and my nieces and nephews.  I hope when they look back it is with a warm satisfaction. My hope is that down the road they want the same type of gathering when they have children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

There is an excitement in the preparations for those holiday memories. There is the making of lists and the remaking of lists. Just when you think you have your to do list all made out; you think of something else.

I thought I had all my groceries purchased last week…..not so. I am in charge of pies/desserts and had forgotten to purchase the lard (and other items) for the pie crust. I am probably pretty old school with my pie crust; but Betty Crocker taught me this way and I am a creature of habit.

The plan is to have a couple pumpkin pies, a cream cheese pie and one layered chocolate cake that involves the use of heavy whipping cream and Skor candy bars. Baking day is Wednesday so I will get those recipes to you then…..complete with photos! I cannot wait for the aromatic smell of spices in baking pies to fill my kitchen.

Today I am going to share the stuffing recipe that is a family tradition in our home. It is one that my husband was raised on and I had to learn to make when I married into his family. It is one that I have now passed on to my kids.  It has the added bonus of being gluten free!

Holiday Rice Stuffing
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1/2 Cup onion, chopped
1/2 Cup dried parsley flakes

1 Cup grated carrots
1 Cup uncooked rice
3 Cups chicken broth
1/2 Teaspoons salt
Dash Pepper
Cook first four ingredients for 10 minutes.
Add the rest and stir thoroughly.
Cook on low 20 minutes.
Do not put in chicken or turkey until ready to put the bird in the oven.
NOTE: I do make this recipe the day before and store it in the fridge in a bowl.
In the morning I stuff the bird and put in the oven.
I also double or triple this depending on size of bird.

I usually make plenty of this stuffing as my family loves leftovers. I also save the turkey carcass and put in my pressure cooker with celery, carrots and onion. I then strain that and freeze to use in place of the chicken broth the next time I make stuffing or Chicken soup.

I would love to hear about some of your family traditions for Thanksgiving. My hope for all of you during this Thanksgiving week is that your preparations run smoothly, your stress level stays low and that your eyes are opened to the blessings around you.

“Home is people. Not a place.
If you go back there after the people are gone,
then all you can see is what is not there any more.”
Robin Hobb, Fool’s Fate

“So much of what is best in us is bound up in our love of family, that it remains the measure of our stability because it measures our sense of loyalty.”
Haniel Long