Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Easter Game Plan

I've been procrastinating like crazy about finalizing my plans for Easter basket goodies and meal menus. There are so many delicious looking ideas out there and I've changed my mind several times already. Now that there are only five days left until the big day it's time for me to decide what is making the final cut and get busy putting it all together!

Here's how it's shaping up:

Homemade Easter treats for baskets:
-chocolate dipped marshmallows on a stick coated in Easter "quinns" (those cute little bitty sugar thingies shaped like bunnies and chicks)
-cream cheese mints in spring colours, cut into "flower" shapes

These will be supplemented with store-bought chocolate eggs (for hunting) and probably a couple other treats like jellybeans to put inside hollow plastic eggs for the baskets
-I'm also going to make up some "coupons" for the boys for things like ice cream cones at McDonald's, playing a game of cards together, a game of catch at the park and other inexpensive and free "treats" that I know they really like - I'll tuck those into plastic eggs as well.

Easter breakfast:
Homemade hot cross buns
(plus lots of chocolate, lol!)

light nibbles - fruit, cheese, etc
Strawberry Lemonade (I use regular lemonade concentrate for mine)

Roast turkey with stuffing
Turkey gravy
Baked ham
Roasted potatoes
Roasted asparagus (if I can find some that's grown in North America!), otherwise I'll do green beans instead
Carrots in honey butter
Whole wheat rolls (made from Whole Wheat Refrigerator Dough)

White wine

Black and White Cheesecake Squares
Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Strawberries

Whew! Now that I've got that all sorted out I need to make a prep schedule so I don't go nuts doing everything at the last minute (not that I would ever do that ::ahem::). I ended up picking desserts that I can do most or all of the prep for a day or two ahead. Most everything else I'm making is a tried and true recipe so I expect things to go fairly smoothly!

I will post picks of the finished products after the event.

If you want more Easter dinner inspiration, check out what Christy at Southernplate.com is making - I think she's going to be spending even more time in the kitchen than I am!

Happy Easter, everyone!!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Pork Roast

This week, Sunday dinner seemed determined to be the Dinner of Disaster. I am one of those cooks who usually sails smoothly through meal preparation without too much drama, so when I hit a few bumps I tend to get a wee bit irritated.

Right off the mark, there was a problem with the Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies (it's a great recipe from a Fry's Cocoa booklet, I just spent 20 minutes trying to find it on the internet and came up dry!) This is one of our "go to" dessert recipes - easy, fast, tried and true. My hubby and I were working on the batter together, and he was finishing it off and putting it in the oven while I moved on to other things. He asked me what size pan it needed, and I told him 9 x 13 and recommended using the glass pan instead of the metal one. Half an hour later, I pulled the brownies out of the oven when the timer went off and discovered they were in the lasagna dish, which is nowhere close to 9 x13. Yikes!! I put them back in for another 5 minutes as they seemed a lot squishier than brownies should be, and hoped for the best.


While the brownies were baking, I had gotten the pork roast (purchased for 99 cents a pound!) ready for the oven, so out came the brownies and in went the roast. Timer set for 45 minutes. I busied myself washing dishes and chopping carrots, and got the carrots started cooking when the roast was about half way done. With 15 minutes to go, I peeked in the oven and discovered that the roast looked, well, not done. At ALL. In fact it looked just like it did when I put it in there. Then I noticed the oven didn't seem that hot. OH CRAP!! The oven was OFF. The pork had been sitting in there for half an hour doing nothing! About then I happened to notice that I hadn't started the rice that was supposed to be on the side either, so I guess it's a good thing the roast wasn't cooked after all.

I got the oven heated up and the roast cooking and the rice and carrots simmering, took a deep breath, poured a glass of wine and got to work on the orange glaze for the roast - thankfully this at least went off without a hitch!

In the end, it all worked out. Everything was properly cooked, hot and ready to go at the same time. But by the time I got it all plated out, I didn't have the wherewithall to snap a pic!

Final menu:

Pork roast with orange glaze
Carrots and green beans

White wine

Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies

(Oh, and as it turns out, we actually like the brownies better in the smaller pan - they're thicker and more satisfying. Sometimes what looks like a disaster ends up being a gift!)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bread Baking & Yard Raking

The weather this week has been glorious here in Southern Ontario. We've gotten an early reprieve from winter with a very welcome heat wave. I've been spending as much time as possible outside, since I know it won't last. It's entirely possible that we'll still see some snow again next week!

Yesterday I took advantage of the lovely weather to do the Big Bad Spring Cleanup. The one where I find out exactly how much dog poop was hiding under all that snow (the answer is always the same: way more than I want to think about!) I found a total of TEN tennis balls as I was making my way around the yard, picking up the poop and the garbage and all the little toys that seem to be there every spring, no matter how hard I try to get the yard cleaned up in the fall!

I started taking the leave mulch off the garden beds, too - the strawberry plants are already growing! I don't see any signs of rhubarb poking its way up yet. I'm hoping the rhubarb will really kick in this year (second full growing season since planting) and that I'll have enough to freeze some for the colder months.

Bread baking was also on yesterday's schedule; I used my tried and true Whole Wheat Refrigerator Dough and did one loaf plain and one loaf fancy. There's about 1/2 of the second loaf left; bread doesn't have much chance to go stale around here!

Our house-wide decluttering project slowed down for a while but we're still working away at it. I spent some time helping my dh wrestle the junk in the basement - there's a lot more to go but it already looks a lot less scary than when we started.

Next up: continue the decluttering, deal with my mending pile, and start getting ready for Easter!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Housewarming Gift Basket

I'm a big fan of gift baskets - both giving and receiving them. When done well, I don't think there are many gifts I enjoy opening more. I love giving them because they lend themselves to so many creative possibilities. I usually decide on a particular theme for my basket then let inspiration guide me from there. Most of the time my baskets are a mix of homemade gifts, second hand treasures, and the odd new purchase just to round things out. I love the fact that I can put together a really great gift basket at just a tiny fraction of the cost of a store bought one, and usually the quality is far better. It also allows me to personalize it specifically for the person I'm giving it to, which you can't do with an off-the-shelf basket!

Although I've been giving gift baskets for many years, it didn't occur to me until now that I could make the baskets my husband gives to his clients. He's a realtor and giving your clients a gift is standard practice for his industry. He had been buying gift baskets at a neighbourhood store, and while they were nicely done up and he was supporting a locally owned business, there wasn't really a lot in there for the price he was paying. So I decided to take a shot at it myself.

In this case, I didn't know much about the couple I was making the basket for, except that they were a young couple that had just moved into a really cool old (century plus) home. I decided to go with a "clean kitchen" theme, with items that almost anyone would find useful. My husband was pretty sure the kitchen was blue and white so I tried to incorporate those colours as well.

Here's everything I put in the basket:

For the "basket" itself I used a tin pail. I like to use a container that can be easily recycled or repurposed and I love these tin pails for their versatility. They can be put to use in almost any room of the house - for holding washcloths in the bathroom, potted plants in the living room, stationery supplies in the office, dinky cars in a kids' room...endless possibilities!

To fill the pail:
-2 knitted dishcloths
-fridge memo pad (not quite in keeping with the "clean" theme but I thought it was a cute little extra!)
-cute kitchen scrub brushes in a colour to match their kitchen
-homemade herbal degreaser in a spray bottle (recipe in The Naturally Clean Home) and lemon scouring powder (made by mixing baking soda with a few drops of lemon essential oil)

The finished product looked like this:

I was quite pleased with the results and I had lots of fun with this "theme". It would be perfect for a bridal shower as well. The total cost was about half of what my hubby usually spends for a gift basket and I think it turned out a lot nicer, too!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Successful Soup Experiment

There's nothing "new" about making soup from leftovers; that's Standard Operating Procedure for any frugalista. Soup usually makes its way onto our menu at least once a week because it is so accommodating. However, this week's creation was a bit different from my usual and I wasn't entirely sure if it was going to work out! I had the clever idea to use all the leftovers from our Sunday ham dinner to make a ham, cheese and potato chowder.

I'm happy to report that the end result was quite satisfying (I admit I breathed a sigh of relief when both boys dug in and pronounced it edible!)

Here's how I made it (to the best of my memory):

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp butter
leftover twice-baked potato casserole (about 2 cups worth)
about 2 cups of milk
leftover cooked peas and carrots (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 smallish slices leftover ham, diced
1 tsp each salt and pepper
about 3/4 cup grated cheddar

In a large saucepan, saute the onion and garlic in the butter until tender. Add the mashed potatoes and milk and whisk together until smooth. Add vegetables, ham, salt and pepper and cheese and cook until hot and bubbly. Add more milk as needed to adjust the soup's consistency.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Sure Sign of Spring - the Declutter-a-thon Has Begun!

For me, one of the surest signs that spring is on its way is that I get the "urge to purge". At the beginning of the new year, my hubby and I committed to holding a yard sale this year. We haven't had one for a few years, so I figured we'd have enough stuff that we were ready to part with to hold a worthwhile sale. I don't have pack rat tendencies and I give no-longer-needed items away several times per year through freecycle and charitable donations. I have to admit, though, that it's been a few years since I systematically went through every room in the house and gave it an intense sorting and decluttering.

I started this week with the boys' bedroom, plus the main bookcases in our living room. So far the boys and I have spent two afternoons going through their toys and books. I was shocked by how many items were either ready to be passed on, or just plain old garbage. It also began to sink in for me at a deep level that there are certain stages of childhood that are clearly behind us now, as I tossed all the Franklin and Robert Munsch books into the yard sale pile. My boys are entering tween/teendom and most things that have any hint of "little kidishness" they are ready to part with!

I filled another box with adult books that I'm ready to part with - books are one of the few things that I have a *really* hard time letting go of, but I know the time has come to cull the collection and make way for some new treasures.

The photo above shows our rapidly growing pile of yard sale items - and I still have several rooms to go, plus the second floor linen closet, the storage closet in our attic bedroom, and the (dreaded) basement.

Although decluttering can get pretty intense, the end result - a neat, well organized home filled with only the items you truly need and want - makes it so worthwhile. I am always amazed at the little treasures I find that I totally forgot I had; they are often the perfect finishing touches to embellish a craft project or add that special something to the corner of a room.
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