Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My take on frosting

Lots of my friends blog about all different kinds of things.  I tend to blog about whatever comes to mind and for some reason frosting is coming to my mind today. I have real opinions about frostings.  I can think of 3 types of frosting I would be satisfied to never see on a cake or cupcake again.

1.  German Chocolate Frosting/Praline Frosting- whatever you call it, I cannot stand the stringy coconut, toasted nuts, and thin and goopy "caramel" together.  Separately I think I like all of the elements.  But together it makes me want to gag.

2.  Fluffy or "whipped" frosting- some people think that Duncan Hines was a genius for putting this stuff in the frosting aisle.  I think he was ridiculous.  I do NOT (I repeat) do NOT want to eat shortening that's been fluffed and fluffed until it fills an enormous can.  It never firms up enough of the cake and makes my mouth feel like I just ate a stick of butter.  No thanks.

3.  Whipped cream frosting- this is the frosting they put on a lot of cakes at bakeries found in grocery stores.  I would take a guess that it's probably very cheap and has a fairly similar effect as the frosting listed above.

As much as I hate some frosting types I LOVE others.  My faves? (in no particular order)
1.  Cream Cheese Frosting- I don't know what it is about this classic, rich and creamy frosting but I love it!  It's best on Red Velvet cake, or cinnamon rolls!

2.  Buttercream- Now I know several people that don't care for buttercream but I think it's delicious.  I like the slightly crisp "shell" it gets on the outside when it's been setting out on a wedding cake or something of that nature and think it's good on everything from sugar cookies to classic white cake.

3.  Chocolate frosting- I like the canned stuff just fine  but especially love the kind typically made for Texas sheet cake.  It's about as simple as it gets: butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, maybe some nuts if you're into that sort of thing, but the flavor is simple and delicious.

4. Caramel frosting- I never knew the goodness of caramel frosting until I ran across a recipe for the best zucchini cupcakes I've ever had.  This frosting can be eaten straight out of the pan with a big fat spoon.  You could drink it with a straw if you wanted.  I suppose you could also put it on the cupcakes (which is quite good) but I prefer mine with a spoon.

Since I think everyone should know of the goodness of this frosting, here's the recipe:

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup butter

  • 1/4 cup 2% milk

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups confectioners' sugar

  • Combine the brown sugar, butter and milk in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat; stir in vanilla. Cool to lukewarm.  Gradually beat in confectioners' sugar until frosting reaches spreading consistency.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Falling Down

    Have you ever watched a toddler as he/she learns how to walk.  They hang on to the edge of a piece of furniture for dear life.  When they eventually decide they can do it they let go.  They take one wobbly step and then...

                      ... then they fall flat on their butts.

    That's the kind of day I've had.

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Beef Stew with a side of Compliments

    Want a killer meal that's easy to make and comes with lots and lots of compliments?

    It has started to snow again here in the big O.  Can't figure it out.  It's March!  Stop snowing already for goodness' sake!

    Two weeks ago I invited all of the Children's Ministry volunteers to a meal in their honor.  The whole point was to just get together and enjoy each others' company.  I made a homemade meal... an easy meal.  A PW meal and have NEVER received so many compliments on anything I've ever made.

    The menu: Beef Stew w/ Beer and Paprika, Chile Corn Chowder, Corn Bread, Rolls, and Texas Sheet Cake.

    I had seen the recipe for the stew on PW a few weeks back and made it at home.  Even my non-soup loving husband enjoyed the stew.  You should make it.  You'll get compliments too.  It'll be good for your self-esteem.  Trust me, I know.

    Beef Stew w/ Beer and Paprika

    • 3T EVOO
    • 1T butter
    • 2# stew meat (I have only used 1 1/2 #)
    • 1 whole md onion
    • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
    • 1- 12oz can of beer (don't buy light beer- it doesn't have the same flavor.  Look for plain 'ol Bud or Coors or something of that nature)
    • 4 c. beef stock
    • 2 c. water
    • 1T Worcestershire Sauce
    • 2T tomato paste
    • 1/2t paprika
    • 1/2t salt
    • black pepper
    • 1 1/2t sugar
    • 4 whole carrots, washed, unpeeled, roughly chopped
    • 4 red potatoes, washed, unpeeled, roughly chopped
    1. Heat oil and butter in a large skillet (I use a Dutch oven) over medium heat.  Brown meat in two batches.  Cut pieces in half and set aside.
    2. Add diced onions to the pot and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Then add in the garlic.  Cook down until the onion is translucent.  
    3. Pour in beer and beef stock.  Then add Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, salt, black pepper, and paprika.  Stir all together.  Add beef back to the pot and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
    4. Add carrots and potatoes.  Cover and cook for an additional 30 minutes.  Taste to adjust seasonings.
    5. Scoop into the biggest bowl you have and eat it with a big fat spoon. (OK PW didn't actually say that part... I did, but it's Just. So. Good.
    Moral of the Story:  Make this.  You can thank me later for the good idea.

    Saturday, February 26, 2011

    Blessings Overflowing

    As all of you in blog world know- Spencer lost his job back at the beginning of January and we've been a single-income household ever since (we're completing 2 months of living this way).  It's been challenging, frustrating, embarrassing, and emotional.  We've learned where we can cut back and we've learned things we can do ourselves.

    We have prayed (a lot), we've shared our burden with others (thanks small group), and we've continued to rely on God.  Several years back Spencer and I were attending Calvary Christian Church and the pastor did a series on tithing.  I distinctly remember him interviewing a guy that was about my age now.  This guy talked about how early in his marriage he had lost his job.  He and his wife made a commitment to continue to tithe even when they weren't sure if they'd actually be able to pay all of their bills.  He referenced Micah 3:10 which says: Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

    Ever since then I've done all I could to tithe.  So when Spencer lost his job, we continued to tithe.  And there have been times that we weren't sure how we were going to pay our bills.  And specific people have been gracious to provide for us.

    This last week we were blessed beyond belief by a series of different events.  First of all we received a tax refund check.  Get this- it wasn't from the 2010 tax year, it was from the 2009 tax year.  Apparently we'd overpaid them by a significant chunk of change and we're just now getting reimbursed for it.  Spencer also has a STRONG lead on a job offered by a gentleman from church.  We're in the process of selling some things we've had in our garage FOREVER, and my family was so kind to send some gift cards for us to use for Valentine's day so we were able to treat ourselves to a date.

    I suppose not everyone would view this the same way I do, but I can't help but to see God's fingerprints all over this.  I truly believe that these blessings are a testimony to tithing even in difficult times.  I believe God has honored us by following his command to tithe.

    Praising God for many blessings this week!

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    Hotel Obsession

    Ok, I know that the title sounds like a naughty hotel somewhere in the slums of L.A. but really... it's how I feel about hotels.  I seem to have a small obsession with them.  Anytime I travel anywhere I look forward to staying at a hotel.

    I really wish I did have the money to stay at some nice four or five star hotel- the kind that's been in some famous movie or something like that.  I don't know what it is.  I've loved staying in hotels ever since I can remember.  And I (strangely) have distinct memories of some hotels.

    So when it comes to vacations, even though I try to pinch pennies so we can get the most out of every trip, there's a part of me that really wants to throw it all out the window just for the sake of staying in the kind of hotel you see in magazines.

    This is dumb.  I know.  Anyway... for now I'll live vicariously through PW and her hotel room tours.  At least I get to see what it looks like inside of the nice hotels that are pictured in magazines and seen in movies.

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    A bit of my Brittish heritage

    Many of you know that my dad was born and raised in the good ol' UK.  He came to the US to attend Nebraska Christian College, met my mom, married her, and stayed.  It really is quite a romantic story for another day.

    Growing up with a Nebraska-raised mom and an English dad was probably not as unusual as growing up in other multi-cultural families.  My dad obviously speaks English (the real kind he'll tell you) and has a charming accent.  My sisters and I grew up making fun of the way Dad pronounced many words.  We still make fun of the way he pronounces many words.  I think he likes it.  Dad says vitamin (vitt-a-min), aluminum is (al-you-min-ee-um), garage is (gare-uj) and so on.  I distinctly remember when we were learning that "ee" makes the long E sound in first grade.  Our teacher pointed out that this is true except in a few words like been which is pronounced with a short E sound.  I argued until I was blue in the face that it was pronounced with a long E sound.  See what living with a Brittish father did to me?  It screwed up my American English!  :)

    Another thing that we experienced growing up were some traditional English/Scottish dishes.  My mom often made roast beef with yorkshire pudding on Sundays.  Marah and I actually loved steak and kidney pie when we were younger, scones are a family FAVE (when done the right way), and shortbread has always been a delicious treat.

    My parents have always allowed us to travel as well- another perk to having an immigrant dad.  When we asked to go on overnight or week-long trips, my parents were always game.  The summer after my senior year of high school, my sister Marah and I traveled to Romania without our parents.  Someone asked my mom if she was scared for us to be alone and she told them that Dad had come halfway around the world and it worked out- she was just letting us do the same thing.

    So even though my dad has been Americanized some, I still inherited some of his culture- and I'm proud of it!
    I drink several cups of tea a day- black, not flavored.  Shortbread is one of the world's most delicious treats to me!  I love to travel and have never had any fear visiting any other country or city.  I think scones came straight from God himself, and I LOVE meat pies (think steak, brown gravy, onion, and mushrooms)  YUM!

    Saturday, January 29, 2011

    FREE and fun!

    Just recently my husband lost his job.  Besides the obvious cuts to budget, the thing that we've found the most hard about this change in lifestyle is the fact that we have nothing to do!  It seems that everything costs money- money we don't have.

    So yesterday (in a fit of boredom) we went to Borders to sit and read for free.  I came across a book called Frommer's Chicago Free and Dirt Cheap.  I enjoyed flipping through the pages and discovering all of the free things you can do in Chicago.  That led me to wonder what kinds of free and dirt cheap things we could do for entertainment in Omaha.

    I'm excited about re-discovering our city and doing things we may never have done before.  So I've been "googling" and have been finding several things to do.  Since most of my "Readers" are also from Omaha, I figured maybe you'd enjoy knowing what you can do for FREE too.

    1.  Visit Boys' Town- Boys' Town has it's own museum and a bunch of great buildings.  The campus is beautiful and you can even walk around the lake.

    2.  Joselyn Art Museum- Usually you have to pay for admission into the museum but on Saturdays from 10-noon, it's FREE!

    3.  Bemis Center for the Contemporary Arts is another free "museum" of sorts.  It's really an exhibition hall for contemporary artists and is free with a donation request.

    4.  Cabela's- stop laughing!  Walking around Cabela's can be entertaining.  It's like a taxidermy zoo!

    5.  Hang outdoors- Omaha has loads of outdoor parks (Memorial Park, Gene Leahy Mall, Heartland of America Park)  It may be cold outside but exercise does the body good... and it's free!

    6.  Old Market Window Shopping- In Omaha we often forget the treasure that the Old Market really is.  You can enjoy hours of window shopping fun in all sorts of knick knack stores.

    7.  Visit the local bookstore.  Spencer and I had fun spending an hour at Borders.  I'd do it again!

    8.  This is something you can do anywhere: redecorate a room in your house.  Use only items you already have on hand like leftover paint or woodscraps from another project.  See how creative you can get!

    CHEAP Things to Do
    1.  Go ice skating @ Moyan IcePlex.  The cost is $6/ person to skate and the skate rental= free!
    2.  Durham Museum- adult admission= $7
    3.  Enjoy the Tuesday movie deals at area Marcus theaters.

    What things can you think of to do that are cheap or less than $8 per person?

    Monday, January 24, 2011

    Cut the budget...

    We've recently cut our grocery budget by half.  It's important to me to  try and still eat as healthy as possible on a much lower budget.  We do our best not to purchase any of the "staple" processed foods such as condensed soups, seasoning packets (think taco seasoning), pre-made meals, etc.  We DO however usually purchase store-made bread, dressing, etc.

    Because of our newly reduced budget I have had the fun challenge of making as much as I can from home to save a buck or two.  Spencer wasn't "wild" about the idea at first but when he tasted a turkey hot dog on a homemade whole wheat hot dog bun, his mind was changed.  We've been eating homemade hot dog buns, hamburger buns, bread and rolls, pasta, taco seasoning, and even Italian dressing. 

    We've gone back to the basics with our meals eating down-home staples like beef stew, hamburgers with homemade oven fries, and homemade sausage/egg/cheese breakfast sandwiches.

    It's certainly been a challenge, but a fun one!  Can you imagine what it was like years ago when nothing came pre-made from the store?  Maybe I'll get to a place where I buy nothing but whole foods and make everything else myself... maybe.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Soup du jour

    I love soup.  My husband... not a soup guy.  It's not that he doesn't like soup, he just feels like he needs more to chew, more substance I suppose.  He's kind enough to tolerate my love of soup in the fall and winter and I try not to cook it more than once every week and half or so.

    I love trying new soup recipes and tweaking old ones to create new flavors.  Of my faves?  Chicken tortilla soup (I have the least authentic but easiest recipe known to man). 

    My mom's Cheesy Potato Soup.  When I asked Spencer whether or not he liked this one he said, what's not to like?  Potatoes, cheese, creamy?  He's all in.

    Then there's Taylor's mom's Texas Soup.  I've shared this recipe before.  We just call it chili but it's technical name is Texas Soup.  When I tell guests we're having chili they always look at me like I'm weird when I hand them a bowl with beans, tomatoes, meat, and .... corn.  No one's ever said a bad word about though!

    Tortellini Soup!  YUM!  I love tortellini and paired with a tomato base, veggies, and meat.  Delish!

    Minestrone is another good one.  I order that at Olive Garden with a side of 11 breadsticks please!

    The latest soup craze I'm on is Taco Noodle soup.  Sound weird?  So good!  It's a delicious combo of black beans (one of my fave proteins), tomatoes, taco seasoning, and elbow macaroni.

    Do you eat soup?  What are you favorites... recipes please!  Spencer will be so thrilled when I tell him that we're having soup every day so I can try all of your recipes. :)

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    I NEED YOUR HELP- well my kitchen does for sure!

    Ok so my kitchen is tiny.  TINY.  tiny.  When we moved in my sweet friends Alyssa and Nicole helped me to unpack my boxes and put things away.  It's worked great... until lately.  So now I need your help.  There aren't many options of where to put things in my kitchen but any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.  There has GOT to be a better way to make this work!

     This is my "pantry".  Don't laugh.  It's relatively deep which is great, except for the part where I can't reach anything in the top cupboard that isn't located right at the front.  Currently I have cereal and crackers in the top cupboard.  The bottom cupboard has 3 sections.  On the top I have food items, in the middle I have cans, jars, bottles etc, and on the bottom I have all my pots and pans (which barely fit... I have to take them all out to get the one I want and then put them all back in and I don't have the patience time for that.
    I have these tiny little "over the fridge" cupboards which I absolutely cannot reach without a stool or chair of some sort.  It's pretty much a necessity that things that go in this cupboard only get used once in a blue moon.  Right now I have surplus paper products and serving dishes that I only use for company or holidays.
    Above the dishwasher is one larger cabinet.  It currently houses my dinner plate, salad plates, bowls, and mugs.
    Above the sink is a mess.  Really it is.  On the left side I keep all of the hot drinks (coffee and tea which have to be accessible daily) as well as cocoa and cider.  To the right I keep... I really don't know, I just had to get up and go look.  PITCHERS.  Apparently I keep spare pitchers there.
    To the right of those cupboards is a skinny little guy.  He houses the mugs that don't match my dish set and glasses.
    I have one of those great big corner cabinets you can't put anything in.  Why?  Because the interior is shaped like the letter V!  I have 2 corner stacking shelves in there now but still feel like it's a mess.  This cupboard is where I keep all of my baking stuff from spices to mixing bowls.  I can only reach things on the top shelf that are near the front... again, I'm short.
    Next to the corner cabinet is another skinny lil' guy.  This houses all of my round plastic containers and lids.  It's VERY organized- just not sure it's the best use of space.
    Above the stove (again not a place I can reach well) I keep the square plastic containers and wine glasses.
    To the right of the stove is a medium sized cabinet that has NOTHING in it.  Why?  Because my husband just cleaned it out and I can't decide what would be best to put in there, that's why!
    Then there is the bottom cabinet, under the sink.  I just keep spare soap, trash sacks, the drying rack, dish soap that kind of stuff under there.  It's sort of a hot mess too!
     I have another corner cabinet on the bottom that is a lazy Susan.  I keep all of my baking dishes (I have tons!) under here as well as our water bottles and travel mugs.
    Finally is my only set of drawers... all 4 of those puppies are filled.  I've got silverware in the top drawer.  Plastic wrap, wax paper, Ziplocs, and foil in the second drawer.  Hot pads, dish towels, and dish clothes are in the 3rd drawer, and the 4th drawer holds surplus baking items such as the flour that won't fit in my canister.
    I do have this great little antique cupboard I got for $5 at a garage sale.  It's partly full (light bulbs in a drawer, an extra set of silverware and placemats in another drawer) but 2 drawers would be available for things I use sometimes but not always.

    I KNOW this post is SUPER long, but can you help?  What are your suggestions for re-organizing my kitchen?

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Evidence of a Snow Day

    Yesterday morning I woke up to SNOW.  There wasn't much, maybe an inch or so.... maybe more.  I swept the snow off my car and slid all the way to church.

    When I left church it had snowed more.  By the time I went back for the evening service there were an additional 2 inches on the ground.  After the severe blizzards last year we learned to stay ahead on our scooping and scooped the driveway twice.

    This morning I crawled out of bed at 7, peeked outside and... IT WAS STILL SNOWING.  We had about 7 inches this morning and our neighborhood didn't get plowed until 10.  Needless to say... it's a snow day!

    Here's the proof:

    Sampson sits by the door crying to go out.  Then he's surprised each time I open the door that snow is still there.
    The trees and backyard and completely covered in snow.
    I get up and make homemade blueberry coffee cake for breakfast.  Oh, and I threw a little nutmeg in my coffee this morning.  Just for kicks!
    This is my attire for today... sock monkeys.  A definite indicator of a snow day.

    I intend to spend the rest of the day by watching wintery movies like New in Town or Little Woman (Spencer's throwing a fit about that one), making dinner in the crockpot, doing some laundry, and sitting around drinking cocoa.  

    Did you get a snow day?

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    Because everyone else is doing it...

    ...I'm also going to recap my year.  I kind of wish I'd written this post before reading everyone else's recap so I could pretend like it was my good idea.  But, that's not actually the case.

    • We spent much of the first two weeks buried in snow!
    • We started P90X and Spencer lost 40 lbs!
    • Spencer and I attended WinterJam, a 4th and 5th grade winter camp as sponsors and got very little sleep!
    • We got a roommate!  Preston, Spencer's college roommate, got a job at StoneBridge and moved in with us until his wife could move to Omaha.
    • Spring Break!  Just kidding... we didn't have a spring break.... adults don't get spring break.  I don't know why.
    • Got my hair cut for the last time this year... my hair lady, Markie, moved to Chicago!  And also because my husband asked me to grow it out.
    • Celebrated Spencer's 23rd birthday!
    • Celebrated Caelan's 12th birthday!
    • Hosted an Easter egg hunt at StoneBridge.  We had about 1200 in attendance.
    • Got a new car.
    • Marah graduated college... we missed it.
    • Flew to Denver to meet up with the fam and then flew to London for a 10 day UK vaca!
    • Mar and Bo celebrated their 2nd anniversary
    • Preston moved out.
    • Had the first 3 summer camps at StoneBridge.  They were largely successful, fun, and exhausting all at the same time.  I can't wait for camp this year!
    • Mom and Dad celebrated their 28th anniversary!
    • Held our sports camp @ StoneBridge
    • Held and attended the annual Fireworks Bonanza at StoneBridge... fun day!
    • Felt like I needed another vacation
    • My boss stepped down from her position at the church.
    • My family came to visit!
    • I turned 24... yikes!
    • Spencer and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary
    • Held the first Back-to-School BBQ at StoneBridge served a lot more people than we thought we would!
    • Got back into the "school year swing of things".
    • Spencer started his final college class... biology
    • Aunt Dona and Uncle Bob visited for awhile (I'm probably forgetting other times people visited.)
    • Ran home real quickly for a weekend... just for a break!
    • Was offered the position of Children's Ministries Pastor and accepted
    • Held the biggest Trunk-or-Treat event to date at the church.  It was COLD!
    • Happy Thanksgiving!  This year I hosted!- my family came to visit
    • Merry Christmas!  We went home briefly for some time at Christmas
    • Spencer's parents came and took us to the Colors of Christmas concert.
    • Spencer's parents blessed us with a new washer!
    • Our friends Brett and Nicole had their first baby!
    It's been a fantastic year!  It's been exhausting, exciting, encouraging, trying, and wonderful!