Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Yummy cold-weather fare

Yesterday, I made a great low fat turkey chili. You may think that is impossible, but I think I have found a great way to add taste to recipes when using ground turkey, which really is bland. The secret is adding a couple of turkey (or chicken) bratwursts for every pound of ground turkey. It really punches up the flavor. It won't make it look like beef, but it really improves the flavor.

Find it in the fresh meat counter at your grocery store. It is ground and in casings. You will need to take the meat out of the casings and brown it up with the ground turkey.

My recipe:

Turkey Three-Bean Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground turkey
2 turkey bratwursts, removed from casings
1 finely chopped onion
1 finely chopped zucchini
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1/2 cup lentils, dried
2 cups water
1 can tomatoes
1 can black beans
2 cans pinto beans
4 tablespoons chili powder (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon cumin
Cilantro, for garnish
Chopped green onions for garnish

Brown onions and zucchini in oil. Brown meat. Add lentils and water. Simmer on medium low for fifteen to twenty minutes. Water should be be reduced and lentils soft. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer on low for about a half hour. Add chopped cilantro and serve with garnishes. This is great with corn chips and sour cream.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lettuce in winter

Sunday afternoon, I went to my garden to see if I could find anything I could still use. I thought everything would be frozen. Unbelievably, I still have some lettuce, kale, peas and collards. They don't look as good as they did in late November, but still impressive. The broccoli and cauliflower is still green and pretty but not growing past the leaf stage. It looks like it is possible to get a few root vegetables -- turnips, carrots and parsnips -- but I think it will depend on the weather. If we have very many hard freezes I think we will be done. If we have snow and sleet I am sure we will be done. Picking was more of a challenge because it was really cold.

But, isn't that just really incredible that I can be getting things out of my garden this late in the season? I guess only in middle Georgia. If I lived in Florida, or even south Georgia, I probably could grow lettuce and greens year round.

I would do many things differently, but I think a winter garden is really worth it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

New year preparations

I love New Year's resolutions. I know many don't, but it seems to me it is a time to correct the mistakes I made last year -- mainly because I didn't plan or wasn't organized enough. I usually resolve to become more organized every year at this time and place that resolution at the top of my list.

Because of this, I always have to start the year with a new calendar. This year I couldn't find the calendar I wanted but I did find one I could use at Barnes and Noble's over the weekend. My best find was the book, at bottom with sticky notes and a list pad. I plan to use this every day. I also have a calendar I will assemble with family photos. I think that will be one that will make me smile whenever I use it. It was, by the way, only a dollar at Michael's.

Now I have assembled many of my tools, I just need to find a way to make myself use them. I think they could help my year become much more organized, if only ...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas sticker fun

I know I have mentioned before how much I like foam stickers to entertain children. I have to tell you, once more, how fun and easy they are for small children.

Last night, we decorated gift bags with glittery tree and star stickers. The children loved it and I think our gift bags have a little something extra. It is important for a child to know they are helping, and this is a good, mess-free way to make a contribution.

I purchased these bags awhile back at Michael's and a couple of bags of stickers. There were 13 bags in the pack and the price was minimal for everything. We do have some very interesting combinations of trees and stars, but I think that adds to the beauty of the project.

We also bought some winter and Christmas stickers to play with. Our little ones use them to make winter scenes, attach to card blanks or use them for gift cards. Tonight we will be making foam sticker ornaments to hang on the tree and to give away. It really can keep a child busy for hours.

That is all about foam stickers until the next holiday!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Healthier, easy cookies?

This Christmas I am trying to be a "little" healthier while I do my Christmas cooking. I bought these break-and-bake cookies at a buy-one-get-one sale at Publix, so I really hope they are healthier because I am serving them to my grandchildren. At least I know they don't have trans fats and no high fructose corn syrup. I do think they are better for you than other break-and-bakes and they are very, very tasty. I feel much better about them than other brands.

They come 24 to a pack so there are as many cookies as some cookie recipes, and boy are they easy to bake. Twelve to fifteen minutes and they are done -- great in a pinch. They also say they are "cookies with a cause" but I couldn't exactly figure out what the cause was -- it looks like they may participate in fundraisers. That can't be a bad thing but I am baking them because, 1 -- Easy, and 2 -- no trans fats. Of course they still have fat and sugar, just not the really bad kind.

I say eat them in moderation and take a holiday from all that cookie batter!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Crockpot mac and cheese

I have been working on a deadline for Newnan-Coweta Magazine, plus getting ready for Christmas visitors, so I am a little behind on blog posts but I just had to share a new recipe for Mac and Cheese.

I have been itching to use my new crock pot I purchased at an after-Thanksgiving sale so I chose to make this crock pot recipe for my Christmas office party. I knew I needed to make something really easy and I didn't want to get up and prepare something that morning. I just mixed it up in my crock, put it in the refrigerator, then placed it in the bottom, cooker-part of the crock pot that morning. The casserole cooked under my desk while I worked all morning.

By noon, I had this delicious, bubbling, freshly cooked, old fashioned mac and cheese. I plan to also make it for a Christmas dinner, too because it was probably the best mac and cheese I have ever made. This is not a low fat version. Hopefully, I will come up with something healthier -- but for now, here is the real deal. I don't like to use Velveeta or soup because I don't think that even less healthy than this recipe. This is for a large crock pot. If you have a smaller one, just half the recipe.

Crock Pot Mac and Cheese

1 16 oz. package of macaroni noodles, cooked
6 cups grated, sharp cheddar cheese
3 1/4 cups whole milk
1 stick butter
4 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste

Cook noodles in salted water. Drain. Spray crock pot with cooking spray. Pour noodles into crock while hot and allow butter to melt in noodles (or melt butter and pour over noodles). Beat eggs and milk together and pour over noodles. Add cheese and mix. Salt and pepper. I used about 1/4 teaspoon of salt and dashed it with pepper.

Put crock into bottom of crock pot and cook on low for 3 to 4 hours or until done. It will get brown around the edges. Turn down to the "keep warm" setting until time to serve.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holly centerpiece

I have never worked very much with real greenery, but I really love the live stuff. I can't argue with the price, either, since my sister brought me cuttings from her holly tree, just brimming with berries. I decided to make a holly ring to use as a centerpiece -- and I love it.

I used a floral ring that has some candle cups attached -- but small candle holders, sitting on a round tray would have worked, too. I placed the ring on the glass tray and piled small snips of holly all around in circle. I could have wired them to the ring, but I decided not to do that for this one. I would like to be able to discard the brown springs with new ones and I am only planning to move it but from room to room -- so it should be fine.

One tip. Use gloves. The holly has sharp stickers that will really prick your fingers if you're not careful.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Unexpected presents

Yesterday, I arrived home to find some unexpected gifts from my sister, sitting on my front steps. Actually one is a present and one is a loaner. The jingle bell wreath was the present and I just love it! It is made from large jingle bells stung onto wire and finished with metallic holly and a metallic bow. I haven't decided where to hang it but I will definitely display it in a prominent place.

I think this would be an easy project for anyone. These are large jingle bells but any size would work. It makes a nice jingly sound so I am thinking about putting it on a door somewhere. I really love it and appreciate the gift!

Then she brought me over this beautiful vase as a loaner. It is beautifully hand-painted and would be easy to make. Just use glass paint and you can turn a simple vase into a keepsake. Great for DIY folks -- and it would make a beautiful gift.

She also brought me some holly with beautiful berries, and other cuttings for swags, wreaths and of course for the beautiful vase she loaned me. Thanks sis!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My favorite ornament

I really would prefer to wait until a couple of weeks before Christmas to put up my tree -- my husband likes the tree up as soon as possible. He loves colored lights -- I like white lights. He would like the lights to blink -- I really don't like that at all.

We do try to compromise. We usually put the tree up about three weeks before Christmas. We had colored lights for years and now have white lights (it's my turn). We no longer have blinking lights. That is something I think is better left to neon signs.

One thing we go agree on is that we love our ornaments. They have so much meaning for us and we lovingly get them out and decorate our tree each year. Above is a photo of my favorite ornament, crocheted by my mother, years ago. Isn't it beautiful?

I have quite a few angel ornaments for our tree.

And the ornament above is a dollar store find. I really love the glittered reindeer with small jingle bells and I really, really love the fact that this ornament only cost me fifty cents. I usually stop by the Dollar store before Thanksgiving each year because I always find something interesting in the ornament section. I think this was my favorite dollar store find.

A great site for a cookie swap

Yesterday I received an email from Southern Living feauring 50 best loved cookies recipes. I just loved it. In fact I loved it so much, I decided to use it as my blog topic of the day! Imagine -- Chunky Chocolate Gobs! And Mississippi Mud cookies, Cappuccino Frosted Brownies, Death by Caramel Bars and Mudslide Brownies. Not to mention the cheesecake varieties and some old standbys I remember from childhood like Bourbon Balls and Pecan Crescents. I remember them well. Click on the graphic above to see the website.

There are some really great -- and creative cookies here. It reminds me of the wonderful cookie swap I attended a couple of years ago. Each guest made a dozen cookies to eat and a dozen to exchange for each person who attended. I had a variety of cookies to serve up to guests right up until Christmas. I did have to bake a large amount of one kind of cookie but that was easier than baking small batches of 6 or 7 kinds of cookies.

In fact, I think this site would be a really, really wonderful way to start a cookie swap. Just choose 6 to 8 of your friends and let each choose a recipe from this site. Bake one dozen for yourself and the rest to share and you will have your baking done for Christmas. Just make sure one person chooses Chunky Chocolate Gobs!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Outdoor Decorations: Part 2

A couple of days ago, I was driving in my neighborhood and saw an out of town company decorating for Christmas at a neighboring home. I lamented that it was a shame we didn't have any local folks doing that in our area.

Obviously, my search for a local vendor was faulty and my co-worker, Rhonda pointed this out to me yesterday. There is a company here in the county who will come and decorate your home, inside and out, just in time for the holidays. Rhonda told me his name was Steve and he will use your decorations or provide some for you, plus he doesn't consider any job too small. If I had just looked at the classified ads, I would have known!

I am going to contact Steve today to see if he can provide some photos of his work. If he does, I will post them between now and Christmas. Sorry, Steve. Maybe this makes up for my omission. Rhonda and I agreed that one day, when we can afford it, we will gladly call Steve to decorate for us. Click the above ad to go to the classified, if you are interested.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wedding cookies

I love to make these traditional pecan shortbread cookies that are often make for weddings in the south. I made these cookies for my friend Karen's wedding over the weekend. The wedding was very nice and instead of catering, a number of friends got together and made dishes for the wedding.

It can be a very good way to keep wedding expenses down. Even a catered wedding can have items made by family or friends added to the menu to help with the expense of feeding a crowd. One suggestion would be to make these cookies or other items and freeze them. These cookies freeze well and you might want to wait to roll the cookies in powdered sugar for the second time after they are thawed and before serving.

Wedding Cookies

1 cup salted butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp water
2 tsp vanilla flavoring
2 cups plain flour
1 chop finely chopped pecans
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven at 325 degrees. Mix butter and sugar until creamy. Add water, vanilla flavoring and flour. Mix well. Add the nuts a mix. Put dough into the refrigerator until firm, usually 30 minutes to two hours. (If dough is refrigerated overnight or for several days, it might become a little too hard to work with and you will need to leave the dough out at room temperature until it is warm enough to form. This will not effect the outcome.) Scoop 1/2 to 1 teaspoons of dough and form into balls. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and put cookies on sheets allowing at least 3/4 inches around each cookie. Bake for 20 minutes or until done. They should only be lightly browned. Cool on cooling racks and then roll cookies in powdered sugar. Let set for awhile and roll in powdered sugar again. Makes about 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on size of cookies.

To make Mexican wedding cookies, substitute almonds for the pecans.

You also can easily form the dough into crescents or logs.

A Christmas option: Use the recipe above and make Cherry Snowball Cookies. To do this just make the above recipe and buy maraschino cherries. Drain well and use a cherry in the center of each cookie. Form dough around the cherry. When you bite into the cookie you will get a surprise. Perfect for Christmas.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Getting help with outdoor decorations

This morning, as I was on my way to work, I saw men with a truck getting ready to install outdoor lighting at a house in my neighborhood. I was quite impressed for a couple of reasons. One, that someone had found a person who did this for a living -- and two, that anyone had the money for it in this economy!

I then thought how great this service would be for some people. If you were not physically able to hang lights, were working too much but have a hankering to decorate, or just couldn't do things like this -- it could be the perfect solution.

There is obviously a market for this kind of thing. I asked the men who were unloading the truck where they were from and they said they were working out of Locust Grove. I looked them up on the Internet at and sure enough, it was the company -- and a franchise.

There should also be some local people who do the same thing but I tried to find someone and I couldn't find anyone who does this same thing on the Internet. I am guessing an event planner, a decorator or a lighting company would be good local candidates for a job like this. If you know of anyone, let me know.

I can't wait to see how it turns out. I thought everyone who decorated their lawns did it as a DIY project. I am very impressed with the ingenuity of starting this kind of business. I would think it would really bring a lot of joy during this season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Easy bows

At this time of year, I think the most important craft you could learn is simply the "art" of tying a bow. There are so many things that would be improved by a simple bow. Right now, I am tying new bows for my outdoor wreaths. I always put these wreaths on my outside windows and a large one on my door.

Unfortunately, my bows really looked bad this year when I took them out of storage, so I am hoping to add a little sparkle by using this shiny, sheer ribbon with wired edges. The up side of this -- these wired-ribbon bows are the easiest to tie. The wired edges just make it so easy.

If you already know how to tie a bow, this post will be a yawner, but for those of you who say, "I just can't do it," take a look and see if this helps.

You will need about 4 yards of wired ribbon for each bow and some florist wire. I bought this at Hobby Lobby. Begin the bows by making loops. If you want a larger, fuller bow you will need more ribbon, just don't cut the ribbon for the first bow from the spool of ribbon until you know how big the bow will be. You can use the first length of ribbon to measure for other matching bows you want to tie.

I made four loops on each side.

Then I made a center loop and held it in the center.

Put florist wire through the center and tie tightly.

Pull out and adjust ribbon loops. The wire helps the loops to stay in place and made the adjustment easier.

I like to fold the ends of the ribbon and cut the ends as above.

I then wire it to the wreath, using the ribbon wire and make adjustments until the ribbon looks like I want it to look.

I think a simple wreath with a pretty bow is a simple and beautiful decoration.

Celebrating the "southern" in you

Last night, while I was making bows for wreaths, I explored my new Southern Living magazine. I had let my subscription expire and had recently decided to renew. I must say I really, really loved it. It was like a compilation of all things southern. It made me want to say "ya'll" like Paula Deen, It just made me happy to be from the south.

There are recipes that look promising, too. A great recipe index of the past year -- plus knowing most of their recipes are on the website, exciting. It was an issue filled with decorating ideas, a celebration of family values and best of all, they were not ashamed to say Christmas. I loved it. Ya'll should buy it.