And It Begins: The Holiday Struggle

9:22 PM

Today I had the bright idea to pull out the Christmas tree and put it up. I know some folks are all, "It ain't even Thanksgiving yet!" but I am in the holiday spirit. I turn on some Christmas music and head to the closet to pull out the tree. The kids are lounging in the living room looking at me like I am crazy as I throw box after box onto the floor. Clearly, they are not experiencing the same enthusiasm I am. Are we in the same family? Get with it, kids!

I am all excited as I begin to put together the base when I realize, I only have two legs. Seriously? Are you kidding me? Searching through camping gear, gallons of water that are in the closet, I find one more leg for the base and it is broken.

Do you think that was going to stop me? Oh no. I propped that cocked and leaning bad boy up against the wall and stood back to admire my handy work.

Tree. was. assembled.

There I stood, all the lights on the limbs of this prelit wonder from last year connected and I held in my hands the extension power cord. Obviously, it was not my day, unlike in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, I plugged the cord into the outlet and I was greeted with nothing. Not even a moment of joy.   Nothing. Not one light.

I was devastated. I threw on a strand of lights that I had hanging in my boys's room and it just wasn't doing the trick.  Something about a big ol' Christmas tree with one strand of lights cascading around it like garland just was not getting it.

My kids laughed at me and even right now, the Leaning Tower of Christmas Wonder stands in the corner, literally on it's last leg.  No decorations, just that one strand of lights.

To make myself feel better, I finally finalized the Thanksgiving dinner menu. When I sent it to my college freshman daughter, she typed back, "Why you have to be all fancy when you have a big family?"  Seriously? I swear my hard work is not appreciated.

Well, no matter what, this is the menu and I ain't changing it. They can kick a couple rocks, because this is what we are eating.

What is on your holiday menu?

Why not try these tart and sweet kolaches? I am not having them for Thanksgiving but they will be in rotation for the holidays.

Also, I honestly battled with the sweet potatoes this year. I really wanted these twice baked ones my mom made one year but settled on attempting some meringue covered ones.  Of course, I just may have some extra on hand to make the baked ones because...I have....never....made meringue before.

I think I am just a glutton for punishment. Oh lawd.


Creamy Chicken & Dumplings

8:36 AM


Here in the South there are certain comfort foods that you just know you will get during cold or rainy weather. Most people think chicken noodle soup, while here, I think chicken and dumplings or a nice chicken and rice. Oh yeah! So good. It is literally hot as all get out down here but today was such a rainy and downright dreary day, I was like, "chicken and dumplings, why yes, I shall!"

When I first started cooking for taste (yes, there was a time, I just threw things together and hoped for the best but alas I have moved on and actually care about the way my food tastes), I took the easy way out when it came to chicken and dumplings. You can go all semi homemade and used canned buttermilk biscuits cut into quarters or you can get your hands (and kitchen, and clothing, and floor) dirty.  I like homemade because everything is better when its homemade and you and your family is worth the extra effort, right?

As messy and hard as it may seem, homemade dumplings are literally soooo easy.

So, let's start shall we?

You will need:

1 large boiling pot of water
2 maggi chicken bouillon cubes
3 cups of all purpose flour
1 stick of room temperature butter or margarine
1 1/2 cup of milk
1 Family Size can of cream of chicken soup
Cut/shredded chicken breasts
(I deboned a grilled whole chicken I had leftover from yesterday)

In large bowl, pour in your flour and add your butter. Using your hands begin mixing the butter by squeezing it...this begins to make "crumbs".  You want to use your hands. Just squeeze until the butter is all crumbly in the flour.  Make a hole in the center of the crumbly flour mixture.  Slowly begin pouring in your milk.

Add only 1/2 of the milk into the hole then take the flour and cover the milk as if you want to bury it.  Pat down and then bring in the sides. If it is still too crumbly, make another hole, add more milk....bring the flour sides over it just like before and pat down until it begins to form a dough, knead.

*This is also how you make biscuits but using self-rising flour*

Once the dough forms, form into a ball. Lightly flour the ball and place in between two sheets of wax paper or on a lightly floured surface. Roll out until even and the desired thickness of your dumplings.

Cut into squares.  I like large dumplings and my kids literally love TONS of dumplings. This makes A LOT of  dumplings so you can always place in a freezer bag and freeze any excess until next time.

Now on to the goodness.

In a pot, boil the water and add in your maggi cubes.  Once boils, stir to make sure the cubes have dissolved and the seasoning they produce is even. Add in your sliced cooked chicken and while still boiling...drop in your dumplings.

Stir regularly. 

Dumplings will float when they are getting close to done. Once the dumplings float, reduce the heat to low and cook (stirring occasionally) for 20 minutes.

Add in your cream of chicken soup and stir until your soup is nice and creamy. Remove from heat.

And there ya go! Nice, creamy, and heartily easy chicken and dumplings. There were no leftovers from this pot. It was enough to feed myself, 4 children ages 9-14 and a friend who came over for dinner. And two kids had seconds!


Taco Lasagna & Pico De Gallo....

1:47 PM

With my mom being from Texas, migrating to Mississippi after she was married, my family grew up on Tex-Mex and Mexican inspired dishes.  It is my mom's favorite type of foods and it will always make her happy to cook her something that is Mexican or Spanish.

I remember when I was still a newly wed and did not know how to cook well nor have the patience, Old  El Paso came out with a box meal called "Soft Taco Bake".  I tried it and it was a hit with my family. It is a layered soft taco dish, basically.

This recipe is my take on it, I have tweaked it a bit and I do not use the box, but everything I use makes this super easy to prepare for your family.

You will need:

2.5 pounds of ground beef
2 packets of taco seasoning (or prepare your own)
1 can of Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 large can of refried beans
2 jars of Queso Dip
8 flour tortillas
2 8 inch cake pans
cooking spray

For the Pico De Gallo:
1 fresh whole jalapeno
1/4 sweet onion
half lime
1 tsp salt
2 tsp italian seasoning 
1/2 diced tomato

Cook your ground beef as you normally would, stirring as it browns to create small crumbles. Drain grease and add in one packet of taco seasoning, cooking until seasoning is blended.  Add the beef to a large bowl, then add can of fire roasted tomatoes, and the second seasoning packet. Mix well. 

In cake pan, spray with non stick cooking spray and then begin layering with flour tortilla.  Spoon a nice heap of refried beans into the center, spreading outwards until evenly covering the tortilla.

Add your beef mixture.

Now  pour and spread a nice amount of the queso dip. Add another flour tortilla and continue upward for one more layering of each.

Top the last tortilla with shredded cheese and bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. This is like lasagna...the more it sets, the easier and less messy it is to serve.

Pico de gallo is really easy.  Chop all of the ingredients and in a bowl, mix with the juice of a fresh lime, salt, italian seasoning.

See, easy. 

I topped my taco lasagna with sour cream, fresh pico de gallo and served with a simple salad. It was so good!


Margarita Chicken....

2:16 PM

I love eating out at restaurants but having four children, it can get pretty pricey. I am always looking at recipes to try or if I get a taste for something I just make it myself. Still not the same as eating out, because hey, the best part about eating out is not having to cook, right? Thank goodness I get enjoyment out of cooking.

The other day, I had a taste for margarita chicken, now, I have never actually tried this dish at the restaurant but I have seen the photos and it looked delicious enough. I had to try it out. I am so glad I did.

You will need:

Boneless/Skinless Chicken Breasts
1 Bottle Non-Alcoholic Margarita Mix
4 limes and limes for garnish
2 cloves of garlic
3 teaspoons Italian Seasoning
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp pepper

In bowl, pour margarita mix, add seasoning (except salt and pepper) and squeeze juice of 1 lime. Rinse chicken well and add to mixture. Cut 2 limes into wedges and place into mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 2-5 hours. I also reserve some of the mixture before I add the chicken for adding to the skillet when cooking the chicken breasts.

On meduim heat, place your chicken in a nonstick skillet. If you have a griddle or grill, that is even better. I used a George Foreman grill and it was perfect. Sprinkle the chicken with the salt and pepper. Occasionally dash some of the reserved marinade on the chicken while cooking. Cook for about 5-10 minutes each side. You can poke with a fork and if juices are clear, it is done. If cloudy, let it cook more. 

Remove from heat.

I served mine over a simple rice flavored with a little tomato sauce and creole seasoning and over a bed of Bush's Grilling Beans, the black bean medley (my kids love those beans).

I made my own colored crispy tortillas by slicing flour tortillas into strips and dipping in food coloring and water...I let them dry on a paper towel and then fried them in vegetable oil until crispy, once removed from grease I sprinkled with salt.

You can find my pico de gallo recipe here....I added a few chopped bits of red bell pepper to this one.

This was delicious and hit the spot perfectly! 


It's Ya Birthday! Party on a Budget

11:52 PM

I have four kids. I am a single mama, divorced since 2007. 

Trying to come up with birthday ideas for my kids that are budget friendly that I can do on my own is tough. 

When my youngest turned thirteen this summer, I knew I had to make it special. At the time (and still to this day) I was obsessed with candy cakes....over the top cakes topped with anything you can find. I am no baker but I loved making her cake.

I opted for a simple taco bar. Easy enough, right? You cook your meats and everything else is pretty much prep. Yes, this was so easy.

This is a fabulous idea because, well, who doesn't love tacos? What kid hates candy? A win-win, right?


My kids and our guests loved it. Even though the cake fell on the back side, nothing was left. All food was eaten and we didn't know whether to pass out from food overload or be super hype from our sugar high.

This was one of my favorite parties to put together. Outside of the taco bar, we had an ice cream mini bar and the best part???? The best part was that it all cost me less than $100. I'm taking all the food, the Dollar Tree decorations and errthang....less than $100.

Tips for buying on a budget for a birthday party:

  • Check out your local dollar store. 
  • Dollar Stores have tons of candy for goody bags, candy bars, chips, drinks, and decorations. 
  • Clearance!
  • Tons of grocery stores and stores in general have clearance sections or baskets. Look at those clearance bins for candy or decorations for some awesome deals. I got all the toppings for the ice cream bar for 90 cents a bag.
  • Plan a simple menu but display it in a high end fashion.
  • Burgers, hotdogs, tacos, etc....display your food items on coordinating serving platters. It really makes a difference.
  • Be Creative!
  • Make decorations for inexpensive items.

I had hard taco shells, flour tortillas, and bags of doritoes that they could use to make their own Taco-in-a-Bag. Seriously, dudes, this was so good.


Pinterest & Instagram Fail : NYC Milkshake/Freakshake

10:12 AM

 So last year I started seeing milkshakes everywhere. All on instagram people were posting these epic and delicious looking milkshakes. They were massive. They had everything you could imagine on and in them. They were gigantic.  Topped with any type of candy you could coordinate to match in color or theme, I was like, "You know I gotta make one...or two". And so I did.  Or at least I attempted to.

Truth is, my four candy loving kids would not touch the things. They looked at them like I had committed murder of precious, beautiful candies and they had just wandered onto the crime scene. They would not even take a sip.

My oldest looked at my horrified and said, "No way am I eating that coma."

I looked at the milkshakes, all the blood sweat and spilled milk that I had put into creating it and realized it was a bit much.

My kids stood around the milkshakes, took a piece of candy and left the room.

My poor melting abstract masterpiece stood alone, against my homemade backdrop, anticipating its demise.

Are people actually finishing these things? It seems so wasteful, as I tried to salvage my poor milkshakes and put them in the freezer...only to have to throw them out the next month. Seriously, my 13, 14, 15, and 18 year olds wanted nothing to do with it.

I failed at this one. Not only did they not eat it, it was hell to put together. Try taking turned into a mushy mess of milk, soggy candy, cake and ice cream.

I don't think I will make these again. They are pretty and nice to look at but then you think of all the sugar, and I remember how even four kids would not even attempt to finish or even try one, and I have to give it a pass.

But gosh darn if they are not a feast for the eyes.


Simple Family Dinner Platters

3:29 PM

DIY Sandwich Tray. Arrange all the necessities for a tasty sandwich and let everyone make their own.

Being a mama of four means that some days, I just don't feel like doing a lot of cooking. On those days, I find it easier to just make sandwiches, or put together a simple platter for the kids.

Fajita Platter.  It took me about fifteen minutes to cook the steak and chicken and veggies, then it was just laying them out to be eaten. Super easy and we all love fajitas around here!

I always try to make things look nice for my kids. I grab a bit of fruit, some things they can either assemble themselves or put together a tray of sandwiches that they can just have at it.

Homemade fries and chicken and turkey sandwiches on bagels are refreshing and filling. 

These are just a few of the platters I have made for them. When they get out of school, these are waiting on them. We do some of everything.  These are also simple ideas when you have a few friends over. Everything is nice, healthy and delicious and you did not spend hours in the kitchen!

Poboys are popular here in the South. I fried up some catfish, steamed some mussels and we had a simple dinner ready to be picked up and devoured.

These seriously save my sanity. All. the. time. 

Happy eating!

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