Monday, November 12, 2012

Soft Pretzels

My youngest, Ella, is a terribly picky eater.  Packing her school lunch is a challenge.  One day she loves hard boiled eggs, the next she doesn't eat it.  So, I usually pack her a lot of little things, and it's anyone's guess what she will choose to eat that day.   One things she will eat every single time though is a soft pretzel.  

I usually buy a humongo box of the frozen ones from Sam's Club and then just pop one into the microwave in the morning and wrap it in some foil.  Sunday evening I just had this wild idea to just try and make some homemade ones and they were really quite easy to make.  And, you probably have everything you need in your pantry already!

4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (about 110 degrees F)

4-5 cups all purpose flour*
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 cups hot water
1/2 cup baking soda

Toppings of your choice
Cinnamon Sugar
Kosher Salt

In a small bowl, mix the yeast, sugar and hot water.  Let sit till the yeast and sugar dissolve and has a creamy consistency.  About 5 to 10 minutes.

In a large bowl (I use my KitchenAid mixer) mix together the flour, sugar and salt.  Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture and the oil.  Mix well until all the ingredients are incorporated.  I mix it for about 3 minutes in the KitchenAid - and no kneading it required!

Your dough should be nice and smooth.  If it is too sticky, add some flour.  If it's too dry and water a teaspoon at a time.  Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise till it doubles in size.  Approximately one hour.  (I have a proof function in my oven.  You can also just turn on your oven light and place the dough in there.  This serves as a nice warm, draft free place for your dough to rise.)

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  (425 for a convection oven)
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or spray the baking sheets with cooking spray.  Dissolve the baking soda in hot water.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces.  Roll the dough out into a thin rope and shape into a pretzel shape.  I did not need to use any flour when rolling these out.  If your dough is sticky you may need to flour your surface.  Dip each pretzel into the baking soda solution** and place on the cookie sheet.

Bake for about 8 minutes until browned.

When the come out of the oven I brush them with melted butter.  At this point you can sprinkle them with kosher salt or cinnamon sugar.  

My first batch of pretzels was completely consumed by breakfast the next morning.  I made a second batch and I just buttered them and didn't add salt or anything.  I figured we can add whatever topping we want when we heat the pretzels back up.

*Here in hot and humid Florida I use 4 1/2 cups of flour.  I start out with four and then add more in to get the consistency I want.

**Dipping the pretzels into the baking soda solution gives the pretzels the dark chewy exterior we like in a pretzel.  Apparently the baking soda causes some sort of scientificy chemical reaction once you pop them in the oven.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Since moving to Florida, our grocery bill has gone up significantly, so I have been looking for ways to save a few pennies where we can.   One of my neighbors in Missouri made her own detergent and gave me some to try and I thought it worked very well.  Another friend of mine made the liquid kind and is also happy with the results.

Homemade laundry detergent is all over blogs and Pinterest at the moment.  I read quite a few "recipes" and lots of comments and decided on this powder version.  I decided against liquid, because the powder seemed easier to store.   Everything I needed was all in one spot in the laundry aisle at my local Walmart.

1 - 4 lb 12 oz box of Borax
1 - 4 lb box of Pure Baking Soda
1 - 3 lb 7 oz box of Washing Soda
1 - 3 lb box of Oxi Clean
3 - 5.5 oz bars of Fels Naptha Soap
1 - 13.2 oz container Downy Unstoppables

 I used one of my empty storage tubs to mix everything in.  It was way bigger than I needed but worked out just fine.  First I threw everything except the Fels Naptha soap in.  My six year old had fun mixing it with a wooden spoon.

Then I grated the Fels Naptha Soap,  Cause I'm lazy, I threw it into the food processor.  (Then I cautioned my six year old that this was NOT grated cheese and she couldn't eat it!)

Add this to your mix and give it a stir.  And that's it!   Place it in the container of your choice and place in your laundry room.  You'll need 1-2 tablespoons per load.

The oxy clean that I bought had a little scooper in it, so I marked it with a sharpie (I am using two tablespoons in my High Efficiancy washing machine) 

All the "ingredients" cost about $25.  If you wanted to cut your cost even further, you could leave out the Unstoppables.

So far it is working out just great.  I have a top loader High Efficiency washing machine.  I wash most everything on the "Tap Cold" setting.  UPDATE:  I am almost out of my laundry detergent.  I have enough left for a few loads.  And I have to say, we do a LOT of laundry around here - I do at least one load a day and on many days, more than one.  And I'm kinda sloppy with the measuring.  So, it lasted us about five months!

This detergent has a nice fresh, clean scent but it is not very strong.  As far as scent goes, you will not get that strong fragrance like you do with traditional detergents like Tide or Gain.   I use traditional dryer sheets so I am still getting plenty of that fresh laundry scent.  (I have heard that some people add essential oils to their mixture which would seem easier if you are making the liquid kind.)

This is not a "sudsy" detergent.  If you need to see lots of bubbles to get a warm fuzzy that your clothes are clean, than this detergent is probably not for you.

If you let one of your kiddos help you with this, make sure they do not stir the mixture too vigorously.  You don't want them to stir up all that fine powder and inhale it down into their lungs.

Happy Laundering!

If you would like to try the liquid variety, this is the recipe that my friend used:

They also have a few ideas for inexpensive Fabric Softener.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The "Homework Station"

Our old house was a one story.  The kids kept their backpacks and school supplies that they weren't using in their rooms.  Supplies, like paper, pencils etc were kept in plastic drawers on top of the fridge.

Our new home is a two story, and since we usually do homework at the kitchen table, where I can keep a crack the whip keep an eye on everyone , I thought we needed a different way to organize our homework stuff.  Cause you know if you have to send them upstairs to find something they are bound to get distracted and who knows when they will come back down again.  So what I wanted was, one central place to keep everything.

I love these Closetmaid Cube storage thingies.  I picked this one that is three cubes wide by three cubes high.  It works out perfectly since I have three kids.

Above it, I hung three white boards.  Here we write little reminders about things that are important for the upcoming week.

On the top shelves:
We have plastic drawers with lined paper for homework, blank paper for drawing, markers, pencils, scissors, glue sticks, erasers, calculators etc.  

On the bottom shelves:
  • On the left we have some misc stuff (right now it's the kids fundraisers from school) 
  • In the middle we have our dry erase boards that we use instead of scratch paper and that Ella also uses to practice her spelling.  We also have our three hole punch and other misc stuff that doesn't fit in the plastic drawers.
  • On the right side are some of our teaching tools that we use at home, like flash cards, stickers and workbooks.

The middle row of shelves:
I gave each kid their own cubby in the middle row.  Here they can put their own personal school stuff.  Riley has the kind of schedule where he has half of his classes one day, and the other half the next day, so he can leave the books he doesn't need here.  This is also a good place for them to leave long term projects, so we know exactly were everything is.  

On the very top of the whole thing, we have dry erase markers, magnets that we can also use for our dry erase boards and our electric pencil sharpener.  The basket holds our keys and sunglasses (This just happens to be a convenient place for them)  The binder is labeled "Our School Day"  Inside is all the information for each of the kids schools.  I have a quick cheat sheet in the front that just says what time each kid gets on and off the bus, who their teacher is and what classroom number.  (You know, in case I got hit by a bus or something and someone else had to get them off to school.)  I also have their individual class schedules, lunch menu's etc.  A lot of this stuff is on my laptop but I like having it all in one place where we can just glance at it.  (And you know, that whole hit by a bus thing again)

Anyway, this has worked out really great for us.  If Ella wants to draw, she can just grab some paper and just grab the markers drawer and bring them to the table.  And the kids don't have to go far for any supplies that they need when doing their homework.  We know exactly where everything is!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Meal Planning

Wow - I haven't posted here for a while.  Things were crazy around here.  In a nutshell - a trip to Florida to buy a new house, an immediate family member diagnosed with cancer, the end of the school year, and packing two houses for moves to two different states!

Anyway, here we are in sunny Florida.  We are still getting used to the Southern way of life, but one thing I have quickly learned, is that groceries are very expensive here. There are only two major grocery store chains here.  They don't double coupons or have loyalty cards and such, like much of the rest of the country.

And the local grocery store is not that close - it"s a 15 minute drive one way.  Sam's Club is 30 minutes away.  (No more running over there for a cheap rotisserie chicken!)  So I guess my old system of running to the store and picking up whatever looks good is probably not going to work out real well anymore.

So I'm going to try meal planning.  I heard about this website called  For a small subscription fee, they provide you with a meal plan, that is planned around the sales at your local grocery store.  I have some pretty picky eaters in my household, so I don't expect all the suggested meals to work for us, although they are pretty family friendly.  But even the meals that won't necessarily work for us, prompted a meal idea or could be modified to work for us.  And there is usually one crock pot meal included for the week.

So here is our meal plan for this week July 2nd thru July 8th

Monday:  Sweet and Sour Pork with steamed Rice
Tuesday:  Sausage Simmer with Pasta
Wednesday:  Rosemary Chicken & Veggies (Crock Pot meal!)
Thursday:  Breakfast Frittata w/Crispy Bacon
Friday:  Hamburgers w/Steak Fries
Saturday:  Chicken Alfredo with Salad and Texas Toast
Sunday:  Crock Pot Roast, Mashed Potatoes, Corn and Rolls

What's for dinner at your house?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Turtle Cake

I usually don't post my cakes and cookies over here because I don't do tutorials for them or anything.  All that stuff is posted on my other blog

My friend Lynette asked me if I could make a turtle shaped cake for a baby shower that she was co hosting for her sister.  "Sure" I said.  I'd never made a turtle cake before.

This is what I came up with:

I made the turtle's body by using a sports ball cake pan.  The head and legs were made with some cake that I just pressed together with a small amount of frosting (almost like making a cake pop)  The hat is a fondant covered ice cream cone.  I put the little guy on top of a buttercream frosted cake.

Crochet Hat

Due to several sickies in our house today, we didn't go to church so I had a few unexpected free hours on my hands.  I have been working on home improvement projects none stop, so I decided to do something creative with my time.  I have been seeing all these cute hats online and also on real peoples heads.

Ciara had a bunch of yarn laying around so I just stole borrowed some from her.

Not to bad for my first attempt.  I'm excited to try some different colors and patterns.  You know ....... in all my free time ;)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Waffles Ever!!

I purchased this on Black Friday.  It's not super heavy duty or anything, but it was one of those screaming deals that I just couldn't turn down:

I immediately made a batch of waffles just using some Krusteaz Mix which is my go to mix for pancakes.  Love how the pancakes turn out, but wasn't really happy with the waffles.  They were okay.....but just okay.  I wanted something a little better.  So then I tried the Bisquick mix.  Love it for making chicken pot pie.  Waffles.....not so much.  So I headed to the internet to find a recipe.

This is the recipe that resulted after experimenting with a couple of batches. This batter is much runnier than the box mix batter, but the waffles came out light, fluffy and crispy.

Waffle Batter Recipe
1 1/3 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs separated
1/2 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Mix together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Add in melted butter, milk, vanilla and egg yokes and mix well.

  (Doesn't look very tasty yet!)

Place egg whites into mixer and beat until they start to get stiff (almost like you are making merengue) 

Gently fold in the egg white mixture into your batter, just until you can't see them anymore.

Cook according to the directions of your waffle maker.

This makes more batter than I need for our family of five, but I usually just cook all of it and then put the cooked waffles in the fridge or freezer.  Then I can just take them out and pop them in the toaster - they crisp right back.