Thursday, August 28, 2014

Recipe Roundup #1: Spaghetti Sauce, Cucumbers and Onions, and Zuchinni Bake

Over the last few weeks, I've been blessed by several friends giving me produce from their gardens. At one point I had zucchini, squash, red onions, tomatoes, green beans, corn, and blueberries. I decided to freeze the blueberries for later, but all the rest I found some recipes for.

So this post is a roundup of a few of the recipes I found to use up the veggies. I didn't alter any of them in any way so I thought it would be fun to just put them all in one place and add links to the original recipe. This way, I can still add in my experiences with making all of this. 
Ready? Here we go.

1. Crock-pot Spaghetti Sauce
Original Recipe: Iowa Girl Eats

 This sauce is pretty darn amazing.
Iowa Girl got it right!
The only thing required outside of the crock pot is to brown ground hamburger (or turkey).
When I made this, I chopped up my onion and cooked it with the meat. Our family can handle onions if they are cooked. The only other thing I did differently than Iowa Girl is I did not use a can of crushed tomatoes. I had a TON of fresh ones, so I chopped those up in to decent sized chunks and threw them in the crock pot. I still used the tomato sauce and paste, but I think the fresh tomatoes gave it a fresher taste. I wish I could tell you how many tomatoes I used...but I just eyeballed it.

After browning the meat and onion, you throw everything in the crock pot and let it cook on low.
So easy!

My crock pot cooks fast, so I cooked it on low for 3-4 hours. The first time I made this, I made it as written. It made about half a crock pot, which was perfect for one meal. So the second time I made it, I doubled the recipe, which filled the crock pot, and then I split it into two freezer bags. I laid the bags flat on a cookie sheet and placed them in our deep freeze. Now I have two batches of sauce that just need to thaw for a spaghetti dinner.

This sauce truly is delicious. The meat literally melts in your mouth and the flavor is full and wonderful. My favorite part is probably the added butter. Who would have thought of that? I think it just adds a little something to it. If you freeze the sauce, don't add the butter yet. Add it when you are reheating the sauce in a sauce pan to be used for dinner. 
Great sauce and great freezer meal!

2. Cucumbers and Onions

Original Recipe: ??????

So, apparently this has been around for ages. But I was not a cucumber, nor an onion fan, as a child. In fact, I'm still working on it as an adult. I don't mind onions (cooked), but I'm still not a huge fan of cucumbers. 
We've been spending a lot of time at our friend's farm this summer, and I've been introduced to good old farm cookin'. I love how she just throws it all together out of thin air. So every time we've had dinner at the farm, I've been taking mental notes.
This recipe is something she ALWAYS has in the fridge, and when I found out my husband loved it, I decided to give it a try. It's pretty easy and I'll admit, it's pretty tasty, too. (I even ate the onions! Look Ma, I'm all growed up!)

All it is is cucumbers and onions in a vinegar-sugar-water mixture. 
That's it!
I'm sure the majority of you are reading this thinking "duh!". But I didn't know about it, so I was excited and I wanted to share it for anyone else that is sheltered like myself. 

To make it you mix equal parts vinegar, sugar and water. 
So if you use 1 cup of vinegar, then you use 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar.
(Now, I never said this was a healthy recipe!)
You can eat it right away, but it's better to let them sit in the mixture for a few hours in the fridge so they can absorb the flavors and get nice and cold.

3. Sour Cream Cucumbers 
Original Recipe: Taste of Home 

Another quick cucumber and onion recipe if you are tired of the one above or, like me, just have a crap-ton of cucumbers to use up.
 It's very similar, but uses sour cream. In all honesty, I like the vinegar-sugar-water mixture better, but this one is still good. I wanted to share because everyone's palettes are different and some of you may really like this!
All you have to do for this recipe is whisk together the ingredients: sour cream, vinegar, sugar, and pepper. Then toss the cucumbers and onions in the mixture and refrigerate for four hours. 
I will say this, these didn't make the BEST leftovers, so this might be a good recipe for a church picnic or family cookout.

On Pinterest, I saw a similar recipe to this one, but it uses dill. I LOVE dill, so I think I will give that one a try, too. I'll let you know if it's any good!

4. Zucchini-Squash Bake 

Original Recipe: Kalyn's Kitchen

I had zucchini coming out my EARS. My friend was giving some away, and she stood on my porch and handed me a zucchini that was, I'm not kidding, bigger than my cat. 
This was the perfect recipe to use up some of that zucchini. That one...gigantic...zucchini.

My husband was gone for work for about 10 months. The day he moved back home, I made a completely homemade-from-scratch dinner just for him. (No, I'm not bragging...this was the first time I cooked in....well, 10 months.)
I used the spaghetti sauce I shared above, made some homemade bread sticks (another farm recipe!), and found this zucchini bake to put with it. 
I was in such a tizzy trying to throw all of this homemade stuff together and time it for right when he got home, I didn't even think it take pictures of anything...until we sat down to eat. So the only picture I have of the bake is on my plate. And it didn't stay there long. 

I'm hungry just looking at this. He's been home a month now....I'm think it's time for round two. 
I'll share the breadstick recipe another day. Homemade, easy, and they almost taste like Olive Garden's breadsticks!
 Mmmmmm breadsticks.....
Focus, Evie.

For this recipe you need the veggies, some olive oil, basil (fresh or dried), thyme, garlic powder, and cheese. You can also throw in green onions if you like. I didn't have any in the fridge so I didn't use them, but I would definitely like to try it next time. 

Toss the veggies in the olive oil and spice mixture, spread in a greased baking dish, and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 min. Sprinkle cheese on top and bake for another 10 minutes to melt the cheese.
It went great with the spaghetti dinner and it made pretty good leftovers the next night. The webpage also has a printer friendly version, so it's really simple to print the recipe for your collection.

Well, that's it for now! I hope you like some of these! I made a few other recipes, but they either needed some modification or they were just so good they deserve their own post. So you'll see those pop up eventually. 

I've had a lot of fun find recipes to use up all these fresh veggies. Enough so that I plan to try a garden out next year. (This is big deal people. Green-thumb is NOT my middle name.)
Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

DIY Front Porch Facelift

For the last year, I thought we were moving. So all of my long-term dreams for my house were put on hold. 


Three weeks ago my husband moved back home! And now that we are NOT moving (happy dance!), it took all of but 48 hours to start a project. As I was posting pictures of my painting projects on Instagram, my friend Heather teased me saying "Chad is home and it's PAINT ALL THE THINGS?!?"

Um, Heck yeah!

I finally painted my laundry room...

....painted my front door...
Sorry for the picture quality, I had to steal this off of my Instagram.

.....gave a couple things in my kitchen a spray paint face lift...

....and last but not least, I finally finished the front porch.

Last spring I was sick and tired of my ugly front porch. It's a three-seasons porch that had dark green indoor/outdoor carpet and dark wood paneling. 
It had to go.

I didn't get great "before" pictures because I wasn't really thinking about it. I was too excited to get started to think about making a nice looking blog post. So here are some of the ones I did get before and during the transformation.

See? Dark paneling. Blech. And a bulky shelf/coat hanger because we have no coat closet. Oh the joys of a 100-year-old house. :D

This is obviously when I started priming.

This is a dark photo, but it gets the point across. DARK. Dark and depressing. No thanks!

Once I got all the walls AND trim primed with two coats, I had Chad rip up the carpet. (JOY!!)

Carpet is gone and in the trash! Let the mama rejoice!

On to painting. After two coats of primer, I moved on to two coats of paint. White for the trim and a yellow called "Nectar" for the walls. Painting over dark paneled walls...not my favorite task.

I picked the yellow based off of my navy blue front door. The outside of our house is painted blue with white and navy blue as accent colors, so I wanted to keep the blue door. And while we are a Coastie family, I don't have any nautical decorations in my house. But I do like the yellow and navy combo so I went with it. 

Yellow is a tricky color in my opinion. You have to get just the right yellow. Too pale and it washes out, too bright and people have to get out their sunglasses. Well, boy did I find it! In case you didn't notice by the pictures above, this Nectar yellow is my new color crush. I used it in the laundry room and the inside of my front door. I'm in love!

Look at how pretty! So sunny and happy!

The last major step was putting in the floor. We got really lucky (as far as our checkbook goes) because around the same time we were doing this, my in-laws were remodeling their kitchen. So they graciously gave us the flooring from their kitchen. It was still in good shape and was almost exactly the amount we needed. Win!

Now that the hard part is done...time for a little trip to Pier One aaaaand...

BA-BAM. Summer sale at it's finest. 

This porch facelift turned out to be a huge blessing-in-disguise because just two short weeks after the it was finished, we endured a hardship. This porch became my "happy place". I sat here many days that summer trying to make peace with what we were going through and teaching myself to crochet. To this day, it is my go-to place for my morning coffee and devotional - minus the winter months of course. It is just such a warm and happy room now.

I had more plans for this space, but once the For Sale sign went in the yard I crossed those plans off. you know, we did NOT onward!

Both my girls will be in school this year and then we have a couple friends coming over after school as well, so I knew I needed to have a space for them to put all of their coats, backpacks and shoes. 

Oh, a Pinteresting we will go...

I found lots of options via Pinterest but I finally settled on making a coat rack wall. 

Remember this wall?


Some measuring, planning, and a trip to Menards wall was going up.
Have I ever mentioned that I love having a hubby that can do stuff like this??? I asked him to build me a wall...and he did. He is so cool!

Here it is with all the wood up.

I bought some coat hooks and planned to stagger them. I had him put a shelf up top, too, for decorations and/or lost items.

I also decided it would help the chaos if I designated each space for each child. We had some leftover wood so I found an easy way to make a wood sign without needing a Cricut or Silhouette machine (cuz those are too rich for my blood). I made a little sign with each child's name and placed it on their spot. I actually have a project started (yes, another one) using this method and when that is done, I'll post it on here.

Ready? Here's the finished product!

What do you think?? 

I'm totally in love! No more backpacks on the floor, shoes being thrown around, or lunchboxes getting lost. I'm still toying with the thought of putting a bench or two for the kids to sit on, but I might just buy a couple shoe rugs instead. I'll wait until the messy weather comes to make that decision.

As for my decorations, I got lucky there, too. Basically, I wandered around my house and found things that had no home and put them up there.
The wire baskets were used by my mom for the girls' Easter baskets this year. I put my gardening stuff in one and the other is empty for any future lost gloves or hats.
The "It Is Well" sign is one that I found at Hobby Lobby (With the 40% off coupon!) a few months ago. I bought it thinking it would go up in a rental house somewhere but had yet to find a home for it in this house.
The lanterns were a clearance purchase from Michael's last summer. I originally had them on the windowsills on the porch.
The "M" was made by Jilly a couple years ago at daycare and used to hang on the door.
 And then I just grabbed some random candles sitting around my house. It all got thrown together in a day, but I think it turned out pretty cute, and now all those things have a home!

The best part about all of this, from beginning to end, is that it didn't cost a ton of money. It was the cost of a few cans of paint, some wood, coat hooks, and my decorative stuff. Of course, we were lucky and didn't have the cost of the flooring, but we were prepared to pay for it. That would have been the most expensive part. It was more blood, sweat, and tears than it was money. Painting an entire room (walls and ALL woodwork) FOUR times is a lot. A LOT. 

So there you have it!
 My front porch facelift.

From this:

 To this:

Do you have any DIY facelift stories to share?
I'd love to hear them! We are staying in this house for awhile and there are plenty more things to do!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Chicken and Salsa Skillet


Hey, I'm back! Where did I go? That's a great question, and when I have an answer for that, I'll let you know. 

The last year and half has been such a whirlwind for me and my family. Up and down...and down again...and down again...and now I am cautiously hopeful that we are on an upswing. 

I've composed a million blog posts in my head explaining the last year to all of you. And since all of those thoughts are still swirling in my head, I'm going to set them aside and just return to blogging with an awesome recipe to use up those over-flowing garden veggies. 

I do not have a garden. (Gasp!) I have never had a green thumb...most things I planted in the past died. And I don't have house plants because my darling cat eats them. Even the fake ones. Seriously, any silk flowers in my house are in wall-mounted vases. She WILL eat them. 

This year, we had our house for sale (part of the swirly, whirly, long story) and I decided to try planting flowers in the flower bed to spruce up the curb appeal. If they all died, oh well. 
Surprisingly, they lived!

 These pictures are from right after they were planted. Today, they are thriving!

After this small success, my hope is that next year we will try a vegetable garden. But until then, I will just continue raiding the gardens of all my friends.

This recipe is very easy to throw together and is pretty healthy. It's great for the nights that you work or have games to get to. (Because it's August...and we have to start thinking about school schedules...sigh...)

The ingredients are chicken, pasta, salsa, corn, green pepper, and cheese.

Cook your pasta according to the directions on the box. We use whole wheat pasta from Aldi that is less that $1/box.

Cut up boneless, skinless chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces and start cooking the chicken in the skillet with some olive oil for about 2 minutes. Stir in salsa - you can use any salsa. We are big fans of Wildtree Fiesta Salsa Mix, but today I made homemade salsa for the first time. It's marinating for 24 hours, so I can't tell you yet how it turned out...BUT if it's good, it will be posted ASAP. I'm overly excited about this salsa...

Next, stir in corn (canned, fresh or frozen) and chopped green peppers. Bring to a boil and then simmer on med-low heat for 10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Make sure to stir occasionally so it doesn't burn. 

Drain the pasta and stir into chicken mixture.

Good grief, that looks amazing. In all honesty, I haven't made this in awhile. These pictures are from a few months ago...It just never made it to the blog. Just keepin' it real.
 I'm thinking this will be on the menu next week. 

Sprinkle cheese on top and cover to allow cheese to melt.

This night I tried out roasting green beans to go along with the meal. I just tossed some fresh green beans in olive oil, garlic salt and Parmesan and then roasted them in the oven. 

More honesty here...I have yet to master the art of roasting vegetables. It seems like it should be a pretty simple task compared to all the other ways to cook vegetables...but I just haven't been able to figure it out. Every time I've tried they turn out...well..let's just say... not awesome.
So if anyone would like to share the secret that I'm missing, please do!

There it is. An awesome chicken skillet and some so-so green beans. 

Thanks for sticking with me despite my year-long absence. 
You guys are the best!

Cheesy Chicken and Salsa Skillet
recipe from

  • 2 cups whole wheat penne pasta, cooked
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 1/4 cups salsa
  • 1 cup corn, frozen (or fresh/canned)
  • 1 large green pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup shredded cheese of your choice (we like colby jack)
Cook pasta as directed on box.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil and add chicken pieces. Cook for about 2 minutes. Stir in salsa, corn, and green peppers. Bring to a boil and then simmer on med-low heat for about 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Stir occasionally. 

Drain pasta. Add to chicken mixture and stir. Sprinkle with cheese. Remove from heat and cover. Let sit until cheese is melted.