Quick Weeknight Casserole (Brown Gravy Casserole)

We had a few days off from school, and our weekend was busy so I took a few days off from the blog. But this week we’re back in action.

I’m all about easy, simple, and delicious meals on weeknights. I get home about an hour before Sam, so I usually have time to throw together a nice meal before he gets home.

This is the meal we had last Friday night. Friday night’s are special to us for many reasons, one being because it is a night that we know we will always have time for dinner together and will be able to sit down and have a real meal. Last Friday we had my mom’s Brown Gravy Casserole. This recipe is easy and delicious. Note that this recipe is best served immediately and takes about 25 minutes to prepare. 

20171110_180040

BROWN GRAVY CASSEROLE

1 lb Ground Beef (or Ground Turkey or Veggie Crumbles)

1 Large Bag Wide Egg Noodles

4 Packets Brown Gravy Mix

1/3 to 1/2 Cup Sour Cream

1 8 oz. Package Cream Cheese (cut into small cubes)

3 Cups Water

Salt and Pepper to Taste

Directions: 

  1. In large skillet (stove top or electric) or dutch oven, brown ground beef (or substitute) on medium/high heat until cooked through and drain. Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions.
  2. In skillet with beef, add 4 packages brown gravy mix and 3 cups water. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly until sauce starts to thicken.
  3. Add sour cream to sauce, and stir until fully incorporated. (The amount of sour cream depends on your taste. Try it with 1/3 cup first).
  4. Add cooked noodles to the sauce in the large skillet. (If you used a skillet that was too small…time to move it all to a bigger one!)
  5. Add cubed cream cheese and stir in gently. You want to mix in the cream cheese, but let it maintain the cubes. Heat for 5-10 more minutes on low to medium heat.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve immediately.

Add a fun side dish!

20171110_152952.jpg

It is nice to serve this meal with a hearty vegetable side dish. I usually add steamed carrots, but my mom suggested roasting the carrots instead. We enjoyed these amazingly sweet Rainbow Baby Carrots from Fred Meyer.  For this all I did was toss the baby carrots with 3 tablespoons olive oil, minced garlic, and some of my favorite spices (Thyme, Rosemary, Parsley). I cooked them on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray in a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes. 

20171110_150828 (1)

Finally, we only eat dessert on the weekends. I was having trouble with sweet ideas for dessert, and I didn’t have a lot of time to make something elaborate. So my mom suggested a Jell-o No Bake Cheesecake. These are one of the worlds most simple desserts, and I often forget about them. Literally all you do is add margarine and milk. You can even buy one that comes with a cherry topping. I bought this plain mix and topped ours lemon pie filling. So easy…so good. It’s cheesecake, not much can go wrong!

Chili Tacos on a Week Night

Hello Friends. Even with just Sam and I, the struggle to figure out what to have for dinner on a weeknight is hard. Especially when it gets dark so soon, and it seems that we should all be inside huddled next the heater, avoiding the chilly temperatures outside.

IMG_3353

But, my love for tacos (soft shell for me, crunchy shell for Sam)  knows no bounds. And sometimes I want tacos for dinner, but I don’t want to prep any meat or beans. And that’s okay! One my family’s old tricks is to use chili as a substitute. It takes all the prep work out, and literally all you’ll have to do is open up a few containers, and chop up some veggies! It couldn’t be simpler.

20171107_174653

Like I said yesterday, we are trying to cut out ground beef with turkey. We absolutely love NALLEY TURKEY CHILI. It tastes just like its beef counterpart but has considerably less fat and calories. It can usually be found on sale for just 98¢ at our local Winco Foods. Once again, if you haven’t yet discovered this magical land of affordable groceries or, heaven forbid, you live in an area that has not embraced it yet, please please please find a Winco  and see for your self. It is amazing!

20171107_174940

Sam loves Mexican Rice. Whenever we have tacos or burritos, I always add this delicious Mexican Rice. Once again, it is a Winco find. I buy it for $1 so I usually stock up. All you do is add water and simmer for 25 minutes.

20171107_183514

In our house, no taco is complete with out TACO BELL MILD SAUCE. I love this stuff. I could literally just drink it from the bottle. Also, I don’t know how much you pay at your grocery store, BUT…it I found it for only $1.30 at WINCO. 

20171107_183523

I won’t lie… I love to have freshly shredded cheese, but some nights it is not worth the hassle. Just buy a bag of shredded cheese. It’s almost as good, I just don’t think it melts the same.

20171107_183542.jpg

We “taco,” (yes it can be a verb) pretty simply. But I HAVE to have a nice sweet onion.

20171107_183602.jpg

Our final toppings always include DARIGOLD SOUR CREAM. It really is the best, and a giant tub of the stuff costs less than $5.00 at Costco. And we love love love Herdez Guacamole Salsa too. It has changed our lives. It’s a bit spicy, so beware. And it can be hard to find, but we always buy it at our beloved Target. 

Sugar Cookies for Every Season

I love sugar cookies. This  amazingly simply and delicious recipe first appeared in the 1976 Edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.  You can easily find a copy via the link I provided, on Amazon. I bought my copy for only $5 at Powell’s City of Books, in Portland Oregon. My mom’s copy of this book is well-loved. Page 122, where this recipe appears, is torn out, splattered with 30+ years of baking, and usually stuffed between pages where it doesn’t belong.

This recipe is the one we use for every holiday’s sugar cookie needs. It is a roll out recipe that we use with my mom’s mountain of cookie cutters. Sam and I are now starting our own collection of cookie cutters as the need arises.

The secret to this recipe is the shortening. The best sugar cookies have vegetable shortening, we only use CRISCO, and no butter or margarine. I think this makes them more chewy and sugary then if they have butter. Below is the recipe from the book. I apologize that it’s a bit blurry. Note the citation:

Better Homes and Gardens: New Cookbook. “Sugar Cookies.” p.122. Meredith Publishing. Revised Edition. (1976). 

20171029_205239

There are a few things to know about these cookies.

  1. A tip from my grandma: Instead of rolling them on a floured surface, roll them out with powdered sugar instead. This will add more delicious flavor!
  2. Roll them thicker than 1/8 inch. Not much, but I love  thick, chewy sugar cookies.
  3. Don’t over bake. 8 minutes is sufficient.
  4. Chill out…this dough does need to be chilled for at least an hour, so make time for that.
  5. Make ahead. I love this dough because it can last 5-7 days in the refrigerator before it needs to be used. This is great if you are making these cookies with kids. Make the dough ahead of time. And then you can focus on the fun part of rolling out the dough, cutting out the cookies, and decorating at the end.

received_10214808684431105 (1).jpeg

Here are my cookies being rolled on powdered sugar. Also I like to roll them out on a very thin kitchen towel. It makes clean-up easy at the end. 

received_10214808680751013.jpeg

Frosting?? These cookies are so sugary and sweet that they don’t really need to be frosted. They are already delicious. If you choose to frost them, which is fun, be sparing. Here I just used a tiny amount to accent the pumpkin shape. I’m not the most creative or talented decorator, but I make no apologies 🙂 You shouldn’t either…as long as they taste delicious!

received_10214808684111097.jpeg

Baking cookies can be a long and tedious process if you don’t have a LARGE cookie sheet. This cookie sheet, that takes up my entire oven shelf, was a gift from a friend several Christmases ago. I absolutely love it! I can bake my cookies in half the time. This batch was a bit over-baked, you can see that in the cracking of the bat’s wing near the left side of the photo. Don’t despair if that happens, just appreciate a crunchy cookie and cover it with frosting!

The World’s Best French Dip Sandwich

Okay, so I am obsessed with beef. Sam and I call it, “my love affair with beef.” I love to use beef as a main ingredient for so many meals that we love. So I want to share a recipe with you that is an easy weeknight dinner, but also an impressive meal for company.

Today’s recipe comes to us from Taste of Home. And it is…

Shredded French Dip Sandwiches

I must warn you, once you start making these little gems, you’ll want to have them every night.

20171102_192955(0).jpg

About this recipe: 

1. You don’t have to buy expensive beef. We created these sandwiches with a Chuck Roast that was $8.00 at Winco Foods, our favorite grocery store. Don’t worry if the meat has a little bit of fat on it. Many people shy away from chuck roast because they are afraid it will be tough and fatty. In your Crockpot the beef will magically turn to melt-in-your mouth delicousness and the fat will render, making it easy to peel away at the end. Also, the fat will add flavor!

2. Follow the recipe exactly, but IF YOU HAVE TIME cook it even longer, perhaps for 8-10 hours. Then the beef will be even more tender.

3. After I shredd the beef at the end, I like to put it back in the jus, and turn up the heat to high for about 30 minutes. Then it will be piping hot when served. 

4. Use french rolls for these sandwiches. Melt some provolone on each roll under your oven’s broiler before adding the beef and serving.

20171102_192949.jpg

There it is! The perfect weeknight meal. It literally cooks itself while you are at work 🙂 

All My Thoughts on…Throw Pillows

20171104_182108

I have a deep love for throw pillows! I always have. We have throw pillows for every season. The smattering you see here is just a tiny sample of the collection. Along with other random stuff in our upstairs loft that doubles as family room, exercise space, and holiday storage area.

Recently, one of you asked about my advice on buying throw pillows. So here are my thoughts.

  1. NEVER NEVER NEVER pay full price for throw pillows! They are ridiculously over priced. At retail, they seem to range anywhere from $25 to $50, and I don’t know about you, but I would feel pretty silly if I came home with at $50 decorative pillow.
  2. Don’t buy throw pillows at department stores! Our dear department stores need to make a buck off you anyway they can, so many things, like throw pillows are always priced at a huge mark up. Buying throw pillows from department stores is literally like throwing money in the toilet!
  3. Buy colors, not necessarily designs that you like. Here’s what I mean. In the photo above There are several pillows with specific designs like the “letter” or the “Jack-o’-lantern.” Those pillows cost more, so I usually buy just one for each season, usually for the center of my couch or love seat. Keep reading…
  4. Buy in pairs. Some of the pillows I have are just seasonal colors. The orange pillow in the photo came in a set, and so did the blue floral pillow. Each of those pillows work on my couch at different times of the year. They both came in a set of 2 for $14.99! You don’t always have to have the pillow with the pumpkins, or the hearts, or whatever, just make sure you have a festive/seasonal color and your room will look great.
  5. Obviously, Look for Sales! I picked up some great Thanksgiving throw pillows that Sam fell in love with last weekend. They were only $9.99 at SEARS! So maybe I’ll buy throws at ONE department store. But, that’s only because Sears has basically become a discount store now.
  6. Where to buy? Okay here’s the part I love…giving you advice. The best throw pillows that come in pairs come from TJ MAXX. Hands down. They will always have the best price. Usually just $14.99-$19.99 for a set of 2. Marshalls and Ross Dress for Less are a close tie for 2nd place. Finally, Target is another gem for pillows too. They are usually overpriced, but less than major department stores, so take a look there. I know you shop there already!

20171104_151307

Here are the pillows that Sam fell in love with at Sears. And I must admit, I love them too.

20171105_213636.jpg

Here’s one of them on our love seat!

20171105_213620Here’s another new pillow in our arm chair

 

Thanks Starbucks…

20171101_075258

Today I have many things to share…they will come. They include all my advice on THROW PILLOWS and my favorite FRENCH DIP SANDWICH  that we are having for dinner tonight. But, first I have some things to say, things that I think are meaningful thoughts, for this morning.

Thanks Starbucks...I mean its the place where many of us start out day with the magical beverage that brings us back to life. But in our family, it means so much more. Many of you know, but many of you don’t know that Sam and I met at Starbucks. I was a customer at his drive-up window. I wasn’t even supposed to be in that part of town that summer day,  but we met…dated for  2 weeks and then began a long distance romance that lasted for over a year until we finally lived only 50 miles apart instead of 750 miles apart.

Besides introducing us, Starbucks also helped Sam finish school online through Arizona State University. The incredible Starbucks College Achievement Plan gave Sam the opportunity to finish school without accumulating more student loan debt. And, at the end, his graduation was a huge party. We spent a long weekend at Arizona State University in Tempe and Starbucks treated all their CAP (College Achievement Plan) graduates and their families like royalty.

FB_IMG_1509637067212

But, our run with Starbucks has come to an end. This morning the alarm didn’t sound at 4am, he didn’t put on a black polo or a green apron. Sam put on a tie and went to his new “big boy job,” as we lovingly call it. This morning I went to Starbucks, got coffee, and wasn’t greeted by that adorable smile. It was bitter sweet for both of us. We’re so excited for this new chapter, and lovingly closing the door on the Starbucks chapter. 

Post Script: My thoughts on the new Starbucks holiday cups!

I love them! And while I do feel a bit sorry for Tom Turkey as I drink from a cup with a Christmas Tree on it while it’s only November 2, I’m ecstatic. I’m happy that this cup feels more festive than last year’s plain red cup. And I’ll happily be drinking Peppermint Mochas and Chestnut Prailine Lattes until Chirstmas 🙂 Oh and definitely enjoying the Holiday Turkey & Stuffing Panini (while trying to forget that it packs 530 calories).

Dusting…why is it so hard? HELP!

20171031_215540

Well here we are…Halloween has come and gone. I know it ended less than 12 hours ago, but I suddenly feel guilty for still having any Halloween decor still up, outside or inside the house. I don’t want us to be “those” neighbors.

Suddenly all I can think about are cornucopias, turkeys, and pilgrims. I think we’ll have to endure our Halloween decor until we have time to transform our house into an “Ode to Jamestown” on Friday afternoon.

But here are my real thoughts for today. How did everything get soooooo dusty over the past few weeks? We keep our house impeccably clean! Bathrooms cleans, bed made, rugs vacuumed, furniture vacuumed, floors swiffered, pillow fluffed…but some how there is the inevitable collection of dust that accumulates much faster than I think it should. I’m sure Martha Stewart’s house, or houses/farms/estates rather, are never dusty (let’s just chose not to think about the army of people she employs to make sure of this).

And as much as I love to clean, I HATE to dust. And I’m not really sure that I know how. I have memories of my mom using Pledge Lemon furniture polish and then Orange Glo when that changed the world in the 90s. The wood surfaces in our house always smelled like citrus and were unusually slippery. But, we don’t have any real wood in our house and I’m not sure what to do.

What I do: Currently, I use a Swiffer Duster .  This little beauty magically traps dust while I frolic about the house thinking that I’m doing something amazing. But, then the dust comes back all to soon. Then I inevitably end up begrudgingly slaving around the house with a damp cleaning cloth trying to pick up all the dust. It never seems to work…and there’s not the satisfyingly wonderful, yet seemingly toxic,citrus smell.

WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?

Please tell me how you dust. I’d really love to know. Do you use the Swiffer too, furniture polish, some magic tool I have yet to discover? Please please please share your dusting secrets, or any other secrets for that matter 😉 with me.

 

 

It’s Fall…Let’s Bake with Chocolate and Pumpkin!

Happy Halloween! At our house, we are now in the throes (I had to look up how to spell that) of holiday baking season. This is evidenced by how much flour, sugar, canned pumpkin, and chocolate chips we recently purchased at Costco.

We absolutely love the combination of pumpkin and chocolate…it’s one of life’s great pairings. Two recipes that we absolutely love are, of course, from Taste of Home and I’d like to share them with you! Because you deserve good recipes without having to search through mountains of cookbooks, magazines, and Pinterest pins.

The first is Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins. These are easy and delicious. The only thing I do differently is add an extra teaspoon of cinnamon. I made a ton of them because Sam is having a breakfast potluck at his new job on Thursday morning. We’re very excited!

20171031_072707

The second recipe is one of my all time favorites. Hands down one of the best deserts/snacks/breakfasts/anytime treats of Fall.

Taste of Home’s Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cake. Make this exactly as the recipe says for pure bliss. I love to bring it to gatherings, make it for fundraisers, or give it as a gift on a decorative plate. It’s great on its own, but if you wish you can drizzle it with a chocolate ganache after it cools. Look for the ganache recipe below the picture.

20151031_160823

Chocolate Ganache 

1 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup heavy cream

Directions:

In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine chocolate and cream. Microwave on high 1 minute 10 seconds. NO MORE or it will get grainy.

Remove from microwave and stir with a STAINLESS STEEL SPOON. Yes, from your flatware drawer. Mix until combined and shiny. This should take about 30 seconds. Don’t over mix or your beautiful ganache will separate. Let it cool on the counter for about 10 minutes. Then drizzle on the cake if desired. Or just eat it with a spoon, dip in some fruit, marshmallows…you know what to do!

Happy Baking!

 

 

 

 

Finally Our Fall Decor

This weekend I still haven’t felt the greatest, so my wonderful husband has been taking pictures so I could share our Fall decor with all of you. The thing I want to point out is that, so much of what we have is what we have collected over time. Most of our fall collection consists of things that we bought on clearance after the holidays or things from our favorite discount stores like Ross or TJ Maxx. Enjoy!

22850404_10214783514721878_1938351613_o (1).jpg

Let’s Start with our mantle. I just love having a mantle, it is so much fun to decorate for every season.

23131131_10208426492500437_576305835_o

This fun piece I picked up for $3 at Kohl’s in June.

23022219_10208426496540538_1074723639_n.jpg

I love throw pillows. Sam and my parents can attest to this. We have two VERY large plastic bins full of seasonal throw pillow stuffed to the brim in our loft.

22851280_10214783518681977_320843233_o.jpg

Here’s another shot of the living room. The area rug was less than $50 at Ross. The cute ghost throw blanket was $9.99 at another of our favorite stores, Fred Meyer. The wall art you see is all from World Market. I paid full price for that, but I just loved it!

22879038_10214783541802555_1060042187_o.jpg

The wood tray on the ottoman we picked up for less than $20 at Costco. The cute pumpkins you see were one of Sam’s find. They were only $1 at Target (a store which sometimes feels like our second home).

22882237_10214783541322543_310886104_o.jpg

We have so much fun decorating our end tables. The birds you see were a must have this year. They are a Target find. We have them for every holiday, and we just had to have them for Halloween.

22901502_10208426497300557_1973483196_n

The other table has this cute floral arrangement was originally $39.99 at Michael’s. I picked it up for $3.99 in December!

23022974_10208426491540413_1213971655_o

Our table is one of our favorite things to decorate. All the decor you see on the table was purchased on sale or clearance at Michael’s.

23023290_10208426492300432_1145440910_o.jpg

I always love to have Suzy’s Zoo calendar hanging on my pantry door.

23023156_10208426492180429_607711264_o.jpg

We always have seasonal list pads on our fridge. These were only $1 each at Michael’s.

23023320_10214808674390854_1851374466_o

These spooky ghost lights were 50% off at Fred Meyer.

23112861_10208426491420410_70317969_o.jpg

 

We do have to have our seasonal hand sanitizer from Bath & Body Works. We bought these this weekend for 50% off.

23107254_10208426495020500_611636990_o (1).jpg

This cute little Jack-o’-lantern tree and ornaments were not on sale but we fell in love with them at Hallmark Gold Crown, where we are platinum members. The “book” it’s sitting on is a storage box that I picked up at TJ Maxx for $6.99.

23113092_10208426494540488_959348387_o.jpg

I just love this little corner. The flower arrangement is from our wedding. The wreath was a find. I bought it in March at Lowe’s for $5. The ghost cutout is one my grandma bought me in the 1990s and the little Jack-o’-lantern was just $0.98 at WalMart.

23113552_10208426497260556_310866961_n.jpg

Here’s a better view of one of our end tables. I love the shade decorations. I just made the bats out of black cardboard paper.

23113372_10208426496260531_818279220_n.jpg

I spruced up the front door with this adorable scarecrow. My mom bought this for me last year. The closer we get to Halloween the cheaper they are.

23131301_10214808674790864_1169678016_o (1).jpg

Finally, here are our pumpkins this year. We waited as long as we could before Halloween. Sam carved the cute spider and I carved the spooky ghost.

Chicken Fried Rice…Don’t Go Out, Stay Home and Make This!

Chicken Fried Rice

As I write this post, I’m sitting on the couch watching Its the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. My sentimental heart just beats wildly as I recall watching this as a kid, before we went out Trick-or Treating. I love it.

Now, on to the Chicken Fried Rice. This meal takes about 30 minutes and is an incredibly easy weeknight meal, but also it is delicious enough to serve on the weekend. It starts with really good chicken. It also makes a lot! So you’ll have tons of leftovers to take to work or pack in school lunches. This recipe is also great because if you have vegetarians coming over, just serve the chicken on the side for the meat-eaters.

23023161_10208426222613690_1776611828_o.jpg

I’m still working on my photography skills, but here is my chicken. First cut 2-3 large chicken breasts into bite-size chunks and saute it until cooked though–about 6 minutes on each side. (This may be a little long, but I”m always afraid I’m going to poison us with under-cooked chicken).

23030803_10208426218893597_1912978126_o.jpg

Then cook 4 cups of instant white rice according to the package directions.

23023281_10208426219333608_2024798106_o.jpg

Here’s where it starts to look like the meal you love. In the same pan you used for the chicken, saute 1 medium onion and 2 cloves garlic until they are fragrant and translucent. I don’t like the hassle of peeling and mincing garlic, I always used minced garlic in a jar (you can find this in the produce section of your local grocery store).

After the onion and garlic are ready, add about 2 cups mixed veggies ( I like to use a mix with lima beans) then saute for about 5 minutes more, until veggies are tender.

Then there’s the fun part. Make an opening in the middle of your pan and add 2-3 well beaten eggs. Cook about 3 minutes until eggs are done (make sure to be scrambling the eggs the whole time).

Chicken Fried Rice

Then add in the rice and chicken. Turn the heat up to medium-high heat and add 6-8 tablespoons of soy sauce to taste. I also like to add a dash of salt and pepper…and a bit more soy sauce. Then heat it all back up turning occasionally until the rice and chicken are nice and hot again. About 7 minutes.

 

The Best Chicken Fried Rice:

2-3 Large Chicken Breasts

4 cups white instant rice (cooked according to package)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 teaspons garlic, minced

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

2-3 cups mixed frozen mixed vegetables, depending on how much you love or hate veggies

2-3 eggs, well beaten

6-8 teaspoons Soy Sauce

Salt & Pepper to taste

  1. Cut chicken breasts into small bite-size chunks. Saute in large deep skillet until cooked-through. About 6 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, cook 4 cups instant white rice according to package directions.
  3. Chop onion and toss in large skillet with canola oil and garlic. Saute until onion is translucent and garlic is fragrant.
  4. With onion and garlic, add mixed vegetables and saute until vegetables are tender.
  5. Make open space in middle of skillet of veggies, add well-beaten eggs and cook them( stirring regularly).
  6. When eggs are cooked, add rice, chicken, soy sauce, and pepper.
  7. Cook entire mixture in skillet until rice and chicken are hot again. Add more soy sauce and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. ENJOY!