Holiday Checklist, Shopping Wrapped Up

We are getting down to the wire on the Christmas countdown, so here’s a few of the coolest gifts we’ve gotten over the years. Maybe this list can help you to finish strong!

Totally Functional & Awesome
Rolling Monogrammed Suitcases for the kids – Not super fancy designer brands but durable with wheels that let them tote their stuff on vacation. Score for the Griswolds!

Handmade Gear
Etched Casserole Dish in an Insulated Carrying Container
DIY Science Kit
Crayon and coloring book holder
Build Your Own Fort Kit in Drawstring Bag
Boo Boo Bags – these rice filled bags can go in the freezer or microwave and each child has their own fabric
Fleece Blankets & Matching Travel Pillows
Pillow Shields – these cuties elevate pillow fights to a whole new level
Apron for me & one for Baby Girl
Books!!! – there are lists all over the Internet for amazing childrens’ books…one day I will get around to our favorites
Quick Pillowcases or bath towels embroidered with each child’s name 

Of the Stocking Stuffer Sort
Magnetic bookmarks
Stanley 66-344 4-in-1 Pocket Screwdriver
Socks – not even kidding
Kid themed Band-aids

Amazing Ideas I’m Going to Totally Steal
For the couple who just bought a house: a self inking address stamp – The Stamp Company is in the USA, has cute stuff and wonderful customer service

Nickelodeon Themed Chia Pets

Holiday Checklist, Dinner – Done!

The hustle bustle is tuning up, and soon moms across the world will have to-do lists longer than their arms.  Please let me give your bustle a little less hustle with planned out meals for the holiday season.

Daily Dinner Plan – with Crockpot options

November 30
Pork Chops with Caramelized Onions, Apples and Thyme, Quick Roasted Asparagus

December 1
Diner Comfort Food – Cheesesteak Style or Patty Melt Sandwiches

December 2
One Pot Chicken and Rice – you’ll have leftovers, so you won’t have to worry about hubby’s lunch tomorrow or the rice for next week’s soup

December 3
Minestrone Soup

December 4
Baked Chicken Parmesan or this yummy looking Milanese (less cheese, more calories for cookies) An even easier version is this chicken parmesan casserole you could assemble ahead.

December 5
Paula Deen’s Pulled Pork Stuffed into Baked Potatoes (make a double batch of the pork, and you’re ready for next week)

December 6
Chicken Cordon Bleu with Steamed or Roasted Veggies and a Green Salad

December 7
Baked white fish sliders with not-your-normal cole slaw and oven fries

December 8
Shredded Beef Tacos or mix it up with these Korean Style Lettuce Wraps (both of these yield awesome leftovers)

December 9
Chicken and Rice Soup

December 10
Stuffed Pasta Shells (add in sautéed dark greens instead of meat and make this dish for Meatless Monday) A great reason to make a big pot of marinara and freeze for another busy night.

December 11
Texas Chili Bar – no beans here! (brown the meat , onion and garlic, then pop in the crockpot with all the other ingredients so it’s ready when you are)

Tonight is family game night, and make your own bowls of chili couldn’t be easier! Save the extra cornbread for next week’s stuffed peppers.

December 12
Mediterranean Style One Dish Herb Chicken Bake

December 13
BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches (this is actually leftover pork from the baked potato night that I froze for a super quick meal)

December 14
Veggie Lo Mein

December 15
Tis this season for family and friends, so why not make Taco Tuesday an event? Grab a holiday flick or make an impromptu craft or gift wrapping party.  Try these Seven Layer Tostadas

December 16
Pioneer Woman’s Pork Chops with Pineapple fried rice

December 17
Chicken and Cornbread Stuffed Peppers OR My Stuffed Bell Peppers

December 18
My Potato Soup – a nod to my family heritage — so easy and yummy

December 19
Broiled Salmon and roasted veggies

December 20
Whisky BBQ Meatballs ( I use my BBQ sauce recipe, then  add mashed potatoes (or steamed veggies, or herbed noodles – the side options are endless)

December 21
Kid’s Night – Bake cookies, make treats, watch your favorite holiday movie, let them invite friends over for a sleepless slumber party – the kids hang out, then everyone goes home and goes to their own beds for sleeping

Dinner cooked in muffin tins makes everything easy to divide and easy to eat – Mary Beth’s Knock Your Socks off Meatloaf and Mac and Cheese Cups

December 22
Soupeasy dinner so you can get to those last minute items on your list

December 23
In Texas, Christmas brings Tamales – order some, or try these cheats

December 24 & 25
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day are not included since everyone has their own traditions

December 26
With new toys to try and games to play, try one of these breakfast casseroles to start, or end , your day

December 27
Supreme Pizza Pasta (toss in the slow cooker or even freeze ahead)

December 28
Grilled Venison Backstrap with Gingered Carrots

December 29
Pioneer Woman’s Sausage, Potato, and Kale Soup

December 30
Baked chimichangas

December 31
Stay in Date Nite – going out when you have young children is rare; I don’t want to spend it with crowds

Chicken Marsala with Garlic Whipped Potatoes & Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots

Forget the bubbly, this year I’m making these bourbon Blizzards.

Keep in the Freezer for One of Those Really Long Days – seriously, you don’t even need a side!

Make a Bunch and Save for Lunch

Pioneer Woman’s Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork – In the oven or slow cooker, this make it and leave it dish is great on slider rolls with sliced gouda or piled in tortillas with cilantro, queso fresco, sliced avocado, and a lime wedge for quick pork tacos – Plus there are usually plenty of leftovers to freeze and use again*

Pecan Crusted Chicken – these take some prep up front, but they are easy to make and freeze great

Browned & seasoned ground beef, bison, or turkey (use in tacos, quesadillas, as pizza toppings)

Chicken Fajita meat – try this marinade to elevate them beyond normal week night.

Bring a Little Holiday Spirit into Your Kitchen

Christmas Scones

Gingerbread Waffles – I haven’t made these yet, but they are on my must try list

Fresh Cranberry Scones

Hosting Guests? These touches are sure to impress

For their room:

  • Recently I stayed at my brothers’ and one of the most welcome treats was their selection of pillows. Doesn’t sound like much, but with everyone having their own preference, being able to choose was a luxury. Of course, I picked them all!
  • Have an extra throw blanket in the room, especially for those who travel across the country, the climate change can be shocking

In the Morning:

  • Create a coffee and tea station next to a bowl of fruit so early risers can serve themselves and relax.
  • Your guests will be convinced they’re at a B&B with these breakfasts-Homemade donuts – these puppies are all baked so you can indulge without standing over the frypan or having guilt-Blueberry Baked Oatmeal or Bobby’s Oatmeal Stuffed Apples
  • Baked egg boats would be restaurant worthy
  • Set a loaf of bread to make overnight, so you wake to Fresh Bread machine with make ahead berry butter spread
  • Save some time with this gourmet casserole

Stock Ahead for Comfy Touches:

  • make sure the bar is stocked, grab an extra bottle of wine to mull (awesome on the day guests are arriving), have some bottled sparkling water or ginger ale on hand
  • early in the month, check dry goods in your pantry so you are prepared for last minute at home meals that come with an unexpected winter storm front
  • make cookie dough and freeze, so fresh baked cookies are quick to whip up

Fix-Aead Dinners that Feed a Crowd:

It’s that time of year again! Shopping Lists, Little Elves, and Lots of Holiday Fun!

Sometimes us moms need a little help keeping it all balanced around the holidays.  With ever ending to-do lists, hard to handle relatives, and busy schedules, it can seem like a real job bringing joy and magic to the season.  I hope my December no-thought meals, What to do with that ELF list, and 2015 gift guide can make your holiday just a little happier!

What to do with that ELF? list.

Nov 29 – it’s back! – ours takes the USPS…some throw a party, some arrive toy airplane, by train, or go all out and make a hot air balloon – tonight you’re on your own.

Nov 30 – spilling DVDs and books all over living room

Dec 1 – making a paper chain

Dec 2 – hanging out of cabinet surrounded by police cars

Dec 3 – drawing minions on the bananas

Dec 4 – over the door swing on tp roll

Dec 5 – repelling at window

Dec 6 – working on the truck

Dec 7 – digging in M&M bag

Dec 8 – in a Lincoln log house

Dec 9 – making paper snowflakes*

Dec 10 – gift bows all over kitchen

Dec 11 – playing cards or board game with stuffed animals*

Dec 12 – riding t-rex

Dec 13 – hiding in the silverware drawer

Dec 14 – roasting marshmallows over a candle

Dec 15 – goldfishing with pole

Dec 16 – sack race

Dec 17 – stuck under a weight while working out

Dec 18 – hiding under a glass (staged to play hide and seek with a toy)

Dec 19 – riding in the remote control car (doll controlling it)

Dec 20 – Little people carriage ride with doll

Dec 21 – checking out a yarn moustache in the mirror

Dec 22 – posing behind an empty picture frame

Dec 23 – crepe paper over door

Dec 24 – praying over Bible/ letter goodbye

Supplies – police cars, gift bows, bananas, paper lunch sacks, goldfish, cards/game (game night supplies), supplies for paper snowflakes, small hand weight, remote control car, paper chain supplies, little people carriage, crepe paper, brown yarn, M&M’s, Bible/goodbye letter, small picture frame, Little People and doll, drinking glass

If you are like me, you know you’re going to fall asleep or forget to move the little guy at least once, so plan ahead with a little Pinterest help…

NYE

NYE
Host a KIDS’ NITE IN
I love having kid’s nite in. I have always been more of a homebody than a party girl, so having little ones to hang with is just my speed.

The PLAN
Gather up board games, family inclined video games, or the Legos spread all over the house and plan a family game or built it night.

The MENU
Beer & Cheese Fondue with Pretzel Bites
Serve warm gooey cheese with these salty little soft pretzels I found on Deb’s Smitten Kitchen. With small hungry onlookers, I opted to just cut the dough in two-inch sections and make pretzel bites. Such a simple way to add a little pizazz to your standard fondue. Make it more of a meal by adding sliced smoked sausage or mini cooked meatballs, blanched veggies, and crusty bread.

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New Year’s Day
The PLAN
Spend a little time making family goals for the upcoming year, maybe even brainstorm for a wishlist/bucket list.

The MENU
Sliders
Children and adults alike love bite sized food. Get a little creative, and make some sliders….chicken fried steak on a biscuit, regular hamburger sliders, or sweet & spicy pulled pork are all winners!

Black eyed Pea Dip
A Texas spin on a traditional lucky food.
GATHER:
2 Tablespoons taco seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Several shakes hot sauce
1 1/2 cups black eyed peas, cooked
1 cup medium sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 small onion, small dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño, minced
2 green onions, thinly chopped
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 lime, juiced
Bunch of cilantro, chopped
Sour cream
To Make:
Cook peas and set aside. Sauté onion, pepper, and garlic. Add to cooked peas. In a food processor, purée peas, onion, garlic, spices, and lime juice with cream cheese until dip consistency. Fold in green onions and cilantro. Spread in baker, top with grated cheese, and bake at 375 until heated through and cheese is melted. Garnish with sour cream and serve with corn chips.

The Mary of Christmas

The other day I was watching Pentatonix’s rendition of the popular Christmas song, Mary Did You Know?
It is very pretty, but then I starting thinking…Mary did know.

She knew that she was about to have a baby.
She knew that she would be a mother.
She knew her son would do amazing things.
She knew God chose her to be HIS mother.

Being a mom is amazing.
Being a mom at Christmastime is pretty amazing.
Cheers to Mary, a mother who relied on God to help her be the mother she needed to be to her child.
What an awesome leap of faith.

I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May you word to me be fulfilled.” – Luke 1:38 NIV

Gumbo! A Break from Holiday Overload

I thought I would be writing this post weeks ago, but our house has been SICK. Head cold, viruses, upset stomach, put us out of our misery sick. Bah Humbug. The weather in Texas has been warm, then rainy, then cold and dreary. Bah. The small attempts I have made to rejoin society have been through hurricane kit craft stores and bustling grocery aisles. Bah.

The school week is winding down, the kids’ excitement is growing, and Christmas is around the corner. Time for a little break from holiday overload. This afternoon, Baby Girl took a long nap, the boys started a Mario Bros marathon, and I caught up on Hallmark’s 2014 Holiday Movies. What a delightfully cheesy way to catch a little Christmas joy. A Royal Christmas and Christmas Underwraps (LOVE Candace Cameron Bure) did not disappoint: sweet, predictable, and made me smile. It was up and at them for some food love – Gumbo. I have used a version of this recipe I originally tore out year’s ago from Cook’s Illustrated by America’s Test Kitchen, and those guys know their stuff. I have added chicken thigh meat over the years, but tonight we had a little duck thrown in.

Cajun Shrimp and Andouille Gumbo
Serves 4-6
Gather:
1/2 # gulf shrimp, shells removed and reserved, cut into pieces
1 3/4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup clam juice (on the canned food aisle, usually by tuna)
1 1/4 cups ice water
1/4 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 onion, fine dice
1 stalk celery, fine dice
1/2 green bell pepper, fine dice
1/2 red bell pepper, fine dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 ounces frozen okra, thawed
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme leaves
salt
pinch cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound smoked Andouille sausage
1/4 cup parsley leaves, minced
2 medium scallions, thinly sliced, green and white parts
black pepper
white rice

To Make:
Bring the reserved shrimp shells and vegetable stock to a boil, over medium-high heat. Reduce to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the stock, add ice water and clam juice. Add additional vegetable stock until you have 1 quart. Discard shells, and set aside.
Heat oil in a dutch oven or heavy saucepan over medium-high heat for 1 1/2 – 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and gradually stir in the flour with a wooden spoon, making sure to work out any lumps that may form. Continue stirring constantly for about 20 minutes until the roux has a toasty aroma and is deep reddish brown. Don’t try to rush it. The roux will thin as it cooks, and if it begins to smoke, remove from heat and stir so it cools slightly.
Add onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic, okra, thyme, salt and cayenne to the roux and cook, until the vegetables soften. Attend to them, stirring frequently. This should take 10-15 minutes. Add the stock, while stirring continuously. Increase the heat to high, and skim any foam that rises to the surface. Add the bay leaf, and simmer, uncovered (keep skimming foam) for 30 minutes.
Add in sausage, and continue simmering another 30 minutes. Start the rice. Stir in the shrimp and simmer until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, add in the parsley, scallions, and season with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.
Spoon over rice.
Now there’s time for more Christmas movies. I’m thinking on to the classics – White Christmas and maybe A Christmas Carol.

“God Bless Us, Every One!”

Our Favorite Christmas Recipes

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Drawing by KB

These are just a few recipes that my holiday wouldn’t be complete without. Please tell me, what are your family’s must have holiday dishes?!

B’s Christmas Sticks
I call them B’s because my cousin, B usually ate most of them when we were growing up.
Gather:
1 bag Pretzel rods
Finely grated (to powder) Parmesan cheese
Bacon (thick cut does not work well here)
To Make:
Wrap pretzel in a slice of bacon, roll in Parmesan. Place on cooling rack placed in foil lined pan and bake at 375-400 about 20 minutes or until bacon is crisp.

Sausage balls
A stable at our table. Man’s request…usually made with venison sausage.
Gather:
2 pounds bulk breakfast sausage
4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated (this is not the time for pre-shredded, the anti caking agents do not work in your favor)
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1 Tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
To Make:
Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl; using hands, combine well. Form into 1 inch balls ( I like to use a cookie scoop). This is a dry dough, you may have to work for the last few. Place on ungreased baking sheet; bake 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from pan.

Roasted pears & cranberries
My favorite way to enjoy this bright tart winter fruit.
Gather:
Two pears, chopped
1 bag fresh cranberries
Zest of one orange
Drizzle of honey, couple of pads of butter
To Make:
Toss ingredients together and roast together at 375 for about 20 minutes.

Mulled Glow Wine
One Germanic tradition that is OK in my book….leaves you feeling warm, toasty, and in a holiday mood.
1 peel orange peel
12 whole cloves
1 vanilla bean
1 star anise
4 cinnamon sticks
1 bottle Gluhwein
Simmer all ingredients in a heavy saucepan at least an hour.

LOVE these Fresh Cranberry Scones from Sweet Pea’s Kitchen.

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Eat, Drink & Be Merry Merry!