Thursday, December 31, 2015

Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries

I have always been a bit of a fan of chocolate covered cherries.  You know the ones that come in the boxes and are full of gooey filling.  If something store bought is okay, it will be much better when homemade.  I used the recipe found here.  It is fairly inexpensive and pretty simple too.

I bought a big jar of maraschino cherries from Sam's Club.  The first step was to count out about 60 cherries and put them on paper towels to drain.  You want most of the juice off them but do not stress about getting them completely dry.

Next mix the butter, corn syrup, and powdered sugar together.  I used my KitchenAid.  You want it to be mostly mixed but do not need it to be completely smooth.  Dump it out on a piece of waxed or parchment paper.

At this point you can knead it a few times until it becomes smooth.

If it is too soft at this point, pop it in the fridge until it firms up.  Some people roll it out into a sheet and cut out little circles.  I opted to just pinch off pieces and flatten them out.

Choose a cherry and wrap it completely in the sugar "dough".

Once all of the cherries are wrapped, put them into the fridge or freezer to firm up and set.

The final step of course is to dip the cherries in chocolate.  You want to do your best completely cover the sugar coating.  Again do not stress if a bit of the sugar is showing.

The original recipe instructs cooks to let the cherries sit for 2 weeks for the sugar to turn to goo.  I found that it only took 3 days.  I am not sure what the reason was.  It reminds me of an episode of the Golden Girls when Blanche says "We mature faster in the South.  I think its the heat.".  Maybe it is the heat or humidity.  Definitely keep an eye on them.  At two weeks mine would have been a runny mess.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Weekly Savings

I am going to try to cover the past couple of weeks of savings.

Two weeks ago I took our new cat, Thea, and the neighborhood stray, JJ, to a low cost clinic to be spayed and neutered respectively.  To give you an idea of the savings - I would have paid $110 to have Thea spayed at the vet's office.  At the clinic I paid $35 to have her spayed and given a rabies shot.  I saved enough on her to have JJ neutered.  A side benefit is that he has decided to stay at my house now and will hopefully have a peaceful life from here on out.

After my one big grocery shop at the beginning of December, I did no shopping for 3 weeks.  I did go earlier this week and spent $50.  That will cover the next two weeks and then some.  I bought chicken tenderloins marked down.  They were my favorite not full of antibiotics/steroid brand.  I prepped them to be baked as crunchy chicken tender and put them in the freezer.

We stuck to a modest Christmas budget this year.  I made several gifts.  The crochet purses I did for the 6 little girls in my family were a big hit on my side.  W and I opted not to buy gifts for each other and focused on saving for the new house instead.

I have spent some time each day working on Swagbucks.  I have made my goal each day so far.  I am using the gift cards I earn to buy some things for the new house.

I bought some clothing from TredUp during a sale with free shipping.  I got a dress, two skirts, and four tops.  The tops and skirts can be mixed and matched with each other as well as things already in my closet.

I am using some yarn scraps to crochet hair bows to put in the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  I already have some alligator clips on hand.

The mild weather means the garden is still producing.  I picked lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes.  I picked a cabbage (winter crop here) and gave some of the outside leaves to the rabbits as a treat.

I used a few gift cards to get more free magazine subscriptions.  I downloaded several free books.

Those are the top ones.  I stayed home for the most part which is a major savings in itself.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Book Review: Thread and Gone

Thread and Gone by Lea Wait was a cozy mystery and history lesson all rolled into one.  This book from the Mainely Needlepoint Mystery series easily stands on its own which is always a plus for me. Angie Curtis is the main character in this needlepoint themed mystery.  What starts with research on a piece of antique needlepoint quickly turns into something more when a local lawyer is murdered.

The author weaves in information about needlepointing as well as history lesson on Mary, Queen of Scots.  I have only a passing interest in needlepoint, but the book was held my attention.  The characters are easy to like and quickly felt like old friends. While not one of my all-time favorites, I would read more of the series if given the chance.

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Book Review: Happy Herbivore Holidays and Gatherings

If you ever had the opportunity to meet my family, you would find any Happy Herbivore book an unusual choice.  I was excited to read Happy Herbivore Holidays and Gatherings though.  While I am not against eating meat, I could do without it at most meals.  I find nothing wrong with tossing in a plant based side dish to my family's holiday meals.

I knew the book would be good when I saw the recipe for cranberry sauce.  The ingredients are fresh cranberries, sweetener, and an orange (plus some water).  By sweetener the recipe means a few tablespoons of maple syrup.  I could easily eat cranberry sauce with no sweetener, but I do add a little for the sake of others.

The recipes are divided into sections by holiday/occasion.  While not everything would appeal to my family, the cowboy caviar in the New Year's Eve section would be a hit with everyone.  The Homemade Spaghetti Ohs would be a good thing for W and much healthier than the canned variety.  I am anxious to try the Cola Barbecue Sauce.

Is this cookbook for everyone?  No.  I do think it has a wide enough variety of recipes that those looking into a plant based diet would be interested.  I think someone who is already an herbivore would get the most use out of the cookbook.  It gives me some ideas for incorporating meatless and vegan meals.

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Help Wanted

Help Wanted:  Desperately need someone willing to slap my hand the next time I even think about ordering another cookbook.  

I mentioned over the weekend that I have been on a cookbook kick recently.  I think I need a self-help group for people addicted to cookbooks.  Admitting a problem is the first step right.  I thought I was doing god when I avoided ordering a cookbook just to use the the 25% off discount.  After that I fell off the wagon.  Curious what cookbooks I bought over the past couple of weeks.  Here they are:

In my defense (hmmm....rationalization), this book has been on my wish list for several years.  This was not a snap purchase decision.  This price had dropped to a point that I could not pass up.  The book has step-by-step photos for several recipes and offers thorough directions.  It truly does focus on techniques as much as the recipes.  A bonus for me is that the recipes use basic ingredients. 

This was a total impulse purchase.  It was a Kindle Daily Deal over the weekend. I bought it as much to read as I did for the recipes.  I have not had time to read it and have not even flipped through it other than the very beginning.  It looks interesting and worth the bargain price.

Simply Suppers by Jennifer Chandler
This was another daily deal bargain.  I have already chosen several recipes to try.  It is a great little book with mostly basic ingredients.  This was a good purchase.

Simply Salads by Jennifer Chandler
This book was worth the daily deal price for the salad dressing recipes alone.  I started making homemade salad dressings a year or so ago.  Store bought dressings cannot even begin to compare to homemade dressings.  W strictly eats ranch, but I like to branch out and use different dressings.  This book is one of my favorite purchases.

The Blue Willow Inn Bible of Southern Cooking by Louis and Billie Van Dyke
A few reviewers gave this book bad reviews for not being true Southern cooking.  My very Southern granny cooked every day for her family and the farm workers, and I can see her making the recipes from this book.  While I did recognize a few, there were many that were new to me.  Another daily deal book that was worth the price.

Aunt Bee's Mayberry Cookbook by Ken Beck and Jim Clark
This is my least favorite cookbook purchase.  It is not to say that it is not good - recipes with a healthy dose of Mayberry thrown in.  I am just not loving the recipes.  It is the only one I would un-purchase if possible.  As it was a daily deal, I feel like I can get my money's worth out of it though.

Secrets of a Jewish Baker by George Greenstein
This has been on my wish list since I read A Jewish Baker's Pastry Secrets.  The e-book is currently $1.99 which was much too good for me to pass up especially considering that the used copies of the book are over $16.  The recipes are great, and the tips sprinkled throughout are are invaluable.  The breads are broken down with directions for hand, food processor, and stand mixer versions.

I was introduced to Mary Berry by The Great British Baking Show.  W and I both enjoy the show.  Part of the allure is the recipes and part of it is just how nice the contestants are. Have you ever seen American competition contestants with such manners and courtesy?  Mary's recipes do not disappoint.  Once again the recipes contain basic (or easily accessible) ingredients.  This e-book is also currently priced at $1.99.

Madeleines by Barbara Feldman Morse
Madeleines are one of my favorite desserts.  W is not a fan which means anytime I bake them they are all mine.  I had bought We Love Madeleines about a year ago.  It is a good basic madeleine recipe book.  Madelienes takes it to a whole new level.  The flavor combinations are amazing.  The book opens with helpful hints and tips on baking the best madeleines.  The author offers a classic method and a one-bowl method for mixing madeleines.  At the current price of $2.39, the book is a true treasure.

Now you can see why I have a problem.  I think it is safe to say you can expect some recipe reviews over the next few months (years!).  Since we are still in super saver mode, all of these purchases came from my allowance.  

To keep myself in check:  I hereby promise to keep my cookbook purchases over the next year to a minimum.  (Notice I did not promise to not buy any cookbooks.  I am keeping this realistic.)  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Weekly Savings

I have not done a weekly savings post in a while.  Honestly with everything we are spending on the house, I do not feel like I am saving at all.  I know that is not true.  Otherwise we would not be as far along as we are on the new house without borrowing any money.

I finally sat down and made a menu for the remainder of this month through the first of the new year.  I do not like going to the grocery store around the holidays.  I ended up doing one big shop.  Aside from a quick stop for a few perishables, my plan is to stay out of the grocery store.

I ordered a holiday blend of essential oils from Plant Therapy.  I took advantage of a sale to get a discount.  I no longer use artificial air fresheners or candles due to my allergies.  A few drops in the diffuser makes the house smell like the holidays.  The one bottle will last much longer than a purchased plug in air freshener would.  

The weather continues to be mild here.  Other than warming up the bathroom a bit a few times (using the electric) heater, we have not used any heat or air conditioning recently.  

I weeded the red onions I planted earlier in the fall.  The chickens continue to keep the weeds out of the pepper plants, which are still bearing.  

I purchased bar stools for the new house during Kohl's Black Friday sale.  I then used the Kohl's Cash I earned to buy a welcome mat, shower curtain liner, soap dispensers, toothbrush holder, and bathroom rug for $27 (which was less than the original cost of the welcome mat).  I intentionally chose basic items I knew I would be purchasing anyway.  Everything is basic colors since I am not ready to think about decorating and design yet.  At this point it is all function!

I got a shower head for the second bathroom for free thanks to Swagbucks!  

I won an Amazon gift card in a blog giveaway.  Entering took just a few minutes of my time.  This will go toward purchasing some faucet for the new house.

I guess I have managed to save some money over the past few weeks.  Of course, I have been doing the usual - cooking at home, hanging clothes to dry, using rags for cleaning rather than paper towels, etc.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Book Review: Happy Cooking

I have been on a cookbook kick lately.  We will not even discuss the number of cookbooks I have acquired in the past few weeks.  While picking out new cookbooks recently, I have been drawn to ones that are outside what I might normally consider.  One of those is Happy Cooking:  Make Every Meal Count...Without Stressing Out by Giada De Laurentiis.  While Giada is a popular chef, she has never been one of my favorites.  Her new cookbook sounded interesting so in the spirit of expanding my horizons, I chose her new book.

I can happily admit that Giada and her new cookbook had more to offer than I expected.  Not all of the recipes went on my to try list, but I have yet to find any cookbook that had a 100% win rate.  I am sure the ones I am not a fan of are at the top of another reader's best list.

Frank's Bolognese is a simple recipe, and I already have all of the ingredients on hand.  I could easily make a meal of the Make It at Home Fried Rice.  The Warm and Spicy Popcorn would be a healthy snack.    I am not a fan of the fact that pictures of Ms. De Laurentiis are featured almost as prominently as the food.  I understand this is part of her celebrity appeal, but I got the book for the recipes and the food.  This is a nice book but would be one that I would prefer to borrow from the library rather than purchase.  

I can say that I am more interested in Giada De Laurentiis' cooking and will no longer simply pass by her cookbooks and recipes.  For that alone I think the cookbook did its job.  My horizons have expanded a bit more!

disclosure:  I received this book from Blogging for books but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Book Review: Life and Other Near-Death Experiences

I stepped outside of my reading comfort zone with Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan.  Libby Miller is an eternal optimist until one awful day brings her entire world crashing down.  She responds by abandoning her life and escaping to the Caribbean in an attempt to ignore everything that has gone wrong.  While this is not my usual genre, I was drawn into Libby's life and did not want to put the book down.  I thought about the decisions I would make if I were thrust into Libby's position.  I do not wish to give too much of the story away.  The book is a thought provoking journey through dark times.  It forces the reader to choose what things are truly important in life.  I was happy with my selection and can see I need to push myself a bit more often in my reading choices if they all turn out like this!

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Book Review: A Pain in the Tuchis

A Pain in the Tuchis by Mark Reutlinger is a fun cozy mystery that made me feel like I was having a visit with a Jewish grandmother.  The story is set at the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors.  It seamlessly blends two story lines into one book.  Vera Gold's death raises no alarms until her sister begs Mrs. K to investigate.  Readers are introduced to a variety of characters at the home through the narration of Ida.

I was pleased with the progression of the story and the way secondary events were introduced.  Mark Reutlinger has found a new fan in me.  While this was the second book in the Mrs. Kaplan Mystery series, it easily stands on its own.  I appreciate that as I do not often read series in order.

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Time Flies.

Rather than finish the quote I started in the title, I opted to put a period at the end.  These past few months it seems that time has flown by faster than normal.  I try to write my posts for the coming week on the weekends when I have some more free time.  The problem is that lately even my weekends are busy.  I am just in an extra busy time in my life.  I hope you, dear readers, will bear with me during these breaks.  I will post as often as I can and will hopefully settle into a new routine soon.  Thanks for your understanding!!