Things I Love Thursday: Popcorn

I’ve become addicted to popcorn lately. And not just any kind of popcorn. I want fresh popped popcorn. Not microwave popcorn. Not even movie popcorn. I want it fresh popped on the stove.

I started popping my popcorn on the stove a few months ago. It’s SO easy and SO much cheaper. You put a bit of oil on the bottom of your pot, pour in some kernels and turn on medium heat. Then, you wait. Once you hear/see the first pop, you plop the top on and shake. And, you don’t have to shake hard. You just have to keep the kernels moving a bit. Please note that you put the top on once it’s started popping and not before. Condensation occurs and will totally mess up the process if you put the top on too soon. And, make sure you take off the top as soon as it’s done popping, or you have soggy popcorn.

One of the coolest things about popping popcorn fresh is that you have total control over how much you make. You can make a little or a lot. It’s totally up to you. Just make sure you don’t ~ahem~ put too much in or it pushes the top off the pot.

I serve it with a little bit of butter and salt. Yummmm….

So, how do you like your popcorn popped?

Linked to Things I Love Thursday.

German Apple Cake

We had a serious amount of apple goodness going on in the House of Hills this past week. The Princess and I went apple picking last Saturday and came home with a *ahem* few apples to use. One of the things I knew I wanted to make was this German Apple Cake. I found this recipe two years ago during Johnny Appleseed week when the Princess was in first grade. I needed something easy to send in for the kiddies.

Over the last two years, the recipe has evolved as I’ve made it for the office, for small group, for friends and neighbors, for LOTS of folks. The BEST part about this recipe is that it FREEZES BEAUTIFULLY!

With the massive amount of apples I had on hand, I decided to triple the recipe. I made one batch in a 9×13 pan to take to the office and split the other batches into two smaller pans each. That allowed me to have more in the freezer to share.

I cut my apples (I don’t peel them.) and combined my dry ingredients in three separate batches. I’ve learned that in order to keep the distribution of the apple chunks even, it’s better to mix each batch as it’s own.

I set up my wet ingredients (and sugar) next to the stand mixer. The original recipe called for one cup of oil, but I split that into 1/2 cup of oil and 1/2 cup of the Crock Pot Applesauce that had just finished cooking and was filling my kitchen with the most amazing smells.

When I was finished, I had five very lovely apple cakes to share. I iced the 9×13 with cream cheese frosting (from the tub – I know terrible) to take to work the next day. I covered and froze the rest.

I delivered food to a friend today and brought a tub of cream cheese frosting with me. When she saw the tub, her eyes lit up and she said, “Does that mean there’s apple cake! Don’t put that in the freezer.” I told you. It’s good stuff.

2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup applesauce
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups apples

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour one 9×13 pan or two smaller pans.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat oil, applesauce and eggs with an electric mixer until creamy.
Add the sugar and vanilla and beat well.
3. Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and ground cinnamon together in
a bowl. Slowly add this mixture to the egg mixture and mix until
combined. The batter will be very thick. Fold in the apples by hand
using a wooden spoon. Spread batter into the prepared pan.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until cake tests done.
5. Let cake cool on a wire rack. Once the cake is cool, serve it with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar or with a Cream Cheese Frosting.

Crockpot Applesauce

The Princess and I went apple picking last weekend. We not only had a great time picking the apples, we also got a great deal on huge bags of apples from their store. While I was there, I texted with my mom to see if she wanted some apples to make applesauce. She did and told me EXACTLY which types to get as instructed by her cousin Hazel. (Hazel has lived on a farm for like her entire life, and I totally trust her for all things homemade.) So, when I got home, I went looking for an EASY applesauce recipe. I mean I needed it to be EASY since I don’t have any special apple cutting, mashing, straining equipment.

I quickly found a recipe for Crock Pot Applesauce from FishMama. She never disappoints. It literally was apples, water, and optional sugar. That worked for me.

The recipe calls for 16 apples. I used 8 GOLDEN DELICIOUS 8 STAYMAN WINESAP apples. I used my Pampered Chef corer to core and cut each apple. Then I pealed each piece. Could I have done this another way? I’m sure I could have, but this worked for me. I was watching football while I was peeling, so it went quick.

I then put all the apples in the crockpot with 1/4 cup of water and let them cook on high for 4 hours. At hour 3, they started to bubble a bit, so I took a fork and mixed them. They were already falling apart. By hour 4, they were total mush. I didn’t even have to mash. I literally just mixed the entire pot with a fork.

Then, I had to decide if I wanted to add sugar. So, I took a taste. OH. MY. WORD. It was SO GOOD. Like, I spooned out a bowl and ate it right then. It didn’t need anything – no sugar – no cinnamon. It was pure God made goodness.

Now, what’s really funny is…nobody but me eats applesauce in our house. And, I don’t eat it that much. So why in the world would I spend time peeling all those apples and making homemade applesauce? Because I bake with it. A LOT! When a recipe calls for oil, I use half oil and half applesauce. Typically, I need 1/2 cup of applesauce for a recipe. So, I buy applesauce in those cute little cups. That can get pricey, and this homemade applesauce is WAY better than any store-bought applesauce. All the applesauce I made this week (2 batches) went into cute little 1/2 cup containers and put in the freezer.

Well, except for the couple bowls I had to eat. I’m telling you – it’s delicious. I might have to go get one right now.

Works For Me Wednesday: Brinner

We love “Brinner” at our house – that’s breakfast for dinner in case you didn’t know. I used to consider it wimping out on dinner. Taking the easy way. However, it’s become something that I actually meal plan for. I pull the bacon out of the freezer with the intention of using it for “Brinner.””

Typical “Brinner” at the House of Hills consists of scrambled eggs (with a bit of cheese), bacon or sausage and …..


We love us some pancakes at the House of Hills. The Princess eats them with just butter. My sweetie cuts them into strips and dips them in warm syrup. I used to drown mine in syrup. Now, I just give it a bit – I’m Losing It! you know. I’m currently using the pancake recipe that I got from a recent issue of Food Network Magazine. It’s fun and there are lots of variations.

Do you have a favorite pancake recipe? I’m always looking for a better one.

The best thing about “Brinner” is that it makes my family smile. And My Sweetie never fails to tweet about, which means he’s a happy man.

“Brinner” – it works for me.
Linked to Works For Me Wednesday

Bulk Buying Meat

We were almost out of meat at the House of Hills. Being out of meat would be a TRAGEDY! I am pretty much never out of meat. I always have some in the freezer. ALWAYS! That is because I bulk buy my meat.

There are several places to bulk buy meat. I purchase a good bit of my meat at BJs – our local warehouse store. Some people arrange with farmers and buy half a cow. Once I have an outside stand up freezer, I am SO doing that. I also watch for meat on sale at the local grocery and stock up when it’s a really great deal. The goal for me is to always have my freezer full of protiens so that I’m not having to run out to buy a particular meat WHEN IT IS NOT ON SALE in order to feed my family. I HATE paying full price for meat.

Today I bought:
Package of chicken breasts – at BJs- it’s already pre-portioned into 2 breast packages
Package of chicken thighs – at BJs – it’s already pre-portioned into 3-4 thigh packages
Ground Beef – at BJs – 4lbs
Bratwurst – at BJs- 12 in a package
Lil’ Smokies (beef) – at BJs – 2 pack
Mild Italian Sausage – at Publix – on sale – 5 in package
Hot Italian Sausage – at Publix – Manager’s Special – 5 in a package – bought 2

I got home with all this meat and had to do something with it. You can’t just stick those big packages of meat in the freezer. They have to be broken up in to usable portions. It takes a little bit of time on this end, but when it comes to meal prep, it makes it SO MUCH EASIER.

I took 1 pound of ground beef, 2 mild sausages (out of casing) and 1 hot sausage (out of casing) and put them in the frying pan to cook real quick. Once that mixture was done and drained, I froze half with the label, “meat for spaghetti sauce” and put the other half in the crock pot. I added a jar of spaghetti sauce I’d picked up BOGO, a can of petite diced tomatoes from the pantry, some seasonings, and some mushrooms. That’s cooking nicely for dinner tonight. We haven’t had spaghetti in forever!

I took 2 pounds of ground beef and mixed up some blue cheese burgers, made the patties, and put them in a Tupperware container. My Sweetie will grill those tomorrow night for dinner. We’ve found that the patties stay together better if they’ve had time to rest as patties.

I broke down the chicken and put the majority of the pre-portioned packages in the freezer to be used another time. I did save four chicken breasts to grill tomorrow night with the burgers. I went ahead and mixed up my favorite marinade, added the chicken and put it in the fridge next to the burgers. Sometimes when I bulk buy chicken, I’ll use one of my favorite freezer cooking tips and cook some in the crock pot to be used in casseroles.

I put the last pound of ground beef in a freezer bag. I put the rest of the italian sausage in freezer bags (3 per bag). I broke down the bratwurst package and put 4 brats per freezer bag. Then, I put all that in the freezer.

My freezer now has PLENTY of meat in it. Whoop! When I sit down to menu plan for the next few weeks, it will be easy. I’ll just check the freezer to see what I have and decide what to cook from there. No shopping each week for full-priced meats.

Do you bulk buy your meat? Where do you get the best deals?

Things I Love Thursday: Food Network Magazine

There has been a serious food theme lately here at the House of Hills so I thought I would share my FAVORITE cooking magazine with you.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Food Network Magazine. Love it!

When the last issue arrive in the mail last week, I actually had to fight My Sweetie for it. Not really fight, more like we both wanted to read it and we had to take turns. This month’s issue has lots of burger recipes in it. Hello! Who doesn’t love burger recipes! I can honestly say that I sit and read this magazine cover to cover within twenty-four hours of it coming in my door. LOVE it!

Here are some of my favorite things.

1. The layout is AWESOME. They have some amazing people working on this magazine. Recipes have great pictures. Everything is easy to read and find. It’s great.

2. Each issue has this fun insert in the center – like a mini-cookbook you can pull out. It always has fifty recipes of their highlighted food in it. This month’s is burgers. Fifty different variations of a burger – cool! A previous month had pancakes and waffles. Their whole-wheat pancake recipe is now my go-to recipe. It’s yummy. There have been all kinds of neat things. I pull all these out and put them with my cookbooks.

3. There is a “Weeknight” and a “Weekend” cooking section. They have great recipes. The weeknight ones are of course easier and take less time while the weekend ones are a bit more involved and are usually something you might not have tried but would like to.

4. All my favorite Food Network Stars are in there. I heart them.

This is also one of my favorite magazines to take to the pool and share with the neighbors. We all get great ideas out of it, and it starts great food discussions. I so enjoy talking about food.

Do you get Food Network Magazine? What do you love about it?

Linked to Things I Love Thursday.

This is just my opinion. I pay for my magazine. Nothing for free here. **sigh**

What to serve? Southern Style.

The Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming! Well, a few of them. The Yankee branch of the family is coming down for our family reunion in June. My mom was born and bred in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Then, she migrated south and stayed. Most of these folks have never been to the true South (Florida doesn’t count). We want to show them some serious Southern hospitality.

Yesterday, my mom and I were working on the menu for the weekend. We, of course, want to introduce them to some Southern Favorites.

So, when you think of Southern food, what do you think of?

What should we be sure to include?

Got any recipes to share?

Help a girl out here!

The BEST way to eat a cupcake.

CUPCAKES! They have become a HUGE deal lately. People are serving cupcakes rather than cake at all kinds of parties. What used to be something just for kids to take to school for their birthdays have become amazing gifts of glorious baked deliciousness! When we were in Franklin for our couples weekend, we got five and ate them all. They were SO good.

HOWEVER, the question is – Do you know how to eat a cupcake? There is one way that is the best way. Do you know what it is? I had to teach a group of my hubby’s co-workers last week. They were so impressed, they took my picture with the cupcake.

So, I thought I would show you. Here is the process:

Peel the wrapper off the cupcake.

Tear the cupcake in half.

Place the bottom of the cupcake on top of the icing so that you have a sandwich.

Take a YUMMY bite where you get plenty of cake and icing balance!

There you have it! The BEST way to eat a cupcake. The ONLY way as far as I’m concerned. What’s really funny is that my hubby found a blog post from this famous LOSTIE giving the same directions on how to eat a cupcake. See, I should be famous.

How do you eat a cupcake?
What’s your favorite kind of cupcake?

Baking Day Today

It’s no secret I love to bake. Love, love, love it. It helps me relax. It makes other people happy (unless they’re counting calories of course).

Today has been a baking day. I needed to de-stress a little bit, and lots of folks from work are coming into town for our conference this next week. They aren’t in the office regularly so don’t get to sample my goodies on an almost weekly basis. I promised I’d bake for them the next time they were in town. It’s a win-win situation.

Here’s what I made today.

Two batches of banana nut muffins with chocolate chips

Two batches of chocolate chip cookies – I use butter flavored Crisco rather than butter

Peanut butter kiss cookies – I totally cheat and use Betty Crocker cookie mix

Apple cake

Cocoa Krispie Treats

Still thinking about making scotcheroos and buckeyes.

What are you doing on this rainy (if you’re in the Southeast) Saturday?

Once A Month Mom Cook Off: The Review

Whew! I did it!!! I made twenty-five meals plus some breakfasts in about 6 hours. Wahooo!

I started my cooking day at 6:30AM. Yes, I know that’s early. However, the Princess is up at 6:00 usually – even on a Saturday. I figured since I was up, I might as well get started. I had my plan in place. I just had to execute it.

The plan actually started Thursday night. That’s the night I went shopping. I twittered that I was shopping for the cook off and even got encouragement from the Once A Month Mom herself. I felt so honored.

I came home with my goodies, and immediately put all the chicken in the crock pot to cook overnight. It is recommended that you put water in with the chicken. I don’t use water. I use Kraft Zesty Italian dressing that I get on sale and with coupons. So, I always have lots in my pantry. For a full crock pot of chicken, I used a whole bottle of dressing. I really like the flavor it gives the chicken. I had never done chicken overnight before. It worked well. The only issue was that the house smelled SERIOUSLY of chicken the next morning. If I had been pregnant and smelling that on an empty stomach, I would have been heaving. As it was, I was slightly queasy. But, the chicken was done! I shredded it Friday morning and put it in the fridge.

My plan was to make the granola Friday night, but that didn’t happen. I had an INSANE work week and was just plain beat by Friday night. I did manage to get the ground beef into the crock pots, and that cooked overnight to be ready in the morning. We had the same smell issue the next morning, but it wasn’t as disturbing as the chicken. And, I was thankful that all the ground beef was cooked. I think in the future, I’ll cook the meat during the day before so as not to deal with the smell issue and then just refrigerate until I am ready to cook.

I had chosen recipes with very little chopping of veggies needed. This was just perchance. I didn’t plan it that way. I did need some onions, but I cheated and just used frozen ones I had purchased at Publix. They’re not as strong in flavor as fresh chopped onions, which My Sweetie actually prefers. I also needed some chopped garlic. Again, I cheated and used the stuff from the jar. So, the only real chopping I had to do on cooking day was some green onions.

I started the morning making pancakes. I had originally planned on making Banana Pancakes, but the Princess wanted some pancakes for breakfast, and I knew she wouldn’t eat the banana ones. So, I just made plain ones using the same recipe. I did however use half wheat flour and half unbleached – trying to get them a bit healthier. They were very good!! We had some for breakfast, and I got 4 BAGS for the freezer.

After I had fed the family, I quickly mixed up a Quiche and put it in the oven. Once it had cooled, I cut it into six pieces for six breakfasts for me at the office. Next, I mixed up the Granola and got that into the oven. That granola – it BE GOOD! My Sweetie had some last night, and I had some this morning with my yogurt. Yummy! It made enough to fill a Tupperware large oval modular mate.

I started the meal preparation off easy by making the two dishes I had chosen that just needed marinades and then went straight to the freezer. I whipped up the Pork Chop Marinade from The Big Cook cookbook and the Asian Pork Loin Marinade from the $5 Dinners cookbook. That was a quick six meals prepared.

I then moved on to the ground beef portion of the morning. I made a triple batch of Ziti. (The noodles had been boiling while the marinade prep was happening.) It made six pans to give away – I usually give away ziti to those who need a meal. I also made one large pan for small group Monday night. I’m really thankful I remembered I was in charge of food this week! Because I added a bit more meat to the small group pan (those men love some meat), I only had enough meat to make two batches of Sloppy Joes (from The Big Cook).

Once I had used up all my ground beef, I pulled out my massive container of shredded chicken. I mixed the topping for the Chicken Ranch Pizza, but didn’t use tomatoes. The House of Hills is not a fan of tomatoes in their natural state. Add a bit of sugar and make some ketchup – then we’re happy. I filled four quart baggies with topping. I then combined everything but the black beans together for Chicken and Black Bean Quesadillas. I already have black beans in the freezer, so I’ll just pull a bag of this mixture and a bag of black beans when I’m ready to make the quesadillas. I made enough for six meals.

My final project for the day was Pizza Crusts. They were so EASY to make. I will never buy pizza crust again. And, I used half whole wheat and half unbleached flour, making them better for us than the ones at the store. Those went into the freezer, and I can’t wait to use them.

That was it! During that whole cooking morning, I also helped the Princess do her project for school, made lunch,did two loads of laundry, and cleaned the kitchen as I went. I took my apron off at 1:00, six-and-half hours after I had put it on. 25 MEALS IN SIX HOURS. Not bad for a day’s work. It would take me much longer than that if I made them individually.

How much did these meals cost me? More than they should have. I did the bulk of my shopping on the Thursday before cooking at Publix. I had some coupons, but I wasn’t shopping smart. I was shopping because I needed stuff. NOT the best way to shop. If I had planned better, I would have gotten the pork loin and ground beef at BJs. I would have gone to the Tyson factory and picked up frozen chicken breasts for pennies a piece. I would have been watching the sales all month for what I needed. I would have decided what I was going to cook at the beginning of the month instead of days before. That’s the way Once A Month Mom teaches us. I did not obey teacher. So, I paid more.

I spent $160 on stuff for the cooking day at Publix on Thursday. I already had the pork chops in my fridge and used baking supplies from the pantry. So, let’s say a total of $180 spent. That’s $7.20 a meal. Not bad, but it could be SO MUCH BETTER. I’ve challenged myself that next month I’ll get it cheaper.

Oh yes, I will be doing this next month, and the next one, and the next one. Why? Because it just makes sense to me. I’d rather cook for six hours one day than twenty-five spread out throughout the month. I’d rather have a meal in my freezer to give a friend in need than spend a small fortune picking her up something at the store. And the biggest reason, I HATE not knowing what’s for dinner. HATE IT! I LOVE making my meal plan for the week and just figuring out what I’m going to pull from the freezer. That makes me SO HAPPY and calm and peaceful. Ahhhhh…

If you’ve never cooked in bulk, I recommend you try it. It could change your life – really.

I almost forgot. The coolest thing about doing the cooking THIS WEEKEND!! I can enter this post in the Cook Off contest going on over at Once A Month Mom. I might win a food processor! I SO NEED ONE!

There were going to be pictures right here, but for some reason my computer is NOT cooperating with me at the moment. I will add them when I can.