Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Recipes, Tips, and Tricks - Oh my!

As the holidays approach this year, I'm reminded of an interview I gave to my daughter Deb, for her blog The Queen Mommy in 2008.  I thought I'd share that interview here with you - my readers.  Enjoy!

Q: How do you prepare for your holiday activities (calendar, lists, etc.)?

I make notes on a desk calendar for any activities going on from day to day, including cookie baking, cookie exchanges, Christmas concerts, etc.

I keep a pocket file folder in my recipe drawer - I have many - but one I have marked "Holidays". I keep my favorite recipes there so I don't have to dig through all my recipes to try to find a holiday favorite. I also use small photo albums (you know - the inexpensive ones from my local dollar store or walmart) and place recipes from newspaper/magazines in them, and mark each of them with the kind of recipes they contain. I have one marked "Cookies" that I refer to often. Others are 'desserts' '9" X 13" pan desserts' 'snacks and appetizers', etc. etc. I stand these little albums on end so I can easily see the one I'm looking for.

I keep a Christmas Card record book from year to year - that way I can make changes in addresses when needed ( I include the year of change also), and I keep track of to whom I send to, and receive from. Most record books are good for 5-8 years. I keep a list of gifts I give to friends and customers from year to year so I will vary the kitchen 'goodies' I share with them and don't repeat - unless it's one of their favorites, which I record, also.

Q: What shortcuts and time savers do you rely on during your holiday preparations?

As I mentioned previously, I keep a list of recipes written out for review & reference. I try to make every minute count - get up and do something while a commercial comes on TV, and I always make myself lists so I can think of what I need to do next.

One thing I do to keep things moving along in the kitchen, is to keep hot sudsy water in the sink all the time I'm working there, and wash dishes when I have a minute in between things. It helps keep the counter cleared and dishes can dry (use HOT water to rinse) and you can put them away when you have another few minutes.

Sometimes, we just have to prioritize. I do that often during this very busy month. And I have to consider what REALLY needs to be done first - usually, according to the day of the week it needs to be ready. We gotta 'keep the main thing, the main thing'....I always record comments on new recipes - 'excellent'....'rubbery' (just did that today with a sugar free cookie I tried =) If the recipe isn't in a book, and I'm not wild about it, I usually throw it away and keep trying new ones.

Q: What homemade gifts do you like to give? How do you package them?

White Christmas Mix is a really yummy, easy, pretty holiday gift to give. Giving it in the holiday printed zipper-seal bags is nice because you can see how pretty the mix is. Even plain ziploc bags, decorated with curly ribbons is 'fun.'

Pretzel Pretties are fun to make with kids, and make a LOT so giving them away by themselves or along with other goodies is nice. If you can keep from eating them all…

Fruited Oatmeal Mix is a nice gift to give – it’s warm and filling and is a healthier option, too! It can be bagged and tucked into a pretty tin or given in a pretty gift jar.

Q: How do you prepare for last minute party invitations or gift ideas?

I buy things (on sale) throughout the year - candles, books, calendars, Avon, & clearance items I come across. I have two file drawers in my desk with gifts in them, so I can look through and see if I can find anything 'fitting' for the person I desire it for. And I always have something edible made up - even if it's in the freezer.


1 lb. white chocolate (or vanilla almond bark)
Melt in double boiler or microwave according to directions

Mix together:
3 cups Rice Chex
3 cups Corn Chex (or combined - 6 cups crispix cereal)
3 cups Cheerios
2 cups mini pretzels
2 cups peanuts
1 lg. bag of M & M's - plain or peanut (optional) (We love using the holiday mix)

Pour white chocolate over everything and mix well. Let dry and place into gift containers.


13 oz bag Rolos (or 6-7 rolls)
1 bag tiny twists pretzels
1 bag peanut M & M's - we like to use holiday colored ones

Line cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper. Lay out pretzels, place one unwrapped rolo on top of Pretzel. Bake at 300 for 5 -6 minutes or until chocolate becomes shiny.

Take out of oven, place M&M on each one, smashing down rolo. Let cool for 10 minutes, then place entire sheet in fridge or cold room to set for at least 1 hour. This is so great because you can make few or many at a time. A cookie sheet full will make 70-90 treats. May also top with pecan halves instead of M & M's.


6 cups quick cooking oats
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried apples or dried banana chips or any dried diced fruit
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 tsps. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt

(Yield: 7 cups of mix/two batches - each makes 7 servings of oatmeal)

Directions to include with gift:

For each serving:
1/2 cup fruited oatmeal mix
3/4 cup water

In a deep microwave-safe bowl, combine mix and water. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 45 seconds; stir. Cook 20-30 seconds longer or until bubbly.  Let stand for 1 - 2 minutes.

A healthy gift - I use splenda, splenda brown sugar, and reduced sodium salt....Delicious!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

My First Interview with The Queen Mommy

Last year, my daughter Deb asked if she could interview me for a few Christmas posts at her blog, The Queen Mommys Cafe.  She asked the questions and I gave the answers. This is the first part of the interview, and I wanted to share it with you this Christmas season...

1) I'd like to start off by asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself, Queen Martha.

I wear a lot of 'hats' in my world, but my favorites are wearing my wife, mom & nana hats. What a privilege to be given those special places of honor. When I was a kid, my mom spent much time at the sewing machine, so I would work in the kitchen. I developed a love for making dishes then, and even more, after marrying a man who is willing to try anything, and then enjoying hosting company, who enjoyed the recipes I shared. It's just kinda snowballed since then.

God has given me the gift of encouragement, and so I spend a few hours a day at the computer, along with several hours a week, at the dining room table, where I enjoy writing out cards to mail to help brighten days for dear ones in my life.

I had a story published in Christian Miracles...Amazing stories of God's Helping Hand in Our Everyday Lives in 2005. I won $100 for a recipe contest in American Profile - a paper magazine distributed in newspapers nationally - for butternut squash bake in 2006. That, plus 5 other recipes of mine were included in their Holiday Cookbook in 2007. I've publicly shared our life's 'God-story' a few times, and have spoken for Mother's Day dinners and also shared encouragement ministry ideas.

I love to say "I'm not a professional speaker, but I AM a professional talker".

2) What are your favorite childhood Christmas memories? What are your favorite Christmas memories as a mom?

I do think my most favorite Christmas memory as a child is the year I realized there wasn't a Santa. My mom had made my older foster sister and me matching plaid nighties, and it dawned on me (though I hadn't had a glimpse of her making them, that SHE made them. I was probably 10 or 11.) Holidays celebrated with the aunts and uncles on both/either sides of the families are special memories also. I've always been so saddened that my own children missed out on those growing up times with family that I so enjoyed...since we were military and lived far from home. We rarely had $funds$ to make it home for the holidays very often.

My favorite Christmas as a mom is tough - I loved them all. Having my children help as we 'worked' together doing the decorating was always so much fun. The music going, the candles burning, as we sampled goodies we'd already made....those are all my favorites.
3) What are your favorite things to do during the holiday season? How do you prepare for them? What tips & tricks can you share about making your preparations simple and time-saving?

I LOVE baking - trying new recipes, a few times a week, and sharing the goods. I begin stocking up on baking items - chocolate chips, nuts, brown and powdered sugars, etc. when they're on sale - probably beginning in October. I usually have an extra 5# bag of flour in the freezer, so I don't run short at the last minute. Shopping with coupons, especially with store sales, and shopping at discount stores like Aldi's, Big Lots, or Sam's Club can really help me get stocked up.

I keep a few lists going at once....I have a running grocery list...I taught my kids when they were younger, to add to the list when they used the last of something, and that really helped keep on top of things.

Now, that I no longer have those ready and helping hands, every day at least, I keep a list handy where I can write things down when I realize I'm almost out. I like to have the salt, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, out on the counter ready to be measured. After I've used it, I set it on a different place in the counter, so I know it's already been used...just in case I get interrupted in the middle of what I'm doing.

Because I have many cookbooks, and love to sit and read them, I keep a running list of recipes I want to try, with cookbook name, and page number handy, so when the mood strikes, I can review my list and decide which one would work best for my time frame.

I do have a kitchen drawer full of recipe files and collected recipe cards that I use most frequently. It's where I also keep my most recent cookbook magazines. And I normally have a pile of recipes on the countertop...sometimes I need to see the recipe to be reminded of it, and that seems to work for me, since I do have enough countertop to do that.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Making Your Own Cleaners

Yep, just 3 simple ingredients and water and you can make your own laminate floor cleaner that will WOW everyone! 

When we sold our house recently, the realtor and purchaser both begged to know what I used on my laminate floor because it had such an awesome shine.  I think it was a real selling point!! 

Needless to say, they both wrote the recipe down! 

It nearly brought me to my knees to have to pay high dollar for my laminate floor cleaner, so you can imagine the thrill it was to find a homemade recipe....especially one that worked so nicely!


1 cup water
1 cup rubbing alcohol
1 cup white vinegar
1 Tb. liquid dish soap
1 qt. spray bottle 

Mix together and put into a spray bottle.  Use as you would purchased cleaner - and enjoy the $$ savings!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tips for Money-Wise Meals - #2

So we continue with thoughts to help you with meal planning....

  • Don't go shopping without a list.  I like to plan meals around what's on sale and having a list helps you 'stay on track'.  I always end up buying more when I don't have a list! =(

  • Teach your children to write things down when they're running low, or have run out. I like keeping a magnetic list on the front of the fridge - and I write what I need at the bottom of the page (I've been told this is a right/left brain 'thing') - that way you tear off the bottom each time and don't waste the whole page.  Makes sense to me!

  • Go frozen - fruits and vegetables are flash frozen at their peak, so you can buy them out of season for less.  They taste great too!  Again - stock up when they're on sale.

  • Plan for leftovers - make one night a week leftover night, and everyone fixes their own plate. Or use that leftover roast beef for making a pot of beef and noodles.  When you have a few leftover veggies - throw them into one freezer container, adding as the month goes by, and use all the leftover veggies in homemade soup.  Waste not - want not.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tips for Money-Wise Meals - #1

December is here, and we are all busier than ever...I want to share some ideas to inspire you to help you with your food 'management'/meal planning.  I will be sharing some awesome recipes later this month too, but for now....

  • Coupon, coupon, coupon!  If you've followed my blog for long, you'll know I LOVE coupons, and often get to save 60%+ of the total price I spend, because I stick with purchasing sale items, and use coupons also.  Clip weekly from the newspaper (hint: some of the coupons in the file that I always carry in my purse - will be thrown out if I don't find the item on sale). Ask a friend who doesn't use coupons, if they'd be willing to share theirs with you.  It's a great way to save big $$.

  • Shop your pantry - use what you have.  If you stock up on weekly sales, you can learn to cook with what you already have.  Keep vegetables, soups, broths, beans, etc. on hand - and have a system in your pantry so everything doesn't get lost, and you don't know what you really have.  Ex: keep soups together with labels facing the front - use tubs to group some items and/or smaller items together.

  • Shop bulk sections - Go for grains, nuts, dried fruit, cereal and more - You can buy as much, or as little, as you want, and prices tend to be more reasonable because you're not having to pay for name brands or fancy packaging.  I love to buy powdered milk there, as it isn't something I use often, or much of, but it's so handy to have a little bit when I want it.

  • Make your own 100-calorie packs - It's so much more economical to make your own.  Separate chips, cookies, etc. into resealable plastic bags and you will save all the waste of the packaging too.

More ideas again next week...HAPPY SHOPPING & COOKING TOO!!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Leader Enterprise Article - December 2009

This is a decadent dessert and beautiful presentation. You can use lite pie filling, sugar free pudding, reduced fat cream cheese, and lite whipped topping.  Just remember when using sugar free or light-the results will be softer set,  but very tasty - most won’t even know.  And with all the sweets we devour this month,  cutting calories is always a good idea when possible.


1 18-21 oz. Box brownie mix
2 (1.55 ozs ea) milk chocolate candy bars, divided
3 cups cherry pie filling
1 tsp. Almond extract
2 cups milk
2 small pkgs. White chocolate instant pudding mix
1 - 8 oz. Pkg. Cream cheese, softened
1 - 8 oz. Tub frozen whipped topping, thawed

Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare brownie mix according to package directions for cake-like brownies; spread batter over bottom of greased jelly roll pan. Bake 18-20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool completely.  Loosen brownie from sides of pan and invert onto cutting board.  Cut brownie into 1-inch cubes;set aside.  Chop 1-1/2 of the chocolate bars.  Reserve remaining chocolate for garnish.

In medium bowl, combine pie filling and almond extract.  Set aside ½ cup for garnish.  In another medium bowl, pour milk and add pudding mix and beat until mixture begins to thicken.  Add softened cream cheese, in chunks, and blend until smooth.  Fold in whipped topping.  To assemble trifle, place half the brownie cubes in the bottom of a trifle bowl.  Layer with half the pie filling mixture; sprinkle with half the chopped chocolate; top with half the pudding mixture, then repeat layers one more time.  Make chocolate curls with reserved chocolate (using your potato peeler).  Garnish top of trifle with reserved pie filling mixture and chocolate curls.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.  The trifle can be assembled several hours before serving, or the day before.

I’m pleased to say I chose my favorite parts from 3 different recipes, and ‘tweaked’ the spices to come up with this delicious dessert. It’s very pretty too.


1-1/2 cups shortbread cookies, crushed
½ (one half) cup finely chopped pecans
3 Tbsp. Butter or margarine,melted

3-8 ozs. Pkgs. Cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1-15 oz.  canned pumpkin
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp. Cornstarch
1 tsp. Ground cinnamon
½ tsp. Pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp. Ground cloves
1 cup crushed toffee candies

1-1/2 cups sour cream, at room temperature
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
caramel ice cream topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For Crust: combine cookie crumbs,nuts and butter in small bowl. Press onto bottom and 1-inch up side of 9-inch springform pan.  Bake 7-8 minutes (do not allow to brown).  Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.

For Cheesecake: Beat cream cheese and sugars in a large bowl until creamy.  Add pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, cornstarch and spices; beat well.  Pour into crust. Bake 55-60 minutes or until edge is set,but center still moves slightly. Remove from oven; top with toffee candy pieces.

For Topping:  Combine sour cream, sugar and vanilla in small bowl; mix well.  Spread over warm cheesecake.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Cool completely in pan on wire rack.  Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.  Remove side of springform pan.   Drizzle with caramel ice cream topping just before serving.  Refrigerate leftovers.

I decided on Cranberry Pecan Pie Bars for several reasons.  They make a small panful for those not wanting a large dessert, and they are so versatile.  The cranberries and orange peel cut the sweetness of the dish. For another variation, make them without the berries and orange peel - or substitute brown sugar for the white, add chocolate chips instead of the coconut or double the amounts to bake in a 9" X 13" pan, for several minutes longer. I also sprinkled a few extra chopped pecans to the top before baking.  Make them according to your family’s favorite tastes.


1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. cold butter


3 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries,chopped
1/2 cup flaked coconut
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1-1/2 tsp. grated orange peel

In a large bowl, combine the flour, pecans, brown sugar and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly.  Press into a greased 9-inch square baking dish. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.  Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the eggs, corn syrup, sugar, vanilla, and flour.  Fold in the cranberries, coconut, pecans and orange peel.  Pour over crust.  Bake 25-30 minutes longer or until set.  Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Yield:12-15 servings.