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Helpful Little Hack of the Hour: Meatballs

Hi there! Are you hungry? I am! Maybe that’s why this little hack of the hour is popping to mind. But I’m glad it is because it is a great one to keep on hand!

Meatballs

Meatballs are so versatile! They can be made from many kinds of meat or vegetarian ingredients. They can be store bought or homemade. They cook in large quantities and freeze well.

I always have a bag of meatballs in my freezer. They have saved my sanity on several occasions. Here are some examples from my experience. Have you found yourself in any of these situations?

  • Guests coming over before payday or your next grocery store run
  • Last minute potluck invitation
  • The kids have friends over and they’re scrounging for food
  • Out of town friends call and say, “Hey, we’re nearby! Can we come see you?”
  • A friend or neighbor has a mishap and needs help with tonight’s meal
  • You need food for a crowd that won’t break the budget
  • etc. You get the idea!

All the above dilemmas (and more, I’m sure) can be solved with meatballs. I prefer to heat them in my crockpot, but if time is short, the stovetop is faster. Here are 3 “Recipes”. (I put that in quotes because when there are only 2 ingredients, is it really a recipe?)

Meatballs three ways

  1. Meatballs and your favorite marinara sauce.
  2. Meatballs and your favorite BBQ sauce.
  3. Meatballs and your favorite teriyaki sauce.
A photo of Ragu marinara sauce, Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce, Soy Vay hoisin garlic teriyaki sauce.
These are our favorite meatball sauces. What are yours?

Instructions: Simply place frozen meatballs in a pan or crockpot with the sauce of your choice and cook until the meatballs are heated through.

Serving options for meatballs

You can serve the meatballs alone as an appetizer/snack or you can add one more plentiful ingredient to stretch them and feed more people.

  1. Meatballs marinara and rolls make an Italian-style meatball sub. Of course, pasta is also a delicious pairing with meatballs marinara.
  2. Meatballs and BBQ sauce are fantastic over baked potatoes. Bread is a good choice too because BBQ meatball sandwiches are delicious.
  3. Teriyaki meatballs over rice is simple perfection. Fresh or canned pineapple is also a wonderful accompaniment to teriyaki meatballs.

You can add other ingredients if you want. But you don’t have to! Meatballs are filling and I’m usually surprised how quickly appetites are satisfied.

“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Romans 12:13

Meatballs are a helpful hack because they can be inexpensive, quick, and easy. Do you have any in your freezer? Will you think about stocking them from now on?

Wondering why am I publishing these helpful little hacks of the hour? Read the Introduction and Intent post here.

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How My Cookie Crisis Could Become a Bountiful Blessing from My Family to Yours

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away… Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but this story played out a long time ago. My kids were small, my husband’s job required him to take long trips, and I was desperate thankful for adult interaction. I was beyond excited for the annual cookie exchange in which my friends and I participated every holiday season.

I was downright giddy about the opportunity to get into the car by myself, listen to grownup music on the radio, talk to women in multi-syllable words, and sample cookies of all kinds. I had my recipe with the ingredients required and all that stood between me, and my dream afternoon, was the chore of baking 13 dozen cookies.

My plan was to make the dough and begin baking the day before the event. That way, my cookies would be fresh and delectable, and I could finish up the morning of, if something came up unforeseen. Well, come up unforeseen, something did! I went to preheat my oven and… nothing. No heat. No heat at all.

I may have panicked a little and I might have even cried. If I couldn’t make cookies, I didn’t see how I could attend the cookie exchange. Store bought cookies were unthinkable. The whole purpose of the cookie exchange was to trade homemade delicacies.

Are you familiar with the concept of a cookie exchange? I think they are an amazing idea! They can be organized in several ways, but my friends and I did it the same way each year, taking turns organizing and hosting. Maybe you’d like to put one together? Here is the format we used:

  • Twelve people participated. It was important to have twelve. If you confirmed your spot, you were committed.
  • Each person baked 13 dozen cookies of one recipe (cleared with the organizer in advance to avoid duplicates) and packaged them by the dozen. They could be in bags, tins or covered plates, as long as each package contained 12 cookies.
  • Each person copied, printed or handwrote 11 copies of their recipe.
  • We all met up for one glorious afternoon. The hostess provided a huge table where we each stacked 12 of our cookie packages and our recipes.
  • On a separate table, we each opened and placed our 13th package. Also on this table, the hostess provided plates, napkins and beverages. This is where we got to sample each other’s cookies.
  • After a sweet afternoon of cookies and conversation, we went back to the first table and took one package of each kind of cookie, including our own. We took one of each recipe, excluding our own. This is the exchange by which a cookie exchange gets its name.
  • Where each baker arrived with 12 packages of 1 kind of cookie, they went home with 12 packages of different kinds of cookies.

Personally, my tradition immediately following the cookie exchange, was to pack 12 tins, each with 1 cookie from each package. My kids loved taking these grand assortments to the neighbors and their teachers. It appeared like I’d done much more work than I had, since I gifted an amazing assortment, but only baked a single recipe. All of that was looking impossible this year.

God to the rescue!

Even, no – ESPECIALLY for busy moms, the cookie exchange was a lifeline. It was a simplified and fun way to get a giant check mark on a long holiday to-do list. Not only was I looking forward to it, but I was also committed. My oven breaking had me at my breaking point too. This was a crisis.

But God. That is all I remember about how what transpired next came about. Somehow, I found a recipe. God brought it to mind. Honestly, I don’t remember if I went to the computer or if it is one I had tucked in my recipe binder prior. All I know is that I had never made “Crock Pot Candy” before that day. But boy have I made it many times since!

Crock Pot Candy: How My Cookie Crisis Could Become a Bountiful Blessing, from My Family to Yours
Crock Pot Candy with Sea Salt Topping

God and Crock Pot Candy to the rescue. This recipe did not require an oven. I pulled out my slow cooker, raced to the store for the short list of ingredients, and this blessing came together in a fraction of the time it takes to bake 13 dozen cookies.

You know what else? These were the star of the afternoon. Everyone raved! And it was such a nice touch to have a decadent piece of candy on each plate of cookies.

My own family liked them so much that they have become one of our signature family dishes. My 25 year-old daughter, who was in preschool the first time I made them, called them “Nut Chocolates” and that is what they are to this day, in our house. She and I make them every October because that is her birthday month, and it takes us almost a whole month to eat them all. This recipe makes a bountiful plenty!

Nut Chocolates; How My Cookie Crisis Could Become a Bountiful Blessing, from My Family to Yours
Nut Chocolates for Days!

I have not been to a cookie exchange in years. But that is ok. People love getting a whole bag of “nut chocolates” and I enjoy the simplicity of giving them. If you have an army to feed, or several people to gift, or a birthday month to enjoy, let my cookie crisis become a bountiful blessing, from my family to yours!

What you will need:

  • 1 pound lightly salted, dry roasted almonds
  • 1 pound unsalted, dry roasted almonds
  • 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 12 ounces white chocolate chips
  • 1 pound vanilla bark
  • 9+ feet of waxed paper

Instructions

  1. Pour nuts into large crock pot. Add chips and bark. Cover and turn on low setting.
  2. Now go shower, fold your laundry, or write a blog. Come back in about an hour.
  3. Lay out the waxed paper. (You may have to weigh down the corners if the paper is too curly to lay flat.)
  4. With a large spoon, stir the now-melted chocolate into the nuts until the chocolates are combined and the nuts are well coated.
  5. Spoon the mixture onto waxed paper according to the size you want.
  6. Keep spooning – this is a bountiful recipe.
  7. Keep the crock pot on the low setting until all its contents have been spooned out.
  8. Once everything has been scooped out, unplug your crock pot and walk away again. Go back to your blog, play with your dog, or read a book.
  9. Let the candy cool until the chocolate hardens and it peels easily from the waxed paper.
  10. It will keep fresh in a plastic bag or airtight container for several weeks. But you might not be able to keep it around for that long. My family loves to share it as much as we love to eat it.

Notes:

  • The original recipe calls for peanuts instead of almonds. I’ve done it both ways and, seriously, you can’t go wrong. My family just prefers almonds. I’m sure you could use other nuts too, if you have a different favorite.
  • In the photos I’m posting, you see sea salt sprinkled on top. This is the way my October birthday girl prefers her birthday treat. We have also experimented with toffee, sprinkles, and coconut. They are all amazing! I think the simplicity of the recipe is perfect and I prefer no toppings.
  • I adore dark chocolate. If I am making these according to my taste, I substitute some of the chocolates called for in the recipe and darken it up a bit. If the measurements of nuts and chocolates are the same as the recipe, you can change them out any way you like.
  • I have never had a batch not turn out. These are 99.9% fool proof. The reason I reserve that extra .1% is because you can overcook them. If you forget all about them and leave the ingredients in the crockpot for hours, the chocolate will burn around the edges. (Don’t ask me how I know!) Even still, you can use what is deliciously melted in the middle of the pot.
  • If you make these on a hot day, you may need to refrigerate them to encourage the cooling process. The best way I have found to do this is to cut the waxed paper into cookie-sheet sized rectangles and slide them onto the cookie sheets to place in the refrigerator or freezer (wherever you have room).

There you have it. That is how my cookie crisis could become a bountiful blessing from my family to yours. I hope this recipe comes in handy for you this holiday season and beyond.


Do you bake or home-make gifts? Do you have a preference between white, milk or dark chocolate? Does anyone do cookie exchanges anymore?

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This Ultimate Harvest Recipe Tastes Like Fall in a Pumpkin Pot!

Autumn! I love this time of year! The weather gets cool enough for me to want to use my oven and the fresh veggies are flavorful and ripe for my comfort food recipes. I hope to start sprinkling my blog with more of my favorite recipes and stories which go with them. Be sure to tune in if you’re the cooking and baking sort! And if you’re not, you’re invited too. Maybe you can pass them along to someone who will appreciate them and let you be a taste-tester in exchange. Let me know what you think about this idea. Today’s post, and this recipe and story, are examples of what I have in mind.

This ultimate harvest recipe tastes like fall in a pumpkin pot!

I must share this one with you quickly, before the pumpkins are gone from the stores! Maybe if you’re lucky, you have your own growing in your yard. Or, if you don’t carve the pumpkins on your front porch, this is a great recycle (upcycle?) idea.

A hallowed pumpkin, filled with stew, and baking in the oven: This Ultimate Harvest Recipe Tastes Like Fall in a Pumpkin Pot!
Harvest Stew Baking in a Pumpkin Pot

The background story

This is Fall in a pot! And it has a wonderful story attached. To tell it, I need to take you back a few (!!) decades… The elementary school I attended had two adults in each classroom, one teacher and one monitor. I had the same monitor for 3 years in a row, from 4th to 6th grade! Mrs. S. kept moving up with us. She became someone very dear in my life.

In High School, Mrs. S’s kids and I played on the same sports teams and even after graduation, we stayed in touch. We are still Facebook friends today. Several years ago, she posted about this meal, which she was making with her grandkids. When I asked her for the recipe, to make with my family, Mrs. S told me that she had actually gotten it from my mom, who is a preschool teacher and had made it with her little students!

I just thought that was incredible. It is a passed-down recipe that took a detour on its way and came through, not one, but two of my most cherished Christian mentors! Don’t you think that is pretty special? Well, even if you’re not the nostalgic type, I’ll bet your heart will melt for this pumpkin pot filled with all the flavors of harvest!

The recipe

A medium pumpkin is perfect, maybe a 10-12 pounder. First, cut a circle in the top. Then scoop out all the seeds and stringy parts. You want a thick shell with the flesh intact. That is it! Your pumpkin pot is ready to stuff with your favorite fall flavors!

Mrs. S fills her pumpkin pot with sautéed garlic and onions, browned ground turkey, shredded carrots, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli slaw, stewed tomatoes, and kidney beans. But she emphasized that this ultimate harvest recipe is completely customizable.

The possibilities

You can change the protein to stew meat, chicken, something plant based, or leave it out altogether. You can add or delete any veggies you wish. You can season to your own liking too.

Curry? (If you follow this blog, you know how I feel about curry. If you don’t, you can find out here.) Italian seasonings? Mexican spices? Do it your way with the ingredients you like and have on hand. The possibilities are endless!

The instructions

The instructions are simple. Just fill the pumpkin with whatever harvest fare you crave and replace the top. Place it on a baking pan and put it in the oven at 325 degrees. It will bake in there for 2 hours. Make sure to watch toward the end that the pumpkin pot doesn’t get too done and lose its structure.

Stew baked to perfection in a pumpkin: This Ultimate Harvest Recipe Tastes Like Fall in a Pumpkin pot!
It’s Healthy and Hot – It’s Harvest in a Pot!

When it is finished baking, your house will smell amazing! Serve it right from the festive pumpkin pot, scraping the sides to get a serving of pumpkin in every spoonful. Top with cheese, parsley, avocado, sour cream or anything you like!

More options

Mrs. S suggests serving your masterpiece over rice. Do you like jasmine rice? Brown rice? Cauliflower rice? Do you prefer potatoes or noodles? Or do you skip the carbs? Any way you serve it, this is the ultimate harvest recipe. I think you’ll agree that it takes like fall in a pot – a pumpkin pot! What’s not to like?

Are you going to try this recipe? Have you made something similar in the past? What would be your preferred ingredients? Mmm… is anyone getting hungry?

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What is it About Pumpkin Spice?

My curiosity has turned to an unshakable question. How do changing leaves and cooling temperatures incite a mouth to water for pumpkin spice? Why do people want it on everything in the Fall?

What is it about Pumpkin Spice?

I feel unqualified to brainstorm this question for myself. I like pumpkin. I appreciate it’s place in Autumn tradition. But I would enjoy a piece of pumpkin pie for Easter as much as I would at Thanksgiving. If that little admission made you cringe, thank you for overlooking my blatant blunder of crossing seasonal aesthetics. I appreciate your patience with me. And I really hope you’ll help me understand this phenomenon from your perspective!

Crusty pumpkin pie: what is it about pumpkin spice?
Photo by Valeria Boltneva
Pumpkin is delicious and fresh in the fall!

Is any product safe from the pumpkin spice craze?

I’m not sure about where you live, but my grocery store has gone pumpkin spice crazy! (As I typed that sentence, I realized that it might not even be autumn right now in your part of the world. If that is the case, please comment below to tell me where you live and what season you’re in. Variety is the spice of life, after all, and it’s good to remember it isn’t all pumpkin!) Here, in the USA, it seems that every product has succumbed to the pumpkin spice craze.

  • Pumpkin Spice Lattes
  • Pumpkin Spice Oreos
  • Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows
  • Pumpkin Spice Muffins/Bread/Cookies/Pies/Donuts
  • Pumpkin Spice Cheerios
  • Pumpkin Spice Pancakes
  • Pumpkin Spice Kit Kat Bars
  • Pumpkin Spice Crème Brule
  • Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal
  • Pumpkin Spice Boba
  • Pumpkin Spice Almonds
  • Pumpkin Spice Potato Chips
  • Pumpkin Spice… what else am I overlooking?

Do you have a favorite product, pumpkin spice edition?

What is pumpkin spice?

My husband isn’t a fan of pumpkin spice. We were wondering why, so I did some quick research. There are five individual flavors which are put together to make the oh-so-popular flavor. They are cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and clove. Of those five, my husband only likes cinnamon, so it makes sense that he is unappreciative of the conglomeration.

What about the other Fall flavors?

My favorite Fall flavor is maple. Maybe it gets more glory in places where it grows. I immediately think of Vermont and Canada. Does anyone know if maple is celebrated above pumpkin spice in those places?

Apple is another, very worthy, Fall flavor. Fresh cider and caramel apples anyone? Apples get their share of attention and appreciation in Autumn, but even they don’t seem to be able to compete with pumpkin spice.

What is your favorite Fall flavor? Do any of them dethrone pumpkin spice in your house? If you could eat your favorite Fall flavor all year ’round, would you? I would (and do) enjoy maple all year. Don’t even get me started on maple lattes! They are so good!

It makes sense to eat produce in season. I understand why the Autumn harvest is a time for pumpkin dishes. Pumpkin stew, pumpkin soup, pumpkin chili, pumpkin ravioli… this is the time to enjoy it farm fresh. But the phenomenon has gone way beyond than that!

When did pumpkin spice become all the rage? (And will it ever end?)

I don’t think I can remember people being so pumpkin spice crazy even a couple of decades ago. What caused this phenomenon? Was it Starbucks and their PSL? (It’s so famous, it even has its own acronym!)

Strabucks pumpkin spice latte: what is it about pumpkin spice?
Photo by Veronica
Starbucks PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte)

How do you feel about Pumpkin spice? Are you an ‘all-in’ fan this time of year? Do you give it a ‘thumbs up but in moderation’ the way I do? Or are you ‘more distant’ in your appreciation, like my husband? Maybe you won’t come anywhere near it. Do you think people will ever tire of pumpkin spice? I don’t think I have met anyone who doesn’t at least like the scent of it.

Did someone say fragrance?

Oh, that brings up a whole other side of the Pumpkin Spice craze – the fragrances! But I don’t want to write anymore about it. I genuinely want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon? What is it about pumpkin spice?

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This Recipe is a Huge Gift and an Ironclad Lesson on What is Important in Life

Hi! I’m so glad you’re here today! I have a recipe to share with you. Excuse my tears. I can’t believe I’m crying already, but there is a heartfelt story attached. This recipe is a huge gift and an ironclad lesson on what is important in life. Well, it is those things to me. Let me tell you about it, and then you can decide what it means to you.

Give thanks: This Recipe is a Huge Gift and an Ironclad Lesson on What is Important in Life
Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

The story starts approximately 20 years ago with my friend, Shelly. She was kind and generous, the type of person who made everyone feel welcome. Her children were the same ages as a couple of mine and our paths often crossed at church and at the kids’ school. As our friendship grew, we spent quite a bit of time together.

I’m an introvert. I need to recharge away from people. But this is a lesson I have only recently learned about myself. Back then, I didn’t understand it at all.

One memorable evening, I was past due for some alone time. I felt guilty for being irritated when Shelly came over. I felt like an inferior friend because she was so happy to see me while I was thinking about how many days in a row this visit made.

Spoons and flowers: This Recipe is a Huge Gift and an Ironclad Lesson on What is Important in Life
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem on Pexels.com

We were in the kitchen, and she was talking to me while I prepped dinner. I was making Chicken Divan, one of my family’s favorite recipes. Before I realized what was happening, she pulled a pencil out of my junk drawer and proceeded to line-out and hand-scrawl right in my cookbook.

I already admitted to being irritated, but it wasn’t at Shelly until that moment. She was messing with my recipe. This was the only meal I made which included broccoli and was still a hit with my kids. Why would she take such liberty?

Chicken and Broccoli: This Recipe is a Huge Gift and an Ironclad Lesson on What is Important in Life
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

To be honest, I don’t remember the rest of the visit. I hope I wasn’t rude because that recipe turned out to be a huge gift. The next time I prepared it, I followed Shelly’s suggestions. And you know what? We all agreed it was even better her way!

I do remember the smile on her face when I gave her our consensus. She never held my irritation against me. Like I said, she was very kind to me.

Fast forward a couple of years. My family and I had moved thousands of miles away. My mom still lived near Shelly and helped us keep abreast of each other.

Empty shoes and daisies: This Recipe is a Huge Gift and an Ironclad Lesson on What is Important in Life
Photo by Saliha on Pexels.com

I remember being on the phone with my mom. I don’t recall her exact words, but she told me that Shelly had gone into the hospital for a routine procedure, and something had gone terribly wrong…

Her life had ended so quickly and unexpectedly. I knew she loved Jesus and I’d see her again in Heaven. It still took my breath away.

One evening in the weeks that followed, I pulled out my recipe book to make dinner. I opened to the familiar page and saw Shelly’s handwriting. I fell sobbing to the floor. (I’m a blubbering mess even now as I retell the story!)

Chicken Divan recipe: This Recipe is a Huge Gift and an Ironclad Lesson on What is Important in Life
My recipe with Shelly’s handwritten changes

Shelly had given me a huge gift. The pencil marks were a stamp of friendship. I remembered how irritated I’d been with her, and I wished, more than ever, I hadn’t been. Her handwriting in my book was suddenly so precious to me.

To this day, every time I pull out this recipe and see Shelly’s notes, I am reminded about what is important in life. People, time, shared knowledge and experiences… these things are invaluable. Introverts, like me, need to be intentional about alone time so we can fill up, show up, and fully enjoy these gifts.

Tell me, do you have a moment in mind which you would change if you could? Or maybe one that you can change and should? Are you an introvert or an extrovert?


Here is a “clean copy”, if you will, of the Chicken Divan recipe, Shelly’s way. I’m passing along the gift. You’re also more than welcome to save the photo with Shelly’s handwritten notes, if the lesson is important to you and it will help you remember.

Either way, if you make the recipe, be sure to tell me how you like it! I think Chicken Divan is perfect for a crisp, cool evening. But let’s be real, its good in the middle of summer too! All of life is important. Savor it while you can.

Chicken Divan

  • 3 to 4 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped
  • 10 ounces frozen broccoli, lightly cooked
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup slivered (or chopped) almonds, toasted
  1. Spread chicken pieces and broccoli in a 13 x 9 – inch pan.
  2. Mix both cans of soup, mayo, curry powder and salt and pepper in a bowl.
  3. Pour over chicken mixture. Sprinkle cheese on top.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.
  5. Top with slivered almonds. Bake another 3 minutes.
  6. Serve over rice.
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The Recipe in Your Back Pocket

Are you a chef? If so, keep scrolling, nothing to see here! But, if the best thing you know how to make is a call for take-out, this one’s for you!

Everyone should have a recipe in their back pocket; one that can be made in a hurry and on a dime. I think this one-dish Chili ‘n’ Cornbread fits the bill to a T! This is all you need:

2 cans of chili and a box of cornbread mix.
There are many varieties of chili to fit any preference! Pictured here are two complete opposites, but either will work.
  • 2 Cans Chili (spicy, mild, with or without meat… whatever you prefer)
  • 1 Box Jiffy Cornbread Mix
  • Ingredients to make the cornbread (milk and egg, see back of box)

Ding-dong, knock-knock… Oh no – unexpected company! Go ahead, answer the door – you’ve got this!

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Take out a square or round baking pan. Open the chili and dump it in.

Get out a mixing bowl. Pour in the cornbread mix and add the necessary ingredients to make the batter. Stir it all together (batter will be slightly lumpy) and spoon the mixture on top of the chili.

Put it in the oven and bake according to the directions on the back of the box. (Jiffy takes about 20 minutes.) It is done when the cornbread is golden brown on top, and a knife inserted in the center comes up with only chili on it (no uncooked batter).

Baked cornbread in a round pan next to eggs and a whisk.
I accidentally deleted my photo of this recipe; but I found the one above, by Pablo Lancaster Jones on Unsplash, and it looks similar.

The baked result is surprisingly hearty and happily satisfying. You might even be tempted to make this dish without company from time to time.

Perhaps you’ll get creative and add a layer of shredded cheese under the cornbread. Or maybe, instead of chili you’d like to use baked beans and sliced hot dogs.

Let me know in the comments what you come up with. Just remember to always restock the ingredients so you are prepared to impress the next unexpected someone with the recipe in your back pocket!