Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Did you celebrate National Chocolate Cake Day?

Yesterday, after a beautiful nap (punctuated by the most perfect soundtrack), I woke remembering

three things.

1. It was National Chocolate Cake Day
2. It was Family Literacy Day
3. I really love naps

So I did what any sane person would do. I decided to bake a chocolate cake.

I have a great chocolate cake recipe but since my husband had previously declared it 'unnecessary' to bake a cake for National Chocolate Cake Day, I decided to find a different recipe to try because I like new things. I Googled "Easy one bowl chocolate cake" and honestly tried the first one on the list. It had good reviews, it was easy and went together quickly. I did two 9" round pans -  it seemed like it should be different (than what I usually do) so I could pay proper homage to the Chocolate Gods.

Twenty minutes later it was in the oven. Thirty five minutes later, it was out of the oven. After brief consultation with my sister about the appropriateness of a filling, I whipped one up, made the frosting and waiting for the cake to cool.

After piano class, it was time to eat that decadent piece of awesome.

And awesome it was. It has been said I have a flair for the dramatic but I summed the cake eating experience like this: It is like a giant slice of sex, heaven and good wine rolled into one, chocolate laden piece of gold.

Click the link to discover the Magic Sex Cake recipe. For my filling I combined 1/2 an instant pudding cup with about 2-3 ounces of plain cream cheese. I then made my 'usual' frosting, which goes like this:

Creamy Frosting
3 tbsp margarine
3 tbsp cocoa
1-1/2 cups icing sugar
3 tbsp cream

I baked the cake in two, parchment lined pans. I spread the filling on one half, topped with cake and smothered that bad boy in my creamy frosting. I refrigerated it because it seemed like a good idea. It was and it is still moist and delicious.

I'll also add two final thoughts. Although i make chocolate cake all the time, I rarely eat it. This cake, however, is all I want to eat. Maybe it's PMS, maybe it's a full moon, but I can tell you although I already had my slice (two, who am I kidding? Lunch needed dessert today too), I am seriously considering doing extra time on the elliptical so I can eat more of that wondrous creation.

My final thought is this - my husband, the King of All Things Chocolate was 'meh' about the cake. He thought it was 'heavy' and although he hasn't turned down a piece, he said he still prefers my other recipe.

He is wrong, but I love him and I will still make him his favourite.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Menu Plan Monday: January 25 to February 1, 2015

Hi everyone and happy Monday! I have lots of reasons to be happy - one of which is because of my annual menu planning, I have absolutely no reason to not have a menu ready to go on Monday morning! I'm hoping to share them more frequently than I have been. Considering I started this a year ago, I sure haven't been writing about it!

Learn more about how menu planning saved me 30% off our annual food budget and how it got me two marriage proposals here.

Here is what will be eaten at our house this week! Enjoy and be sure to check out the Org Junkie for more menu planning ideas!

Monday: Gramma's Homemade Mac & Cheese

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday (o le!)

Wednesday: Beef Stroganoff with rice

Thursday: Hamburger Soup (FREEZER)

Friday: Mom's Ham & Scalloped Potatoes

Saturday: Freezer Left Overs (Easy Ravioli Lasagna & Provolone Penne)

Sunday: Chicken Cordon Bleu, rice  & green beans

Finally, being it's the end of the month, I thought I'd share that this month, I've managed to save 15% on my grocery budget & 28% on our dining out budget! Meal planning really does save!

Monday, January 19, 2015

He wasn't just a dog...

I wrote this in mid-September. I never posted it because I just wasn't ready to share my grief. It's been 4-1/2 months since Max died and the hole is still massive and although it hurts a little less to talk about him, him not being here is odd and horrible and lonely. The house has returned to some semblance of normal but it will never be the same. 

December 13, 1999 - August 25, 2014

On August 25, we said our final goodbyes to our beloved Max. He died peacefully, his head in my lap, his Dad and his brother by his side. It's kind of thrown everything into a funk around here: no one wants to really do anything substantive and so many things have become a great big chore. Doing anything seems complicated and no one is ready to say good bye to his stuff - we've actually decided to put most of his stuff into storage for now but even that, no one wants to do, yet.

He was truly an amazing part of our family. He knew how to make us laugh, he knew when to snuggle near, he made us smile, be happy and just generally made life better. He wasn't just a dog, he wasn't and although he had four legs and floppy ears, he was so much more than a dog. In fact, saying he was 'just a dog' is an absolute insult to us and to his memory.

so why am I writing about it? Because I can't seem to do much else today but miss him. There are dishes to be done, supper to be prepped, a nap to be had but I just want to hold my boy and stroke his head and cry into his fur. I want him back, I want him here and nothing is replacing that feeling today. Not the second bit of lunch, the bowl of grapes or the Swiss roll (which was terrible, by the way). The work out didn't help either.

Sometimes, there isn't anything that can fill the void grief brings. I've been told time will help and I know it will, but nothing will ever fill the space he held in my heart.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Menu Planning: How it got me two marriage proposals and saved me 30%!

Recently, I finished a year's worth of meal plans. That's right, folks, I have 52 weeks or 365 dinners planned. I am RELIEVED. It's a huge weight off my shoulders. While I enjoy cooking, I do not enjoy meal planning.

The results of my labour of love? Two marriage proposals, a few (indecent) solicitations for copies of my menus and oh, an annual savings of 30% - (this includes our grocery and our dining out budget)!

When I thought about how and what we eat, it became clear that we have several "family favourites" and those meals are repeated frequently but we also like variety so I'm always trying new things (like "It Looked Pinteresting" - a collection of new meals curated from Pinterest).  When trying new recipes, there are always winners and some BIG losers. I've done two 'big cooks' with friends so there will be meals that won't be repeated (like "Coconut Thai Chicken") and although I love the idea and will likely repeat a 'big cook', the recipes from the books we used were frequently bland and tasteless.

My meal plans have areas to add new recipes and the plans, being organized by month, are also seasonal (we don't BBQ in November, for example). Additionally, our meal plans have a less than every six week repeat (meaning, save for "Taco Tuesday" on piano day, we don't eat the same meal more than once every six weeks), more often, it's more like eight weeks between repeats. Some meals never repeat and sometimes we have theme nights like "Meatball Monday's". Dinners out are pre-planned based on the month's activities (piano recitals, birthdays & anniversaries are 'given' dining out events).

All that said, the biggest reason I started the annual meal plan is to save money. Food is expensive - no matter where you live. With milk approaching $5 for 2 litres and peppers at $3.99 pound, meal planning allows me to buy what we need and reduces waste because I know what I need before I go to the store to shop. It is convenient and allows me to plan healthy and balanced meals. It also reduces our impulse to order in because we know what's for dinner!

As I said before, we managed to save 30% on our annual food budget since I commenced the monthly menu planning in February 2014. By having a clear plan, with scheduled dining out events, much more organized shopping trips (and grocery lists) and with no "what's for dinner tonight" questions bringing about impulse shopping trips, has helped our bottom line immensely.

While 30% is a huge sum of money, I hope to shave an additional 20% this year.  Recently, a friend asked how do I know that I want what's planned for November 17 (which was meatballs & gravy)? Knowing my meals are pre-planned and the shopping is complete, I have seven meals to chose from on any given night. By now having it all organized before the beginning of the next month, I am able to take advantage of the store loyalty discounts that happen the first Tuesday of the month. Which, starting this month, meant that I was able to stock up on all the staples required for the month so I, in essence, have 30 meals to chose from this month. I am also watching store sales more carefully and stocking up on staples we use frequently. Just this past week, I bought three pounds of our usual coffee - because it was $5.92 cheaper per pound than it usually is!
, by the way)? The fact is, I don't always feel like what's planned but because my meals are

We still impulsively order dinner and we don't always eat what's planned but I have a plan for that too - I carry the meals forward to another evening and ensure we don't dine out too often if there has been impulse meals out. I can tell you doing a 'big cook'  is like having take-out in your own house. It is something I will do again because the convenience of it can't be beat.

Since I first started planning meals way back in 1995, I've finally found a method that works for me. I've tried many different ways of planning but the annual plan totally suits me and provides the flexibility we need.

It may not work for everyone and it may take time to find your groove, but after many years (and many failed attempts), I've finally figured it out and I never have to think (about cooking) again!


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