Pantry Cooking – Mexican Lasagna

We are big fans of Mexican food in our house  casa. We are regulars at the local Mexican restaurant, and Ryan’s homemade guacamole is pretty much a staple in our fridge, so when I found this recipe for Mexican Lasagna on my quest for pantry cooking recipes, I knew it was worth a try.

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Because I was focused on using only items we had on hand, I had to make a few tweaks in the ingredients, but HOLY MOLEY this recipe is great!

First, it makes a lot of food – and all the ingredients are inexpensive. Based on 6 servings and the price I paid for the ingredients (to the best of my recollection), this costs about $2.11 per serving. You can add ground beef or turkey to the red sauce if you’d like, but I did not – and I honestly didn’t miss it at all! For our 2 1/2 person family, this easily makes enough for dinner and at least one lunch.

Secondly, it’s comforting and satisfying. My first thought was – wow, this tastes like a Mexican Pizza from Taco Bell! However, by my scientific and fact-based calculations (ha!), it’s about 1,000 times healthier. I was counting down the minutes to lunch all day yesterday in anticipation of eating the leftover yumminess.

Third, you probably have most – if not all – of the ingredients on hand, so it’s a great last minute I-don’t-know-what-to-do-for-dinner option. This goes great with a salad, some chips and salsa or just served on its own.

Without further ado, here is the recipe!

Mexican Lasagna
adapted from a recipe on Sugar & Spice by Celeste
Makes 6-8 servings

  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 4-ounce can green chiles
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes, “chili ready” are preferred, but not required
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15-ounce can of corn (regular or cream-style)
  • 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • soft flour tortillas (I used 6-inch ones, and I used 9 of them in this recipe)
  • guacamole, salsa, hot sauce, other toppings – optional

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Saute the onions in the oil in a large skillet for 3 minutes. Add can of green chiles and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until onions are soft.

2. Add cans of diced tomatoes. Add water to one can (about 1/4 of the can) and add that to the skillet as well. Add ketchup and salt. Bring to a simmer and let cook for about 10 minutes.

3. While the sauce is cooking, combine the drained beans and corn in a bowl. Add 2 cups of the shredded cheese, reserving 1/2 cups of the cheese. Combine.

4. In a large oven-safe casserole dish (I used an oval shape one, but any shape would work), put a layer of the red sauce on the bottom, then top with three of the tortillas. Depending on the size of the tortillas you have and the shape of the casserole dish, you may have to tear the tortillas into pieces to get good coverage. It doesn’t have to be perfect – but you should try to cover most of the sauce.

5. Next, add a layer of the bean and corn mixture. You don’t want it to be too thick, but it should definitely cover all the tortillas.

6. Repeat this process two more times: red sauce, tortillas, bean and corn mixture. Top the lasagna with any remaining red sauce and the reserved 1/2 cup of shredded cheese.

7. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. I think it’s helpful to place a cookie sheet in the oven on the rack beneath the casserole dish to catch any spills, but it’s not necessary if you don’t have one.

8. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving. Top with guacamole, salsa, hot sauce and/or other toppings, if desired.

Decorating with Burlap

I love burlap. There is just something so rustic and chic about it, and fall is the perfect time to use it in your decor. I can’t think of another material that screams fall more than burlap.

Below are my favorite ways to decorate for fall using burlap. Hopefully you get to the Akron area craft stores before I do – or you’ll find some empty shelves were all the burlap should be. Oops. 🙂

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Another burlap pillow I love! Source

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Check out her other fall candle ideas – so cute! Source

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I have this table runner. And let me tell you – GORGEOUS. Source

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With love,

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Advent Calendar – 2013

Christmas time is officially here! I couldn’t be more excited for my favorite holiday and all the wonderful activities that go with it. Last year, I posted our Advent calendar, and while it was a lot of fun, I changed it up a little this year. This is mostly due to my more realistic idea of our “free time” during the holiday season, but it’s also because some of the activities (ice skating, winter beer tasting, etc.) cannot be done while I’m pregnant and on moderate bed rest. No worries – there are still plenty of fun Christmas activities to do while taking it easy!

The actual calendar I created turned out so well! At least in my humble opinion. Every day for the first 25 days of December, we will open a bag from the Advent calendar. The bags are hung on tension rods I wrapped in glittery red and gold ribbon, and each bag contains instructions for the day, as well as a little gift / trinket / other goodie to help with the activity. For example, for our Starbucks date night, the bag contains a $5 gift card; for our Christmas Vacation “drinking game”, the bag contains the recipe for a yummy Christmas cocktail (virgin of course!); and for our family picture in front of the Christmas tree, the bag contains an ornament that we’ll hang on the tree.

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It was quick and easy to make, and the total cost was under $10. The bags are just paper bags from a craft store, stamped in gold with a round design and in dark red with different numbers. Easy peasey!

Of course, the $10 cost doesn’t include the cost of the daily “goodies”, but I didn’t spend more than $25 on those. Use what you have – the more random the object, the funnier it will be.

Ok, enough talking about it. Here is our Advent Calendar for 2013:

Dec. 1 – Watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” in our Christmas PJ’s, while sipping hot chocolate

Dec. 2 – Take a family picture in front of the Christmas tree

Dec. 3 – Shop for our giving tree family

Dec. 4 – Pick out an ornament that describes our lives right now

Dec. 5 – Design and order Christmas cards

Dec. 6 – Order take out and play Wii Winter Olympics

Dec. 7 – Cookie exchange with girlfriends (Whitney only)

Dec. 8 – Drive around and look at Christmas lights in our area

Dec. 9 – Make lattes (decaf for me!) and watch a Friends holiday episode (“I’m the Holiday Armadillo!”)

Dec. 10 – Send a Christmas card to a soldier overseas (here is the information if you’re interested)

Dec. 11 – Play Christmas Vacation drinking game – with “mocktails”

Dec. 12 – Address and mail Christmas cards

Dec. 13 – Girls night with my Heidelberg girls 🙂

Dec. 14 – Double date for Trans Siberian Orchestra

Dec. 15 – Brunch with my godmother and goddaughter

Dec. 16 – Each pick out our favorite Christmas book for our son to enjoy someday

Dec. 17 – Warm up with our favorite Starbucks drink: salted caramel hot chocolate

Dec. 18 – Movie night out! A holiday movie is recommended, but not required

Dec. 19 – Happy hour with work friends

Dec. 20 – Wrapping party! Get all remaining gifts wrapped and under the tree

Dec. 21 – Annual Love Actually screening / Girls night with Katie and D

Dec. 22 – “Snowman pizza” night

Dec. 23 – Relax with the dogs. That’s it.

Dec. 24 – Make paw print ornaments for each dog before heading to my parents’ house

Dec. 25 – Before Ryan leaves for work, eat breakfast together on Christmas Day and open our presnt to each other.

Hope you all enjoy every second of the holiday season!

Happy Black Friday!

The day after Thanksgiving can only mean one thing: It’s Black Friday!

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I’ve taken part of Black Friday shopping once in my life, and the experience was enough to last me a lifetime. Black Friday combines some of the things I try my best to avoid: waiting in lines, crowded places and crazy bargain shoppers who are not afraid to throw elbows. Therefore, I will be spending my Black Friday far, far away from any mall.

Just because Black Friday shopping isn’t my thing doesn’t mean that I don’t have plenty of loved ones out there braving the crowds to get great deals on gifts. To all of you – have fun and be safe!! And watch for those flying elbows.

Red, White and Blue-tiful

If you’ve spent any amount of time on Pinterest, chances are you have seen those lovely fashion boards created on the website Polyvore. I have no idea what took me so long to try out the website – but I finally did. My inspiration was the approaching Independence Day holiday and the desire to wear something festive without a) going overly star-spangled-banner-y and b) not buying anything new.

I started by “shopping” my closest for red and blue pieces. If you haven’t tried “shopping” your closet, you should definitely give it a go! The concept is to go through your clothes, shoes and accessories and try as hard as you can to put new outfits together. For me, this can be tough, since I get into such a routine when it comes to clothes. As silly as it sounds, I have actually asked my husband to help me put together outfits. His “fresh” eyes see combinations I never would have. So, while I certainly do not have the exact items of clothing on Polyvore (I mean, who can afford that?!), I do have items like them.

So, by being a little creative, I put together several outfits on Polyvore that I think are the right combination of chic and Americana, or what I am calling Red, White and Blue-tiful. Check them out below, or on my Pinterest board! And don’t forget about your nails – try this polka-dot trick with any combination of red, white and blue!

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Independence Day weekend! And THANK YOU to all those who have served or who are currently serving to protect our beloved freedom!!

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What I plan to wear for the Rib, White and Blue festival in Akron this weekend.

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For the Indians game this weekend. Topped off with a Tribe hat and it’s perfect!

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I won’t be wearing this outfit anywhere near food. redwhiteblue3

And finally – what I wore to work today 🙂 It transitioned perfectly to wine-night with a friend.

P.S. Polyvore is amazing! I’m already addicted. It really reminds me of Cher’s computer program she used to put together outfits from her closest in the movie Clueless. Does anyone else remember that?! It was the coolest thing ever! My inner 11-year-old’s dream has finally come true!

DIY Cupcake Toppers

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but cupcakes have taken over the dessert world. These tiny little cakes have stolen the spotlight at birthday parties, restaurants and even weddings. And I don’t think they are going anywhere anytime soon. One of the {many} reasons I think cupcakes have taken us all by storm is how customizable they are. One quick Google image search shows thousands and thousands and thousands of cupcakes in different colors, styles and flavors. But of course – all those options come at a price: either pony up the money for someone else to make custom cupcakes, or spend a bunch of time making them yourself.

Well, I don’t like to do either of those things.

So, when I hosted a Seagram’s Escapes “girls night in” a few weeks ago, I decided to go a different route with the cupcakes. I purchased plain “mini” cupcakes from the local grocery and had them add some colorful sprinkles at the store. They were vanilla with white frosting, very tasty and were a great price…but…they were a tad boring.

I wanted to get cupcake toppers to match the “luau”/summer theme of the party, but I couldn’t find any that didn’t cost a lot. I mean, these little things are used for about 5 minutes and then quickly tossed when the important business of eating the cupcake begins. Therefore, it doesn’t make much sense to me to send a lot of money on cupcake toppers.

Instead, I got the idea to make my own cupcake toppers using stickers and some items I had around the house.

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The stickers cost $2 per pack of 26 stickers. I was able to make 24 toppers from both packs, so the cost of each topper was just over $0.16. Niiiiiiiice.

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Start by placing a toothpick near the edge of a plain piece of paper. Use whatever scrap paper you have around the house – the paper will not show up except on the back of the topper, and who cares what the back looks like? Not me and certainly not anyone eating the yummy cupcakes.

Then, place the sticker on top of the toothpick and press firmly to make sure the toothpick doesn’t move around. Continue until you make enough toppers. Since the sticker packets I purchased had some small flower stickers too small for one topper, I clustered a few of them together.

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Cut around the stickers and the toppers are complete! This is the most time-consuming part of the process, but it can easily be done while sitting outside or while catching up on your shows. And the results are worth it:

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The possibilities are endless with these! And since they are so easy and inexpensive to make, I look forward to trying many more of the possibilities.

DIY Coffee Creamer – and A Yummy Coffee Drink

The skies have been cloudy and dreary in Northeast Ohio the past couple of days. I’ve actually been wearing long sleeves and jeans mixed in with my shorts and T-shirts, which makes me sad after posting my Summer Bucket List just a couple of days ago.

But there is one good thing about the chilly, wet weather: is it has forced me to attend to inside projects. One thing I’ve been wanting to do lately is make more DIY coffee creamer. In this family, we drink coffee anytime, anywhere, any season. We love us some coffee.

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My first attempt at a DIY coffee creamer was a yummy success, but this time I decided to go with a slightly less intense version. In addition, I used almond milk instead of dairy milk.

DIY Coffee Creamer

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– 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk

– 28 oz of almond milk or dairy milk (I used unsweetened almond)

– 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (optional)

1. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a blender. You might need a spatula to get it all out. Do not discard sweetened condensed milk can.

2. Fill the now-empty can with milk of your choice; pour into blender. Repeat. You should have 28 oz. of milk in the blender with 14 oz. of sweetened condensed milk.

3. If desired, add vanilla to blender.

4. Turn blender on low-medium, until mixture is combined. About 30-45 seconds.

5. Pour into storage container and enjoy!

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You can skip the blender entirely if you have a large bottle or container with a lid. Follow the instructions above, but instead add everything to the bottle, not the blender. Shake to combine – and enjoy the arm workout that comes with doing it this way! Also note that this recipe makes waaaay more than that itty bitty mason jar shown. I just did that for looks; I can’t resist anything in a mason jar!

I loved my first attempt that this, but I L-O-V-E this second attempt. I don’t add any sweetener to my coffee, so the less intense version is perfect for me. If you like a sweeter java, just add less milk.

And don’t forget – if you have a favorite coffee syrup (like the ones made by Torani) – you can substitute that for the vanilla extract. But be warned – syrup is more intense, so use less of it. Add a tiny bit at a time – you can always add more later. 

Finally, I wanted to share a little “luxury” I have at home for my coffee. A few years ago, I bought a milk frother from World Market. Simply add milk, and with a few pumps this simple little gadget makes frothy milk for lattes, just like a coffee-house. For around $20, I would call that a very affordable luxury.

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Unfortunately, last Christmas when I wanted to buy one for my mom and sister, I found that World Market no longer sold these frothers. However, they are still around on the internet (like here), and are still a great price. Or – you can go with a hand-held one (like this one) like the ones I ended up getting my mom and sister. At $2.99, it is an even more affordable luxury.

Hope you enjoy it a latte! : )