The Goods- Feeding a Crowd for Pennies

When you’re faced with a big group heading your way for dinner, it’s easy to go overboard with your menu- you don’t want people to go hungry, after all. If you want to stay on budget, though, you need to reach for a crowd-pleasing recipe that is tasty, filling and cheap to make.

Veggie chili, lasagna, and pot pies are all entertaining staples in our house, but we wanted to mix it up for this autumnal celebratory meal.

After heading to the farmer’s market, we scored a few butternut squashes on the cheap (about $2/each) and decided to incorporate them into a meal that would be veggie-friendly and delicious.

Enter: butternut squash enchiladas. Unconventional? Yes. Authentic? Probably not. Delicious and cheapy cheap? Check and check.

We intended to serve this with a spice-rubbed pork tenderloin we grabbed on sale at our local butcher for about $3 but ended up just serving the enchiladas because the recipe yielded twice the amount we intended to make.


Quickie Dinner- Perfect Tomato Sauce

In honor of our recent monthly meal planning post, we decided to share with you the most versatile and delicious recipe in our cooking arsenal: tomato sauce. We use it for EVERYTHING. Pasta, obviously. Pizza sauce. A base for quick chili or minestrone soup. A simmer sauce for meatballs. It’s so good I could eat it every night. We plan to make a huge batch and can it to give away as Christmas gifts along with some fresh pasta. Enjoy!


Quick Tomato Sauce

(adapted from Marcella Hazan’s recipe)

2- 28oz. cans tomato puree

2- 28oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice

1- 28oz. can stewed tomatoes with juice

1 whole onion, halved and peeled

1/2 stick of salted butter, cubed

1 tbsp. salt


Are You Afraid of Taking Risks?

The way that you view the world is your reality and always wanting for something that you don’t have can be a very dangerous and destructive pattern to get into. When you are having problems or wish that you could instantly be transported to somewhere else where you would have more money, a different job, a more exciting lifestyle, or a better family, could have a deeper meaning. This could mean that the source of your discontent and that you would be similarly unhappy in any situation given enough time.

The good news is that just by adjusting your expectations and the way that you interact with the world you can change your situation quite drastically. Instead of wasting all of the energy trying to figure out a way to argue better or stewing over the interaction that you had with your partner this morning, be grateful and use that energy to do something that you enjoy. The amazing thing about happiness is that it is very subjective and once your basic needs are met it’s all mental. So what’s the big deal?


Home Improvement Loans

Home improvement loans are essentially money that is lent to homeowners to carry out repairs or remodel their property.  A home improvement loan is not automatically secured by the property that it is intended to improve and might be simply classified as a home improvement by the lending agency.  These advances are unsecured or secured and are typically short-term loans.

Loans for home improvement are intended to boost the value of the home; therefore, it is essential to carefully think about the best ways to use the loan.  The money that is spent on improving the home is added to the overall value of the home and your aim should be to recoup the cost in the event that you ever decide to put the home up for sale.

Additionally, home improvement loans can assist in paying for intricate remodeling projects to renovate the home or simpler undertakings.  Home improvement loan rates are typically lower than those attached to personal loans or credit cards.

You can access a home improvement loan to:

  • Update the features of your home or benefit from additional living space while staying in a preferred neighborhood.
  • Personalize the home so that it fits your lifestyle by adding a bedroom in the attic or finishing a basement.
  • Acquire a short sale or a foreclosed property and organize a renovation project in order to get the home to fit your tastes and requirements.


Tips for Buying Your First (or even second) Home

My husband and I bought our first house in 2013. A few years later, we are selling and about to move and to be honest, we’re not entirely sure where yet! One thing we know is that we are not rushing it this time, which brings me to the topic of discussion, tips on buying a home whether you’re a first timer, or not. Learn from my family’s experience as buyers and sellers. See also this interesting video with great tips:

1. Order your credit report (you’re entitled to one free credit report through all 3 major bureaus from I recommend ordering your score as well. Check for any mistakes and dispute any discrepancies such as account information, addresses, payment amounts, etc. This will not only help you see where you stand with your credit but it will prevent any surprises later when the bank runs your credit.

2. Figure out all your expenses, see what you can pay down and what you can afford for a monthly payment. Use a mortgage calculator and do a slight overestimation on taxes and insurance. When you figure the approximate payment amount, calculate it against your monthly gross income. If it is under 45%, you’re in good shape. If it’s over, you might need to lower your price range to qualify for the loan and make sure you’re not house poor. Don’t forget to calculate utilities (gas/water/electric and HOA fees) into your calculations.


Tiny Holidays: Easy Shortbread Cookies

Guys. I awoke yesterday morning with a desperate need to bake 20 dozen cookies. Does that ever happen to you? I think it stems from the fact that my brain correlates Christmas decorations to baking cookies.

As soon as the decorations are up, the cookies appear- just check out our “to-bake” list!! Our freezer, by next weekend, will be chock full of cylinders of dough waiting to be sliced and baked. If you want to get a jump on your cookie baking, here is my very favorite bake-ahead recipe- shortbread!

We are going to use this shortbread for 3 kinds of cookies this year, both caramel and raspberry thumbprints as well as chocolate-dipped traditional shortbread cookies.

This is the shortbread recipe we go-t0, of course it’s from the Pioneer Woman because she can do no wrong. (more…)

Quickie Dinner- Mike’s Shepherd’s Pie

Ally’s note: Oh man, I love it when Mike cooks. He always makes something spicy, comforting and quick. It’s the perfect dinner, every time. Hmm…why don’t I have him cook more often?

Anyway, this is one of our favorite recipes. Try it and I promise, you’ll love it.

Spicy Shepherd’s Pie

Preheat the oven to 350f.

Peel, cube, and boil 3 potatoes or sweet potatoes. Drain and mash. You can add milk or butter, we like to add low-fat cream cheese. Set aside.

In a frying pan, add one chopped onion, two cloves of chopped garlic and 1 lb. of ground beef or turkey. Cook until it’s brown. Drain, if there is any liquid. Season with some cumin, chili powder, garlic powder- whatever spices you like. Or you could add half of a package of taco seasoning in there. Move to a bowl and add 2 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of flour to the pan.

Stir until it’s combined and add a cup of chicken broth. Make sure you stir this really good or else it will get lumpy. When it’s thickened, add meat back in. Now put in some frozen corn, peppers or whatever else you like.

Pour into a baking pan and top with the potatoes and some grated cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is nice and melted.


Comprehending Fiction: What Is Fiction?

how-to-increase-reading-comprehension-in-adultsFiction is imaginative narrative in any form that is designed to entertain, as distinguished from writing which is designed primarily to explain and describe. Fiction is found in many literary forms.

I am currently working with Best GED classes as a test writer and helping GED students, I think it’s important they understand how to distinguish between genres and how to read comprehensively.

What Are Some of the Forms (Genres) of Fiction?

  • Picture Books–the story is presented through a combination of text and illustrations. A variety of art is found in the illustrations from woodcuts to collages, photographs, and watercolors. The illustrations and the text work together to establish the mood and theme.
  • Folklore–represents the literary heritage of humankind. Variety in folklore includes traditional stories, myths, legends, nursery rhymes, and songs from the past.
  • Fantasy–under this classification are the imaginative worlds and make-believe. Stories that are set in places that do not exist, about people and creatures that could not exist, or events that could not happen.