Meal Planning Monday ~ Thanksgiving Countdown

Happy Thanksgiving Dinner countdown is on and it’s time to get those menus planned! Hello, it’s Heather from Real: The Kitchen and Beyond. Every year I anticipate Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a time to gather ’round the table with loved ones and remember how grateful we need to be for all that we have. It’s also a time I agonize over the Thanksgiving Dinner menu. I love planning and making this meal and narrowing down the array of side dishes and desserts isn’t easy.


I am not going to lie, I especially love Thanksgiving dinner tables loaded down with food. Every year as we make way too many dishes, I am reminded afresh of how blessed we are to be able to enjoy a table full of family, love, and food. The two biggest things I have found that help fill that table with less stress and a more frugal budget, is to keep the dishes simple and have everyone bring a favorite dish. This also helps keep the meal easy prep! Here are some of our favorite Thanksgiving dishes that make it to the table every year.


All About the Turkey

What is better than a beautifully roasted turkey with crispy flavorful skin? Here is my favorite roasted turkey recipe and a few prep tips for making that bird the main star.



Bountiful Sides

Amish Mashed Potatoes

Easy Healthy Sweet Potatoes

Gluten Free Sausage Cranberry Stuffing

Easy Lemony Asparagus – roasted with a little olive oil, salt, and the juice of 1/2 lemon squeezed over top

Creamed Corn (I confess, from the can)

My mama’s crescent rolls

Green Bean Casserole ( My favorite way to make it is to dump a 16 ounce bag of frozen green beans in a casserole dish and mix with a batch of homemade mushroom soup, then bake at 350 degrees until bubbly.)

Homemade Cranberry Sauce (see easy recipe below)



Delicious Desserts

Homemade Apple Pie

Cranberry Ginger Crumble Bars

Pumpkin Pie



Homemade Clementine Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce has always been that one dish that can’t be left off the table. From cans of jellied cranberries to this homemade clementine cranberry sauce, the color and flavor has to be on my plate. This clementine cranberry sauce has all the tartness of cranberries with sweetness from the sugar and clementine to mellow it out, yet still have bright flavors. Enjoy!




  • 4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

  • 1 clementine

  • 3/4 cup sugar


  • Zest and juice clementine, keeping both the juice and zest for the sauce.

  • Put cranberries in a wide-bottomed pan ( sauté pan or wide bottomed stockpot works)

  • Mix sugar, zest, and juice into cranberries.

  • Cook over medium heat, slightly chopping up cranberries once they get soft. (Use a hand masher or immersion blender.)

  • Heat until thick and bubbling.

  • Transfer to a bowl and chill before serving.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Makes: Approximately 2 cups



Heather McCurdy writes at Real: The Kitchen and Beyond where the food is (mostly) real and the making’s easy. She believes any one can cook. Just follow the steps, starting at #1. Read, follow, taste, venture out. Don’t be afraid to fail, then try again. Her other hats are homeschooling, editing fiction, ghostwriting, and culinary marketing. Oh, and she believes life is always better with dessert.





Win Cash for Christmas Giveaway

Are you getting geared up for the holiday shopping season? You should be, because Christmas is just a few weeks away!  I’m busy making my list and checking it twice.  

Do you need extra cash for Christmas?? Don’t we all!

We are so excited to be giving away $225 in cash prizes for you to use starting Thanksgiving weekend. Here are the prizes:

1 – $100 Amazon Gift Card
1 – $75 Target Gift Card
1 – $25 Walmart Gift Card
1 – $25 Kohl’s Gift Card

There will be four winners in this giveaway. Each winner will receive a gift card code to use on the online store or in the actual store.

Now its time to meet our wonderful co-hosts who have made this giveaway possible.

Grateful {Printable} + $225 Cash for Christmas Giveaway

Starting at the top row we have:

Kim – The Resourceful Mama | Christine – Christine Luken Financial Lifeguard | Audrey – That Recipe & Munofore | Tricia – The Good Mama | Christie – Sparkles of Sunshine | Barb – A Life in Balance | Tammy – Creative K Kids | Melissa – How Does Your Garden Grow? | Deanna – Play Dough & Popsicles | Aliza – Home Crafts by Ali | Trish – By Trish Sutton | Laci – Sequins in the South | Holly – Keeping Life Sane | Kelly – Typically Simple | Angie – God’s Growing Garden | Whitney – Beauty And a Budget by whitjxoxo | Jen – JVKom Chronicles | Terri – Christmas Tree Lane | Kim – Shopping Kim | Stacey – A Moment in Our World | Tammy – My Life Abundant

Please stop by and say “Hi” to these wonderful ladies and their blogs.

The giveaway will end midnight on Wednesday, November 25th, the night before Thanksgiving. You will have 48 hours to respond to the email claiming the prize. If you respond right away, we will get you the gift card code promptly so that you can shop with it on Black Friday! If we don’t hear in 48 hours, we will choose another winner.

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Welcome to the Dark Meat Side


This week’s post is by Christine Luken.



 As a kid, I always wanted to eat white meat chicken.  However, as an adult, I have come to appreciate the virtues of dark meat.  First of all, chicken thighs and legs are cheaper per pound than chicken breast meat.  I stock up on boneless chicken thighs at Sam’s Club whenever I go.  I have found that dark meat doesn’t dry out the way that white meat does, especially when using the crock pot, because of its higher fat content. Despite this fact, recent research has shown that dark meat is actually very healthy for you. I guess you can say that I have officially gone over to the dark meat side!  Today, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite dishes made with boneless, skinless chicken thighs.



My stepsister, Leah, turned me onto this recipe for Chicken Taco Bowls.  I use thigh meat to make this in the crock pot.  It is a super easy recipe – and very versatile!  You can use this as taco or burrito filling, serve it over brown rice as I usually do, or use it as a nacho topping!  The leftovers – if you have any – freeze and reheat really well.  This would be a good candidate for cooking a double batch and stocking the freezer.



I frequently make my Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore with frozen chicken thighs, even though the original recipe calls for chicken breasts.



If you are a fan of wine, try my Tuscan Red Wine Chicken Thighs which can be baked in the oven – or even better – grilled! I like to serve them with wild rice and garlic roasted asparagus.   In fact, just writing about this recipe is making me crave them!  I may have to rearrange this week’s meal plan so I can fit them in.



When I am feeling lazy in the kitchen, I will toss four frozen chicken thighs in the crock pot with a bottle of BBQ sauce.  If you’re concerned about all of the corn syrup and other additives in the store bought varieties, try my healthy and delicious homemade BBQ sauce.



What about you?  Have you gone over to the dark meat side?  If so, what are your favorite recipes that use dark meat chicken?

Winner’s Choice Giveaway – $25 Starbucks or Target Gift Card


We are in the middle of October, the most glorious month of fall! What better way to celebrate the season of pumpkin spice everything and Halloween with a $25 Target or Starbucks Gift Card Giveaway! My favorite thing about October is pumpkin spice everything and the glorious fall leaves.

This giveaway is generously sponsored by Christine Luken, the Financial Lifeguard,and co-hosted by Super Frugal Stephanie and her fabulous blogger friends! Christine’s Mindful Money Management program is now available online, exclusively inside of Your Wellness Room. She knows that as the holidays approach, people feel increased money stress because of the extra expenses that come with decorating, entertaining and gift giving. This is why Christine is offering a 7-Day Free Trial of Your Wellness Room to all of you.

You’ll be able to complete her entire Mindful Money Management Budgeting course during the free trial so that you can have a plan in order to become financially healthy. Yes – even during the holidays!

Hands of medical doctor. Healthcare blue background.

This program is so much more than a formula for how to spend your money every month. Christine has a unique perspective when it comes to personal financial management. Because she hit rock bottom financially in the spring of 2000, despite having an Accounting degree, Christine understands that money management is so much more than head knowledge. Money is emotional!


Christine addresses these emotional and relational hot buttons, giving you tools to short-circuit the negative emotions and harness the positive ones, to propel you toward your Preferred Financial Future. And be sure to check out all of the other great programs inside of Your Wellness Room during your Free Trial: Meal Planning, Weight Loss, Sleep Support, Depression Relief, Stress Management, and More!

Good luck!!

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The participating bloggers were not compensated for this post. We are not associated with any of the companies named above. No purchase is necessary to enter. Void where prohibited by law. The odds of winning are based on the number of entries received Open to USA, 18+ only. Limit one entrant per household. Confirmed Winner(s) (by Random.orgnofollow) will be contacted by email. Winner(s) have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited by law. The sponsor(s) will be responsible for product shipment to winner(s) of this giveaway. My blog is not responsible for product shipment/delivery. This event is in no way administered, sponsored, or endorsed by, or associated with, Facebook and/or Twitter, Google, Pinterest, Instagram or Klout. This disclosure is done in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission 10 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements. Entrants must only enter with either one email address, IP address and/or Facebook account, anyone found violating these rules will be disqualified. It is at the sole discretion of the admin of the giveaway if the winner has met the rules or not.




Meal Planning Monday: Halloween Edition


This week’s meal planning Monday is complements of Amy from Savvy Saving Couple.

Are you a fan of zombies, pumpkins, and everything creepy? If so, you are probably like me and love Halloween time. to celebrate this time of year, I love creating spooktacular treats that make Halloween such a fun and exciting time of year. From creepy cookies to candy apples and everything in-between, I just love this time of year.

To help get you all get in the mood for Halloween, I wanted to share five of my top Halloween Desserts and sweet treats that are sure to please any little ghoul or goblin. Since easy recipes are what I am all about, these require very little work and are pretty quick to assemble.


First up are these Creepy Eyeball Cupcakes. These were actually really easy to make. You can use boxed mix and candy toppers like eyeball gumballs that can be purchased from stores like Target. Red cookie icing as blood made these gory cupcakes such a hit with the kids.


Next we have some Halloween themed Candy Apples. These are easy to make and do require a little effort but nothing too hard. Simply melt some cooking caramels over low heat and dip in freshly washed, and dried apples. Top with Halloween sprinkles, candies, or nuts and relish in a spooky treat.


Who doesn’t love the way Peeps candies look? Ok, so I might not be a huge fan of their taste, but the way they dressed up these Halloween Peeps Cupcakes are oh so spooktacular. I love the graveyard, ghosts, cats, and pumpkin Peeps which made these cupcakes ghoulishly good.


Around this time of year candy is such a fun and exciting novelty. Why not whip up a batch of this 10 Minute Creepy Bark. Made with melting chocolates, and some of my favorite Halloween toppings, this is almost fool-proof to make and it will not take much time or effort at all!


Lastly, we have these sort of adorable Baked Vanilla Mummy Donuts. They are made from a homemade vanilla cake donut batter and a small batch can be made in under 10 minutes. Some white frosting piped on with a flat cake tip and some candy eyes dress these donuts up as a wickedly good snack.

What Halloween treats will you be whipping up this year?


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Fast & Furious Back to School Bites


This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.


Every year about a week before school starts I start baking like a mad woman. I bake at least 8 dozen muffins, 4 dozen pancakes, and 2 dozen waffles. I also whip up a couple batches of granola bars and energy bites. Why do I bake like this you ask? I’ve learned over the past 5 years of having kids in school that mornings don’t always go as planned. You spend 20 minutes looking for a shoe that the cat was laying on then you spend another 15 minutes explaining why cowboy boots and a princess dress up costume is not appropriate for school. Before you know it, it’s almost time for them to catch the bus.



This is where my mad woman baking comes in handy. I can just pop a frozen muffin in the microwave for 45 seconds and voila! a healthy breakfast. I’m going to share my favorite muffin recipe with you. These freeze well and are delicious! To freeze them just put them in a Ziploc freezer bag and lay flat in your freezer.



These Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins from Designed Decor are Divine!

It’s also nice to have a few freezer snacks available for after school snacks. The kids can do their homework or chores while their snack thaws out. I’m going to share my all time favorite energy bite recipe. These don’t give the kids “I’m going to scale the walls then run a marathon energy”  they’re just a healthy snack bite.

No Bake Energy Bites from Cooking Classy are my Favorites!

What are your  fast and furious snacks and breakfasts for busy school days?





Meal Planning Monday ~ The Fruits of Summer


Today’s post is written by Kim Bergeron of Extreme Coupon Professors.

Summer certainly brings different meals to our table than at winter time. I love using fresh fruits and veggies whenever I can. They’re easily at our disposal and if we are buying them at the stores, they’re at a much more reasonable price.

I’m going to start with a simple blueberry muffin recipe. This recipe is different than any other kind I’ve made. The key ingredient is sour cream. You’ve got to try them, they’ll be a hit in your home as they are in ours.  My sister-in- law raves over these muffins, so I just had to try them! Yep, she’s right! So moist and delicious. It’s a keeper!

Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins


2 1/2 Cups of flour + 1 Tbsp for dusting the blueberries
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick of butter, melted
1 cup of sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups of plain sour cream
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon or orange zest
2 cups of blueberries (If using frozen blueberries, do not thaw)


Place blueberries in a bowl, sprinkle 1 Tbsp of flour and gently coat.
Preheat over to 400

In a large mixing bowl, place sour cream sugar, eggs, milk, melted butter, zest and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little at a time. Mix until blended. Mixture will be thick. 
Gently fold in blueberries.

Place liners in muffin pans or grease generously.
Fill muffin cups to the top, it will not spill over. ( I like to sprinkle my muffins with coarse sugar before baking)

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-22 minutes.

Let cool and enjoy!!!

Recipe made 18 muffins.


Another breakfast recipe that I made over the weekend was Peach Stuffed French Toast. I’m telling you now, you’ll want to make this quite often and it probably won’t be for just breakfast.  I found this recipe in our local grocery store magazine, called Fresh Magazine, and I made a few changes to it to suit my taste.

The filling had just the right cream cheese and sweetness consistency. Though the recipe says it serves 4, we served 6. Certainly, you could add more filling to each serving, but I think it would have been too sweet and gooey for me. The recipe called for white peaches, but the Georgia peaches were on sale, so you know we went with those. I used 3 peaches for the recipe and I also used French Toast Bread. I love my french toast really thick.

I’ll be using this recipe over and over again, and switch it up a bit by using the fruits that are in season. Blueberries will be delicious as well as strawberries and apples.

Have fun, be creative and enjoy.  And get ready to become an addict of Peach Stuffed French Toast.

I recently made an easy chicken dinner with peaches and plums.  Again, with the great prices on fruit and low prices of chicken around here, we’re making delicious meals on a low budget. Who doesn’t appreciate that. I served this with a shrimp and veggie pasta salad and had a sweet ending of strawberry stuffed whoopie pies. I know what you’re thinking. You want to join us at our house for dinner every night. I’d love to have you anytime!

You can get  our Chicken, Pasta and Whoopie Pie recipes HERE. 

Always remember, make the recipe yours. If you prefer chicken breasts over thighs, use them. If you like peaches more than plums, use them. You know your tastes and your family’s taste. I love finding new recipes, but I want to make sure my family will love them too when I bring the plates to the table.

I’m a wife, mommy and a lover of life enjoying everything from playing board games to cooking to traveling. Finding deals for our family has allowed us to do the fun things in life with enjoyment and less stress. When I find a deal I’ll always share it on my blog, Extreme Coupon Professors. Hop on over to see all the ways to save! 



Panera $50 Gift Card Giveaway!

Do you have a recent grad or know someone who has graduation? Party-planning can be stressful and expensive. Panera Bread offers a full-service catering menu that takes the worry out of preparing food for a large party or group of people.  Your Strong Tower is excited to bring you this great giveaway!

Panera Bread offers a full-service catering menu, boxed lunches and serving trays. Be sure to read Kristin’s full review for more information on Panera Bread Catering or dine-in information.

*** The Giveaway ***

One lucky reader will win a $50 Panera Bread Gift Card!

Giveaway is open to US Residents, ages 18+ years of age (limited to one entrant per household).

The giveaway ends on 06/27/15.

Simply follow the Rafflecopter entry form below for your chance to win. Be sure to return tomorrow to complete the daily entries

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The participating bloggers were not compensated for this post. We are not associated with any of the companies named above. No purchase is necessary to enter. Void where prohibited by law. The odds of winning are based on the number of entries received Open to US Residents, 18+ only. Limit one entrant per household. Confirmed Winner(s) (by will be contacted by email. Winner(s) have 24 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited by law. The sponsor(s) will be responsible for product shipment to winner(s) of this giveaway. Your Strong Tower is not responsible for product shipment/delivery. This event is in no way administered, sponsored, or endorsed by, or associated with, Facebook and/or Twitter, Google, Pinterest, Instagram or Klout.
This disclosure is done in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission 10 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements. Entrants must only enter with either one email address, IP address and/or Facebook account, anyone found violating these rules will be disqualified. It is at the sole discretion of the admin of the giveaway if the winner has met the rules or not.



5 Easy to Make Summer Salads

This week’s Meal Planning Monday is by Amy of Savvy Saving Couple.

Memorial Day kicked off the unofficial start to summer. That means warmer weather, sunshine, lazy beach days and cookouts. I don’t know about you but I love a good BBQ meal! For me, it is all about the delicious and easy to make summer salads.

Since the heat is up, I don’t exactly feel like spending my days stuck indoors cooking. That is why my family eats a lot of easy to make summer salads, and smaller meals. We love potato salad, green salads, pasta salads, and even simple sandwiches.

Here are some of my top 5 easy to make summer salads that are sure to please the crowds. They require minimal effort, and are jam-packed with flavor and zest.

Pesto Caprese Macaroni Salad: This pasta salad is a unique twist on pesto and caprese salad. I guess you can say it combines the best of both dishes into one make-ahead salad that could even double as a main dish. It is perfect for picnics and BBQ’s because it only gets more flavorful the longer it is chilled (up to 24 hours).

Parmesan Pesto Steak Salad: Looking for a salad that doubles as a meal? This protein packed dish is perfect for leftover steak tips, or even a cheaper cut of grilled steak. The pesto, extra Parmesan and steak are a surprisingly tasty combination that my husband loves!

Feta, Basil, Tomato and Bowtie Pasta Salad: I don’t know about you but I love pasta and feta cheese combined. This recipe is super colorful and totally tasty! It is almost like a caprese salad, but the main star is the salty feta which balances well with the fresh basil.


Corn and Asparagus Salad: The flavors of summer make this vegetable based salad a winning dish. Freshly shucked sweet corn, and tender asparagus pair well with honey, and balsamic dressing to make a sweet and savory medley.

Cheeseburger Salad: Who doesn’t love a good burger this time of year? Last year I was trying to watch my carbs so I decided to make a cheeseburger salad that contained all the classic of a burger with fresh Thousand Island dressing. The result was an amazingly tasty salad that I could probably eat every single day! I even made hamburger bun croutons that I added sparingly to my plate—way too good!