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.





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?

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?


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! 



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!






Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

I absolutely adore pasta dishes, but my favorite by far is Chicken Cacciatore.  It’s not something that’s easily found in restaurants in the Greater Cincinnati area.  In fact, there’s only one place in town that I know of that carries this delightful Italian dish.  My family is originally from upstate New York, which is rich in Italian heritage.  You can always find great pizza and usually cacciatore at most of the local family-owned restaurants in that part of the country.

So, I’ve been on a quest most of my adult life to recreate the awesome Chicken Cacciatore I used to eat so often growing up.  And I have finally come up with the perfect recipe, made in the crock pot.  Chicken Cacciatore is usually made with tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers.  My hubby’s not a huge pepper fan, so I subbed in artichokes which we both love!  So, if you’d rather have the peppers, then omit the artichokes and add in one chopped bell pepper instead.

 And I am excited that I’ve discovered a gluten-free pasta that tastes amazing and doesn’t get sticky or clumpy.  I found it at my new favorite store, Aldi!  Their “Live G-Free” brand is very reasonably priced and everything I’ve tried from the line so far has been good.  (My hubby especially likes the Live G-Free chocolate chip cookie mix.)  If you’re keeping an eye on your carb intake, mix half past and half zucchini noodles, which is what I usually do with my pasta dishes.  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore


  • 1 – 15 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • 2 – 14 oz. cans of diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 – 14 oz. can of artichokes, drained and roughly chopped
  • 8 oz. fresh baby bella mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 1 small onion, sliced (optional)
  • 2 Tbs. red wine
  • 1 Chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 3 frozen boneless chicken breasts
  • Pinch of sea salt


Place all ingredients in the crock pot and stir to combine.  Cook 4 hours on high or 6 to 8 hours on low.  Serve over pasta or zucchini noodles.  Pairs well with a nice Merlot or Cabernet!



Easy Prep Easter Menu

Hello. Heather here from Real: The Kitchen and Beyond to share my favorite Easter menu. Easter is one of my favorite holidays. Christmas edges it out just a bit but I love Easter – the time when life is celebrated and all things are made new, when our family celebrates the resurrection of our Savior.


I also love memories of waking up and finding a new cereal bowl with Easter candy in it at each place setting. We were often up bright and early for Easter Sunrise services and always hopeful that we would get to eat a piece of candy before we left. However, church clothes and candy don’t go well together so the candy was tucked away for Easter dinner dessert.


Easter dinner is another favorite part of my Easter Sunday. I still love gathering around a big table with my family and that exhilarating feeling of newness of life. Cooking a big Easter Dinner can be a lot of work for the cook but I believe it should be kept delicious and simple.


With many people coming home from Easter services or morning festivities for a big family meal, I want men and women everywhere to enjoy quality time with their families, rather than hours working in the kitchen.


This doesn’t mean no cooking. No, it just means making simple but amazing dishes. It means prepping ahead.


Here is my favorite Easter dinner menu and tips to help you get Easter dinner on the table with less hassle.


Ham – I love a good baked ham served with horseradish on the side – loads of fresh zesty horseradish. Buy your ham precooked at one of those many grocery sales or cook it ahead of time so it just needs to be reheated.


Mashed potatoes – In my humble opinion, mashed potatoes belong on every holiday table. I have a recipe to take that everyday mashed potato to new levels of flavor with my much sought after Amish Mashed Potatoes recipe. Peel and cut your potatoes ahead of time. Stick them in a pot of water and refrigerate overnight, or, if prepping them Sunday morning, set on the back of the stove with the lid on. There you go. One less step of time consuming prep work.


Sautéed Lemony Dill Asparagus – Spring and fresh asparagus go hand in hand here on the East Coast. This simple side can be whipped up in no time and is light and refreshing next to salty ham and rich mashed potatoes. Make sure you check out the recipe at the end of this post.


Of course we can’t skip dessert. We’re raiding the candy bowl and serving up the homemade peanut butter eggs for dessert. Peanut Butter Eggs are my favorite Easter Candy. Bet you can’t eat just one.


Does your family have an Easter Dinner tradition? Share it with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.


Lemony Dill Asparagus


  • 1 pound fresh asparagus

  • ¼ cup water

  • ½ teaspoon dried dill

  • ½ lemon

  • Salt (I use ½ teaspoon) and pepper (I use 1/8 teaspoon) to taste


  • Snap tough ends off asparagus.

  • Put into a sauté pan with water.

  • Top with dill, salt, and pepper.

  • Cover and cook over medium heat, 5-10 minutes, until desired tenderness.

  • Squeeze half of lemon over cooked asparagus and toss.



 Heather 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.

Banana Silver Dollars Pancakes

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

I’m a sucker for pancakes!  There’s nothing better than cutting into a warm stack of hotcakes drizzled in maple syrup – yum!  Unfortunately, many pancake recipes are full of white sugar, white flour, and unhealthy fat.  That’s why I was delighted when I came across this gluten-free, dairy-free, recipe for Banana Silver Dollar pancakes in a recent issue of First for Women magazine.

Honestly, when I first looked at the ingredient list, I wondered how these pancakes were going to turn out, with only a few tablespoons of coconut flour.  Amazingly, they were as light and fluffy as a slice of chocolate cake – and there’s no bowl required to make them!

In fact, you just dump all of the ingredients in the blender!  Blend for less than a minute, and then pour the batter into a muffin top pan.


I actually purchased this muffin top pan specifically to make this recipe, so I was invested in its success.  And I’m so glad that I did.

The only downside to this recipe is that it only serves two people, and you know I like to freeze my leftovers!  Maybe I’ll get a second pan for making double batches…


Banana Silver Dollars

(Modified from Recipe in First for Women Magazine)


  • 2 medium ripe bananas
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 Tbs. coconut flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. cacao powder (or regular cocoa powder)
  • ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp. baking soda
  • Pinch of sea salt


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 6-well muffin top pan.  Combine all ingredients in blender. Puree 30 seconds or until well blended.  Divide batter evenly among wells of the pan.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until middles are set.


Serves 2.  Calories – 318; Protein – 12 grams; Carbs – 34 grams; Fiber – 7 grams; Sugar – 15 grams; Sodium – 672 mg; Total Fat – 10 grams




Hello Again, Aldi

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

This past Friday, I made a trip to my local Aldi store for the first time in a LONG time – as in over 15 years.  Why have I avoided Aldi for so long?  Back then, I had to shop at Aldi because I was flat broke.  So when I finally got to a place in my finances when I didn’t have to shop at Aldi, I left it behind.  When I’d drive by the store, I would remember how it felt to be broke, shudder, and keep on going.  (This is the same reason I rarely eat at Taco Bell.  It reminds me of the days of rolling change in college to go buy bean burritos for dinner.)

But it really wasn’t Aldi’s fault that I had that negative association.  So why did I decide to give it another shot?  Several ladies in my Facebook recipe group were raving about the great deals on spices, snacks, organic food, and gourmet cheeses.  Wait… organic food and gourmet cheeses?  That’s not the Aldi that I remember!  Because I’m trying to eat more organic food, I was definitely intrigued.  Especially when my friend Heather Tenney of In God’s Economy told me that Aldi and Trader Joe’s were owned by the same parent company!

So, here is what I discovered on my Aldi’s field trip on Friday.  First, you need a quarter for the cart – not 25 cents, but a quarter.  The quarter releases the cart from the corral and you get it back when you return the cart.  Aldi does NOT take credit cards!  (Another reason for me to like them.)  You can pay with cash, debit card, or EBT.  You need to bring your own reusable bags and you’ll be doing the bagging yourself after paying for your groceries.  Aldi does not accept manufacturer’s coupons.

I didn’t purchase any produce or meat on my shopping trip, since I was already stocked up from the co-op and Sam’s.  However, the meat and produce at the Erlanger, Kentucky store looked good and prices were reasonable.  The only fresh food I bought was hummus for $1.99, which is definitely less than what I would pay at my local Kroger.  Most of my purchases were in the snack and baking aisles.  Here are some of the deals I found:

  • Huge 4 oz. containers of various spices for $0.99 (Onion powder and steak seasoning made it into my cart on this trip.)
  • Canned beans (garbanzo, kidney, cannellini, etc.) for $0.65
  • 12-pack of granola bars for $1.79
  • Organic Animal Crackers 8 oz. for $0.99 – Very tasty!
  • Natural creamy peanut butter for $1.69
  • Organic Salsa $1.89
  • Capers $1.49
  • 16 oz. of Virgin Olive Oil for $2.99
  • 10 oz. whole roasted cashews $4.29
  • 12 oz. whole raw almonds $5.49

I was super excited about the great deals on the nuts because I love to have those on hand for a healthy snack.  I’m going to use the almonds to make Roasted Rosemary Almonds today, since I’m snowed in.  (Recipe below.)  The Aldi store in Erlanger is small, so you may not find everything you’re looking for on your grocery list.  The store is clean, well lit, and the staff was friendly.  There aren’t many name brand products on the shelf, but so far everything that hubby and I have tried has been tasty.  Nick gives Aldi’s yogurt covered raisins two big thumbs up, so I’ll be stocking up next time I’m there.

Hello again, Aldi!  Looks like you’ll be seeing a lot more of me in the future.

Roasted Rosemary Almonds

  • 2 cups whole raw almonds
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. rosemary
  • 1 tsp. sea salt

Toss all ingredients in a bowl and stir to coat almonds thoroughly.  Roast on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  Let cool and enjoy.  Store leftovers in an airtight container.