Well our new blog launch of At The Picket Fence
has been a success and so much fun!
We've had a week of giveaways and there's still time to enter!
You can enter for one, two...or all five of the prizes!
and today's giveaway
We've also featured some great recipes, guest posters and Valentine crafts!
Today you can also link up to
I want to say a big thanks to any of my Gourmet Meals for Less followers that have friended us At The Picket Fence and for supporting us over there. We are very excited to see what this new venture together has in store for us.
Hope to see you often...at the fence!
I am so excited to announce the birth of a new blog!
My sister Vanessa, at Southern In My Heart, and I are starting out on a brand new blogging adventure. We want to invite you to meet up with us
You will still find great recipes, but so much more as well!
We want to go "beyond the blog" and create a community for women to connect with one another. A virtual picket fence!
I invite you to take a sneak peek tonight before our big launch tomorrow!
and place it on your blog!
We will be celebrating all week with great content, guest posts and a week of giveaways!
You can also find At the Picket Fence on
Facebook: At The Picket Fence
Our New Blog Frog Community (see community page)
I will be taking a hiatus from Gourmet Meals for Less as I focus on the launch of At The Picket Fence, but don't worry you'll still find the type of recipes you've come to love at my new location!
See you...At The Picket Fence!
Today is my girls 11th birthday. Time has moved her so quickly from this little peanut
to a lovely pre-teen. Shhh...don't tell her she's not actually a teenager yet. She really wants to be. :)
It's hard to believe a whole year has passed since we celebrated her 10th birthday with a Monkey Party. I had just started this blog and to this day this is still one of my most viewed posts. I think it is because of this:
The Monkey Cake I made. This is a popular search apparently. It is Martha Stewart's famous monkey cake, and is one of my favorite cakes I've made. I'm all about a themed party. I'm so glad the girl still lets me have them for her. For instance we had so much fun making these party favors to match.
That was a fun birthday.
And you can read more about it here, including directions on how to make the monkey cake and the monkey favor cups: Martha Stewart and Monkey Cakes
This year will be no exception. We have another themed birthday party in the works. Of course this one was a little more difficult to pull off and stretched my creativity. It's always a hard thing when you are challenged to combine aliens, monsters and robots. For a girls birthday party. And are told they must be cute aliens, monsters and robots. I will be sharing our party plans in an upcoming post. It will be an "out of this world" post! grin!
Speaking of birthdays. We have another birthday of sorts coming up. It's the birth of an exciting new venture between my sister, Vanessa at Southern In My Heart, and myself.
We decided to take the saying "two heads are better than one" seriously around here! There has been a lot of behind the scenes activity as we work to launch our new project. We hope you'll agree with us when we unveil our latest blogging endeavour. I'll give you a sneak peek...
We desire to move "beyond the blogging" to formulate lasting relationships between woman in the blogging community. We want to provide a place where women can share, care and inspire one another. So stay tuned for more updates and watch for our launch information! I hope you will join my sister and me in this new adventure. There will still be great recipes available...but also so much more!
Can't wait to....meet you there!
"So who would write her favorite blog?" you ask. Well my sister of course! I wrote a post about a special little bean plant a few months back, and even though it had nothing to do with recipes or cooking it has turned into one of my most viewed posts. My sweet sister (say that three times fast) asked if she could share it with her readers over at
of course I said yes! So if you need a little inspiration this morning and a special reminder of how you can be fruitful wherever you are in your life regardless of the circumstances head on over to Southern In My Heart and read about a little bean plant who bloomed right where it was planted!
While you're there take a peek at the other wonderful ideas and inspirations you can find at Southern In My Heart. Do you like what you see?? I hope so because the two of us have some exciting things in store! We have always believed in the saying "two heads are better than one" and we are cooking up some ideas to put that into practice. Stay tuned!
Okay so maybe not actually upside down, but I definitely turned the classic pineapple upside down cake on it's proverbial head. I saw this great idea on a recipe website while I was researching classic 1920's desserts and being someone who always likes to liven things up and try something new, I of course had to give this idea a go.
This my dear readers is a two layered round upside down cake.
"she couldn't just be happy with our plain one layered square cake she HAD to go and change it all up. It's just like her you know...she bobbed her hair too. And wears short dresses. with fringe."
...er uh okay forgot I wasn't ACTUALLY in 1920.
Many people don't know that the Pineapple Upside Down Cake first hit the scene in the 20's with the invention of...you guessed it canned pineapple! All those housewives in the midwest who'd probably never even seen a pineapple let alone eaten one, were all of a sudden expected to come up with something to make with it. So what else are you going to do if you're a 1920's midwest housewife... bake a cake of course! The Pineapple Upside Down Cake was a huge hit and it's been with us in some variation ever since. So here's my take on it. Hope you like it!
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 14 oz. can pineapple slices, drained reserving juice
1 jar maraschino cherries without stems
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 stick of butter, softened to room temperature
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup milk
3 Tbs. reserved pineapple juice
Heat oven to 350°F. Divide 1/4 cup butter between two 9" round cake pans, place in oven and allow butter to melt. Remove pans from and divide and sprinkle brown sugar evenly between pans over melted butter. Slice pineapple rings in half to fit around edge of pan as shown in picture on top of brown sugar mixture.
Place remaining whole pineapple slices in middle of pan. Place cherry in center of each pineapple slice.
In medium bowl, beat remaining ingredients with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly. Beat on high speed 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Divide batter between cake pans and pour batter over pineapple and cherries.
Immediately place heatproof serving plate upside down over pan; turn plate and pan over. Leave pan over cake a few minutes so brown sugar mixture can drizzle over cake; remove pan.
Loosen edges of cake in second pan by running a knife carefully along edge. With the aid of an offset spatula (or any wide long handled spatula) quickly but gently flip second cake over bracing with spatula and place on top of first cake. Make sure second layer is centered before removing spatula. Allow cake pan to rest for a minute or two on top of cake so that the brown sugar mixture can drizzle onto cake.
P.S. So now do you wanna know why I was researching classic 1920 dessert recipes?? Well for our New Years Eve Gangster and Flapper Murder Mystery Dinner that's why! grin! Post on this awesome night coming soon!
This recipe is linked up to:
"I'm sorry top button of my favorite jeans, I will try and be better next year...maybe. No promises."
This weekend though, I decided to make one of our family favorites for our poker night with friends. I had ingredients still in the pantry from all of the holiday baking, and once again I was reminded that we don't have to save our special "holiday goodies" just for...well the holidays. If it's good enough for Christmas than it's good enough the whole year round right??
This family favorite is the tried and true "Magic Bar" from Eagle Brand. It vanishes everytime I make it...in fact this batch even had a piece stolen from it before it had cooled. This person shall who's name starts with an "R" remain annonymous. grin.
I am on a real sweet/salty kick and thought why not try this combination on Magic Bars. Can we say...oh my! Adding just a little coarse salt to the graham cracker crust really took these cookies up a notch! You don't have to do this of course, but I promise if you do you'll love them even more!
Magic Bars-Eagle Brand
Makes approximately 2 dozen bars depending on how you cut them.
Non-stick cooking spray
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt (optional)
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups (12 oz. pkg.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped nuts (I usually use pecans)
HEAT oven to 350°F. Spray 13 x 9-inch baking pan with no-stick cooking spray. I like to line mine with parchment paper so I can pull them out and make nice even squares.
COMBINE graham cracker crumbs and butter in small bowl. Add in coarse salt to mixture if desired and combine thoroughly. Press into bottom of prepared pan. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Layer evenly with chocolate chips, coconut and nuts. Press down firmly with fork.
BAKE 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Loosen from sides of pan while still warm; cool on wire rack. Cut into bars or diamonds.
For perfectly cut cookie bars, line entire pan with foil, extending foil over edge of pan. Coat lightly with no-stick cooking spray. After bars have baked and cooled, lift up with edges of foil to remove from pan. Cut into individual bars.
Options: Here's where you can have fun with Magic Bars. You can mix up or take away ingredients depending on your preferences. I have used both semi-sweet and milk chocolate chips. I have added white chocolate chips. I have omitted coconut on occasion and they are still just as good. You can be creative with these or use whatever you have on hand. They are still good no matter what toppings you use!
Living in a rural community has it's advantages...but it also has it's disadvantages. One of them is the lack of grocery stores. Up until two years ago all we had a Wally-World ten miles from us. Then we had a Kroger Marketplace come onto the scene 10 minutes away. There was much rejoicing in our small county when they held their grand opening. Starbucks. Sushi. Does it get much better?
But still, it doesn't have quite...everything. You know those items that foodies like to have access to. Weird things. Unusual things. So I was so excited when I discovered that one of the largest international grocery stores in the world existed less than an hour away.
You may have even heard of it before. The story behind this store personifies the American Dream. An individual starting out with nothing and through hard work and perseverience creating something unique and remarkable.
That individual is Jim Bonaminio and he took a simple road side stand and turned it into a a 300,000-square-foot food emporium. You can read more about Jungle Jim's on their website.
This is the exterior of Jungle Jim's. I bet your local grocery store doesn't have a zoo outside of it, jungle sounds and all. When you enter Jungle Jim's you are greated by objects like this
He's certainly not a happy ear of corn. Maybe it's because he's worried that the person that left these might return soon
Yep not quite sure what the ear of corn and Dorothy's red slippers stuffed with the witch's stockings have to do with each other, but it is Jungle Jim's after all. Oh and in case you come in looking for something as simple as a regular ole' can of Campbell's Soup, you won't have to look too far.
As I'm sure you've realized by now..Jim has quite the sense of humor. For instance this is where you can purchase by the pound any olive imaginable. At the Olive Pit.
Or better yet...how about this block of cheese...
Yes my friends you are looking at a 765 pound block of cheese! Pretty impressive huh?
Now before I explain the next picture, I just want you to get a look at it first.
My dear reader..that is a porta john. But this isn't any ordinary porta john. Because behind this door lies a full restroom. Now I know your disappointed not to get to see the real restroom...but I thought I might creep people out taking pictures in there. There might even be some law against it so I wanted to play it safe. But these "infamous" restrooms were the reason that Jungle Jim's did not allow photography in the store for many years. However, once the store was featured on several television shows, Jim decided that since the world knew about his porta john restrooms it was okay for visitors to photograph in the store now. Luck for me and my blog. smile. It's worth a visit to Jungle Jim's alone to watch people try and figure out how to use these. grin.
One of the first areas you come to when touring Jungle Jim's is the wine. It's really hard to do the wine section justice. There are just so many varieties available. Everything you can imagine from the affordable...
To the private wine lockers...yep. I want one. Okay so not really but it would be fun to say you had one. I mean would they really know I was only locking up a $10 bottle of Barefoot??
But of course if you have a special event planned than Jungle Jim's has the wine for you. Actually several selections are available.
Betcha never thought you'd see a $5000 bottle of wine on Gourmet Meals for Less. grin. Okay so technically it's $4999.99...do you think leaving that extra penny off makes someone feel like their getting a bargain? Of course once you've purchased your $5000 bottle of wine you need something to carry it home in. Jungle Jim's provides the perfect thing.
Yep. That would be a wine diaper. Now I get the concept and all. But diaper and wine are just not two words I think of putting together. A little strange if you ask me.
Now moving on to my husbands favorite part of the store.
I'm not sure if he likes it best because it's full of fancy expensive cigars, or because the kids aren't allowed to go in there thus giving him about 10 minutes alone to contemplate purchasing above mentioned fancy expensive cigars. Of course I've told him if he gets a fancy expensive cigar than I get the $5000 bottle of wine. So far it's a standoff.
As we leave the wine and cigar section of the store we move into the girl's favorite location.
Yes that is a Santa Lion Elvis...and yes it's located in the candy of course.
And if you happened to be looking for organic Amish products than you need not look any further than the horse and buggy located above your head.
Now personally all I could see was the baby peeking out of the buggy, I'm going to assume though since Jim is a most consciences proprieter that he has placed the mother in there as well.
One of the most popular sections in Jungle Jim's is the seafood. Living in the middle of the country, good fresh seafood can be hard to find.
....or dead...if you need it you can find it at Jungle Jim's.
You can tell my kiddos are foodies...because they get so excited when we enter the produce section at Jungle Jim's.
They consider it a special treat to get to pick a few unusual items to bring home and try. Gosh I love them. How many kids get giddy over picking out fruits and veggies...especially weird ones. The girl was so excited to shop with Nonna.
I on the other hand was fascinated with all of the tucked away items. It was like a treasure hunt of food. For example these adorable little quail eggs.
Of course, many of Jungle Jim's regular customers travel here for the International Foods. People from all over the world come here to find familiar items from home. It's so fun to hear all of the different languages being spoken. To see what people are purchasing. I love to try and guess what they are going to be making.
Down these aisles you can find candy and treats from Japan.
Or you could be looking for this
The party size of Red Beans Azuki flavored ice cream. Seriously, isn't that at the top of your grocery list??
Or for all of those international cajuns we get up here in the greater Cincinnati area how about every type of hot sauce ever made.
And lest you think I jest about every type of hot sauce made. I mean every. type. made.
Yep. That's a $5000 bottle of hot sauce to go with your $5000 bottle of wine. Can't make this up folks.
The boy was eyeing that bottle of $5000 hot sauce. I saw him. I said no sir you pick a less expensive bottle of hot sauce. Stick with a cheap one...say under a $100. Yep, gotta stick to that whole gourmet for less thing I got going.
One of the cutest spots in the store has to be the honey section.
Now if you happen to be looking for the English foods and by english I do not mean American. I mean British. You might have a hard time finding it.
Of course you could always just look for Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. I'm sure he would point you in the right direction.
At Jungle Jim's no country is left out. Big or small they get a place to call their own. This is what I like to call "The Row of Nations" They are all existing in peace and harmony here at Jungle Jim's.
And of course since this is a food blog. I could not leave without giving you a glimpse of the cooking school. They offer culinary courses in everything imaginable.
In all honesty though, my favorite part of the day was getting to spend time with these people.
My dad and mom. Who I hadn't seen for 8 months. My dad is an incredible cook, so it was so much fun to take him up to Jungle Jim's. I think they really enjoyed it. Of course most of that enjoyment was just getting to be together.
No matter where it is. smile. Thanks Jungle Jim's for a fun family adventure!
Wow! I can't believe I actually stuck with something for a year!
Well, let me back up. I do stick with things. For example my relationship with Christ...28 years and counting. My marriage...19 years this fall. Homeschooling...9 years and holding strong.
But, I tend to fail in the areas that are just for me. You know those areas. Exercise, routine doctors appointments, skincare, diet...the list goes on. I was so afraid blogging would fall into this category. Another thing that I do just for me that I let fall by the wayside.
Instead it's become something I really, really enjoy. Of course like all things it can feel tedious occasionally. Often it calls to me at inopportune times. Like when I need to be grading papers, or cooking dinner or setting aside time alone with my husband. But overall it has been a great experience. I have been able to dust off my rusty writing skills. It has kept me committed to cooking at home, frugally. But best of all it has introduced me to a new passion...photography. I never knew how much I would like photographing the food! I believe my skills have improved greatly over the last year and just in case you need proof:
Here's a picture from my first blog post.
And you know what. I am not ashamed of this picture. It reminds me of where I started. It's all I knew at the time. It reminds me that in my life I can always strive to improve. That if I'm willing to invest in learning, if I keep practicing and if I can learn from my mistakes I can improve. And learn to take pictures like this:
And there's still so much to learn! I obviously love cooking...this is a food blog. But I have discovered how much I love photography, and writing, and contemplating about living life. There is so much more I want to share about me, about my life, about my family and about my faith. Writing this blog has helped me discover that. It has been as the title of those now famous books so aptly puts it..."Chicken Soup for the Soul".
So thank you for following me this last year. Some of you have been with me from day one. I am pondering what this next year will look like for Gourmet Meals for Less. I see some changes in it's future. But whichever direction I proceed in, I will continue to share great recipes with you.
In fact, here's a perfect one for today's musings and to help you recover from the rich holiday diet we've all been indulging in.
Arlene's Chicken Noodle Soup-courtesy of my mom-in-law
Makes 4 quarts
4 cups cooked chicken, diced
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup butter or margarine
12 cups water
1 cup carrots, diced
3 Tbs. instant chicken bouillon
1/2 tsp. marjoram leaves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 (12 oz.) package of wide noodles
1 tsp. chopped parsley
Heat butter in a large dutch oven. Saute celery and onion in butter until tender. Add in chicken, herbs (not bay leaves), salt and pepper. Saute an additional 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except noodles and parsley. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Remove bay leave. Add noodles and parsley. Cook approximately 10 minutes until noodles are al-dente.
This is a great recipe to divide and freeze. If you decide to freeze half of the soup. Remove half of stock before adding in noodles. Place in freezer bag. Then add in a 1/4 of the bag of noodles to the stock you will be eating. When ready to eat other half. Thaw in fridge, re-heat and then add in a 1/4 of noodles. This will prevent your noodles from becoming mushy when frozen and will make your soup taste fresher.