Monday, February 27, 2012

Ham and Bean Soup (Made with Ham Hocks)

What is a ham hock, you ask? I didn't know either when my mom bought two for me at an Amish farmer's market. In quick terms, it's a joint in a hog's leg. (You can look it up on Wikipedia for a more descriptive definition, if you are so inclined.) What you really need to know is that a ham hock makes for a flavorful and hearty soup.

The initial recipe that I found online called for the ham hocks to be simmered with dried beans, but my mom suggested that I roast the ham before making the soup as the roasting enhances the flavor. So instead of using dried beans, I used cooked beans that I had in the freezer, but you could also use canned beans.

This soup takes awhile to pull together, so make sure you set aside 4-5 hours to make it, but I assure you IT IS WORTH THE WAIT!

Ham and Bean Soup


  • 2 large ham hocks
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups cooked Great Northern beans or 2 (14.5 oz) cans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon cracked pepper


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place ham hocks in a large dutch oven and add about a ½ inch of water. These ham hocks were very large. My dutch oven is 6 3/4 quarts and you can see that they fill the pan. (It's important to use a pan that can go from oven to stove top, like a dutch oven.)

Roast ham hocks for about 2 hours. Warning: Your kitchen will smell amazing.

3. Remove the dutch oven and transfer to the stove top. Turn the stove to low heat and add the onion, celery, and garlic. The bottom of my pan looks burned in the below picture, but it's not. It is the fat and the flavor from the ham. Saute the the vegetables until they are softened, mix the vegetables in with the flavor on the bottom of the pan.

4. Add water to cover the ham, about 6-8 cups. Add the beans, bay leaves, oregano and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 2 hours.

5. After 2 hours, remove the ham hocks and pull the meat off the bone and shred. Add the shredded ham back to the the soup. Discard any fat, the bones, and the bay leaves.

Enjoy this rustic, hearty soup with a garden salad and some artisan bread.

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This post is linked to Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable, and Your Green Resource at The Greenbacks Gal.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My First Blog Seminar @ PSMM

I attended my first blogging workshop this past weekend. I have never been in the company of so many other bloggers before. I was a bit excited and the organizer of the event, Philly Social Media Moms,  did not disappoint. The Philly Social Media Moms is an "organization providing community, support and education for 200+ mom bloggers in the greater Philadelphia area." The workshop took place in King of Prussia, which conveniently is only an hour and a half away from my home.

The topic was Pitch and Propose: Working with Brands. The speakers, Julie Meyers Pron of Just Precious and Kelly Whalen of The Centsible Life, were excellent. They are very successful bloggers who opened up and shared their experiences and strategies on working with brands. I learned quite a bit and it was fun to put a face to some of the bloggers that I have followed over the years.

I would love to attend more blogging conferences, but it isn't easy to juggle a travel schedule with my husband's work commitments, so this morning workshop was perfect for me.

Are you a blogger? What upcoming conferences or seminars are you planning to attend?

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Tulips in February??

February 22, 2012 was a fabulous day. It was sunny and warm. I got to run outside and the kids rode their bikes. While enjoying the warm afternoon, I noticed the tulips in our front yard were poking through. Did I mention that it is February?

The weather in PA where I live has been so mild this winter. While I enjoy the opportunity to run outside, instead of the treadmill, I can't help but think about the consequences of a mild weather that will be felt come spring and summer.

Will the lack of snow have an impact on the water supply? Will there be more bugs this year, because it didn't get cold enough to kill them? Will my tulips survive if we do get an extreme cold snap?  All of these things are out of my control.

In the meantime, I'll continue to run outside, the kids will continue to ride their bikes and play with side walk chalk, and the spring bulbs will continue to poke through.

 Have your spring bulbs started poking through the ground? Let us know in the comments.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Planning for Easter Baskets

Easter is a little over a month away and I started to plan for the holiday this weekend. You're probably thinking, "we just got through Valentine's Day and now you want to talk about Easter baskets."

Let me continue. We popped into Target over the weekend and my cart just happened to swing by the Valentine's Day clearance section. As of Sunday, their V-Day clearance was 50% - 70% off. Slyly, I placed a few items in our cart without the girls noticing. The packaging screams Valentine's day, but I'll remove it, separate the lip gloss and nail polish and put them in plastic Easter eggs. I'm trying to limit the candy.

Between now and Easter, I'll take advantage of the 40-50% off coupons that Michael's and A.C. Moore offer for art and craft supplies for the baskets.

So yes, I am planning ahead of time, but I don't want a lot of candy in their baskets and I also don't want to spend a fortune.

What non-candy gifts does the Easter bunny put in your kids' baskets? Let us know in the comments.

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This post is linked to Frugal Friday at Life as MOM.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Homemade Fruit and Nut Granola

Store bought granola can be so expensive and I rarely buy it. But I really do enjoy granola and as I was looking for ideas to use up the shredded coconut last week, I realized that I had all of the ingredients on hand to make a homemade batch. Homemade granola is very easy to alter. If you don't have one ingredient, substitute it with another.

I must confess a little secret. Granola is the main reason that I gained the freshman 10 in college. I have always been a cereal nut (pun intended), so I was enthralled by the wall of cereal dispensers in the school's cafeteria. I had never had granola before I went to college and realized quickly that I LOVED it. I ate granola for all 3 meals. I had it with milk for breakfast and with ice cream for lunch and you can easily see where the 10 pounds came from.


Homemade Fruit and Nut Granola

adapted from Cooking Light


  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats (uncooked)
  • ½ cup toasted wheat germ
  • ½ cup unsweetened coconut
  • ½ cup your choice of chopped nuts, such pecans, almonds, walnuts
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup water
  • ⅓ cup honey
  • ⅓ cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or canola oil
  • 1 cup your choice dried fruit, such as cranberries, raisins, apricots


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. In a large glass bowl, mix together the oats, wheat germ, coconut, nuts, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine water, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, and oil. Bring to a boil.
  4. Carefully pour the mixture into the large bowl with the oats. Stir together to combine well.
  5. Spray a large rimmed cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with non-cooking spray. Pour the oats onto the pan and bake for 35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and carefully pour the granola back into the large glass bowl. Stir in the dried fruit. Allow to cool completely.
Print recipe for Homemade Fruit and Nut Granola.

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This post is linked to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways and Your Green Resource at The Greenbacks Gal.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ebates - Get Cash Back for Shopping

Ebates Big Fat Checks are in the mail. I got mine over the weekend.

Don't know what Ebates is?  Think of Ebates as a local mall with over 1,200 different stores but with one huge difference--YOU receive cash back for purchasing through the Ebates website. Online stores pay Ebates a commission (think of it as a finders' fee) on every sale and they split this amount with the consumer. Each store pays a different commission so users will save different amounts at different stores; users just have to look at the percentage next to the store name to see how much they will save.

For example: Recently I shopped online at LL Bean for a gift. Instead of going directly to the LL Bean website. I logged on to my Ebates account first and typed LL Bean in the search box. A link to LL Bean's website appears on the screen and I clicked that link to go to LL Bean's website. I placed my order and within a couple of days I received an email from Ebates that I accrued 2% of my total order into my Ebates account. 2% doesn't seem like a lot, but over the course of a year, if you go through Ebates before you place any order, the money will add up. Checks are only cut in February, so you do have to wait all year before you receive a check.

I don't order too much online, but before I order anything, I always check Ebates website first to see if the retailer is available through Ebates.

Do you use Ebates? Did you receive your check this weekend? 

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How to Cut a Coconut

When coconuts were advertised for $1 recently, I decided it was time to learn how to cut a coconut. It seemed so intimidating to me. How was I going 'to cut' through the coconut? I'll ruin my good knives.

Oh, silly me. You don't cut through a coconut. You take a hammer from your husband's workbench and give it a good whack...or several whacks...but there are few steps before that.

Pin this Recipe on Pinterest

How to Cut a Coconut

  1. Find the three eyes at one end of the coconut.
  2. Take a clean nail. Again, I had to raid my husband's workbench. Wash the nail. Only 1 out of the 3 eyes will be soft enough to poke through.
  3. You'll have to test each eye until you find the soft one. I was able to poke the nail through one of the eyes without a hammer.
  4. After you poke through the hole, pour the coconut water into a bowl. You can see that  I had some husks fall into the bowl as I shook the coconut, but I strained the water through a sieve and got rid of most of it. I set the water aside in the refrigerator to add to smoothies.
  5. Pop the coconut into a preheated 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.  This will warm the hard shell and make it easier to crack and separate the inside meat from the shell.
  6. Remove the coconut from the oven with an oven mitt. It's hot.  Wrap it with a dish towel. Take a hammer and start carefully whacking all over the center of the nut. I found it easier to hold the towel and coconut steady on a counter while I whacked. Make sure you hit the coconut and not your hand...really this isn't a dangerous kitchen skill.

    (Please note that I did have this coconut wrapped in a towel when I started hitting it with a hammer. For the photo, I removed the towel. But the coconut is pretty warm from the oven to hold without a towel and the towel also contains the brown husk from flying all over your kitchen...don't ask me how I know that.)
  7. It took several good whacks to get some cracks.
    Once you see cracks, it isn't long before the whole thing splits apart.
  8. Pull apart the hard shell from the meat.
  9. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the soft brown layer.
  10. Run the coconut meat through the small shredder of my food processor. It is now ready for use. The shredded coconut will not be a fine shred. If you want a finer shred, try pulsing the shredded coconut using the blade of the food processor. I left mine the way it was.

A few lessons about coconuts:
  •  When picking a coconut, shake it to hear if it has liquid in it. The below coconut did not have liquid and the inside didn't look very good when it split open. It was kinda grey. I tossed the whole coconut in the compost.

  • The only way to tell if a coconut is ripe enough is to taste the water and the meat. If it is slightly sweet and tasty, then use it, if it tastes oily and bitter then toss it. This is unsweetened coconut, so it's not going to taste like a Mounds bar.
  • If you have compost, be sure to throw the husk into it.

That's it. It really is easy. Have you ever cut a coconut to use in recipes or do you buy it already pre-shredded? Let us know in the comments.

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This post is linked to Works for Me Wednesday and Your Green Resource at The Greenbacks Gal and Frugal Friday at Life as MOM and Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Homemade Salsa with Canned Tomatoes

I'm not sure why it never occurred to me until recently that salsa can be homemade with canned tomatoes. Winter isn't the best time of year in PA to buy fresh tomatoes for homemade salsa. But my all time favorite snack is chips and salsa. I can polish off a whole bag of lime flavored tortilla chips and a container of salsa in less than 24 hours...all by myself! It is a vice that I really must get control of.

I'll settle for store-bought at this time of year, but it can be so expensive and I really miss the fresh taste in the winter time. So I took a chance and whipped up a batch of homemade salsa using canned tomatoes for a recent taco dinner.

You know what? It was delicious! It had a much fresher taste than store bought, because even though the tomatoes were canned, I used other fresh veggies and herbs. The price was about $1.50.

Homemade Salsa with Canned Tomatoes



Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. For less zesty-ness, use plain diced tomatoes.

Print recipe for Homemade Salsa with Canned Tomatoes

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Shop Your Freezer and Pantry | Kitchen Economics

The next time you make your menu plan and grocery list, instead of glancing through the sales circulars for ideas, challenge yourself to see what's lurking in your freezer and pantry. While you're at it, make a list of what you have on hand and try to eat through the list.

I found a few things in my freezer that really need to be used up before freezer burn sets in, so my menu this week will be determined by my quick inventory. I also realized that I have plenty of food to get us through the week without a major trip to the store.

Some meal ideas that I have planned:
Besides a small trip to the store to pick up milk, fresh fruit, and vegetables, this should be a light week for the grocery budget.

I am making one note to myself--figure out what to do with ham hocks?? My mother gave those to me a while ago and I have no idea what I should do with them, but I think they are good for soup. I need to do some research. Do you know what to do with ham hocks??

Have you shopped your freezer and pantry lately? What did you find?

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Monday, February 6, 2012

20 Valentine's Day Dinner Ideas

I scoured the internet (and FBS) to find 20 delicious ideas to help you plan a yummy and romantic Valentine's Day Dinner.


The Main Dish

Sides and Salads


A Sweet Ending

Have a wonderful and delicious Valentine's Day!

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This post is linked to Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Vegetable Freezer Bags for Homemade Chicken Stock | Kitchen Economics

Roasted chicken in one of my all time favorite meals. And if I'm roasting a chicken then you can be certain that I will also make a batch of homemade chicken stock. I cook with it quite a bit and try to keep it in my freezer at all times.

Homemade chicken stock is super easy to make and you'll find step-by-step instructions on how to roast a chicken, how to make your own chicken stock, and some additional recipes for the roasted chicken leftovers in my latest post at Money Crashers, How to Roast a Whole Chicken - 4 Recipes to Save Time and Money.

As I wrote in the article, I stock up on whole roasting chickens when they are on sale. A few weeks ago, Aldi had a great sale on 3 main ingredients in my chicken stock recipe: 2 lb. bag of carrots for 79 cents, 3 lb. bag of onions for 99 cents, and one celery stock for 79 cents.

Those are some pretty good prices, so I took advantage of the sale. I cleaned and chopped up the vegetables and divided them into 6 freezer bags. Each bag has the portions that I need for one batch of stock: 1 quartered onion, 2-3 carrots and 2-3 celery stalks. I cut the carrots and celery into large chunks to fit into the bag. The cost of each bag totals 43 cents.

When it's time to make stock, I'll dump the contents of one bag into my crock pot, along with the chicken carcass, salt, pepper, parsley from my garden, and garlic. It really is that easy.

Do you make your own chicken stock? Do you shop at Aldi? Let us know in the comments.

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This post is linked to Frugal Friday at Life as MOM and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable.