Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

Sweet potato2

Fall is the ultimate excuse for comfort food. Everything about the season calls for you to have something delicious roasting or baking in the oven. It’s time to break out your sweet potatoes, apple pies, pumpkin bread and cranberries!

I’m always on the lookout for different recipes to try. Normally, this starts with my random cravings, but this delicious find came from the magazine Everyday with Rachel Ray. I have no idea how I got a subscription, but I always glance at it when it arrives. I enjoy the Food Network, but rarely make their recipes because they normally call for several ingredients that I don’t keep in my pantry.

I was intrigued when there was a section dedicated to budget meals that actually looked really good. It was a fall dedicated magazine so one recipe used applesauce and the other used mashed sweet potatoes. Needless to say, I was game. I collected my recipes for the week and got to cooking.

Here’s my intriguing tidbit for the day – I made four Rachel Ray recipes: three budget meals and one 30 Minute Meal. I picked the 30 Minute Meal because I wanted to make something special. My husband and I loved two of the budget meals, liked the third and didn’t care for the 30 Minute Meal. It just proves that you don’t need fancy ingredients to make an amazing meal.

We have made this recipe twice already – the magazine only came out in September – and I keep telling myself that I’m going to set aside half and freeze it. Sadly, it hasn’t made it there yet. The only changes that we made is to use ground turkey instead of ground pork. Because turkey is so bland, we had used more seasonings than the original recipe called for. My husband, who seasons like a pro, made this the first time and we devoured the pot. I made it the second time and was hesitant with the seasonings. It was good, but was so much better when I added a bit more cumin, garlic, salt and pepper. Don’t be afraid to give this a little kick.


Sweet potato

Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

Recipe by Rachel Ray with Creative Campbell additions

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. sweet potatoes
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 3 tsp. ground cumin
  • 3 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1-2 tsp. cayenne powder, depending on preference
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 bag frozen corn kernels, thawed

Cook sweet potatoes in oven or in the microwave if you are pressed for time. Remove orange innards and place in a mixing bowl. Add butter, salt and pepper and maple syrup. Mash together and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a Dutch oven, toast the paprika and cumin over medium-high heat, stirring 1 minute. Add the turkey, garlic and cayenne powder. Cook 6-7 minutes breaking turkey apart with a spoon. Add wine and cook 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer turkey to a separate bowl and discard all but 2 Tbsp. of the liquid. Set turkey aside.

In the Dutch oven, cook the onion over medium heat, stirring until softened about 3 minutes. Add the corn and cook 1-2 minutes. Add the turkey and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Flatten turkey mixture to create a layer. Add mashed sweet potatoes on top and smooth to create a second layer. Bake for 15 minutes, then broil 3-5 minutes to brown the top.

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Worth it or Not – Homemade Pudding

pudding box

There are so many ways that people are trying to save money and be healthy. They are making their own jams, sauces and cake mixes. One of the things that perked my interest was homemade pudding. It seemed simple enough – milk, cornstarch, sugar and egg yokes. It’s hard to mess that up. We had some bananas that I wanted to toss in, so why not make some homemade banana pudding?

I’ve always made pudding from a box. It’s easy and reliable, but it has a few chemicals in it that aren’t the greatest for you. This homemade option was supposed to taste better and be better for you.

I definitely went through a slight trial and error with my homemade pudding. I had to cook it twice to get it to set properly. When it did become thick enough, it was too lumpy. This was probably because I wasn’t stirring it often enough. The problem was easily fixed by tossing it in the food processor. Overall, there are some simple changes I would make so I would get it right the first time.

Before deciding which was better, I wanted to compare the cost, time and flavor to the convenience of buying a box.

Cost for ingredients –

The dry ingredients I used cost less than the dollar I would have spent for the box. I did need two egg yokes and more milk which makes the homemade version more expensive, but you end up with a little more pudding. I’d say it’s pretty close, but the homemade version should be cheaper.

Cooking time –

You need more cooking time for the homemade version. If you have to heat up your boxed pudding, you bring it to a boil once and it sets. With the homemade option, you have to keep it on the verge of boiling until it completely thickens. There’s also a chance that it might not set the first time.

The Flavor –

The homemade version tastes so much better than the boxed option. You get the freedom to control your ingredients and know exactly what your family consuming. I also used ingredients I already had at home, which saves me an extra trip to the grocery store.

My conclusion –

Overall, I enjoyed the homemade pudding and it was a great alternative to the boxed option. Cooking it while I was working on something else was very easy. If I’m already going to be in the kitchen, I don’t see any reason I wouldn’t make it. If I have severe time constraints, I would buy the box as my backup. I’m sure the next time I make it I will avoid the same mistakes and it will take less time.

My favorite part about the homemade version: my husband loved it! He normally doesn’t like any of the cooked puddings and he said this homemade version blew all of the other boxed puddings out of the water. He is officially converted.

Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

pudding homemade

Vanilla Pudding
By Tonkcats on Food.com
– Updates to recipe provided by Creative Campbell

Ingredients:
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch + 2 tablespoons
2 ½ cups milk
½ teaspoon salt
2 egg yokes, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.) In a medium double boiler on medium, cook sugar, cornstarch, milk and salt. Stirring often. DO NOT allow to boil.
2.) Temper your egg yokes – add a small amount of your pudding mixture to your egg yokes and stir. Add a little more of the mixture allowing your eggs to slowly warm up. Pour the egg yoke mixture into your pudding. This process keeps your eggs from curdling.
3.) Heat until it thickens to a pudding consistency, stirring often.
4.) Remove from the stove and add vanilla extract. Put through food processor if too lumpy.
5.) Chill for 2-3 hours.

Optional: Add bananas to create homemade banana pudding.

* If you don’t have a double boiler, simply put the pudding in a normal pot but stir it more often and keep a closer eye on it. 

Wedding Savings – Final Tips

wedding simple 2

There are so many ways to save money and still have a beautiful wedding day. Sadly, there isn’t enough time to discuss all of the possibilities. Instead, I’m going to leave you with these ideas. Just remember that it’s your wedding day. If you want fresh flowers and a five tier wedding cake then do it. If you could care less, then feel free to try something new. Very few people will notice these small details. You get to have the final decision.

Consider some of these possibilities:

Purchase fake flowers instead of real ones

  • If you wait for the sales, it’s cheaper to buy fake flowers
  • They look gorgeous and don’t need to be watered
  • It’s easier to keep your bouquet preserved in its original beautiful state
    • If you use a variety of flowers, understand that creating your bouquets has its own challenges.
    • Consider paying a craft store to put it together for you.

Use the bouquets as a component of your centerpieces

  • Saves money, looks beautiful and uses one thing for two purposes.

Have your bridal party walk in with something other than bouquets

  • They could carry candles, lanterns, bubbles, etc. Work with the theme of your wedding. If you are going for a courtly love, formal romantic wedding than having the groomsmen hand each bridesmaid a single red rose can speak volumes.

Make your own wedding favors

  • Costs less and has more meaning
  • You can make candles, soap, potpourri, candy, CDs, or give your centerpieces away as wedding favors.

Do your own makeup on the wedding day

  • Saves money if you’re confident with doing your own makeup

Have a Do Your Own Manicure Pedicure Party

  • It’s an excuse for everyone to get together, giggle, relax and walk around trying not to smear their painted nails.

Don’t send Save the Date cards in the mail. Create them electronically.

  • Save money on paper, postage and time.
  • With the internet advancing as quickly as it is, you can create beautiful Save the Date reminders that even Miss Manners would approve of.
  • If you create a wedding website, that can also serve as a Save the Date reminder.
    • If you choose this option, make sure to send out your formal invitations a little early.

Provide your own music during the reception instead of hiring a DJ

  • Listen to the music you like that you have on CDs or your iPOD.
  • Did I mention that it’s cheaper?

Don’t purchase a garter belt or ring bearer pillow

  • Unless you like the tradition, you can avoid spending $50 for two items that will never be used again. When the wedding day arrives, you will find a million things you could use that money on.

Don’t have a wedding cake.

  • Buy pies, cheesecake, muffins or have an ice cream bar at a percentage of the cost of a wedding cake. Everyone still gets to enjoy dessert which is what matters the most.
    • Consider hiring your local grocery store’s bakery department. They hire trained professionals that can decorate and bake to perfection. Because it’s a grocery store, they don’t charge as much and are used to handling large, bulk orders.

Don’t hire a limousine or horse drawn carriage.

  • Sorry to break it to you, but driving off together into the sunset in your old Chevy is just as romantic as a limousine. You two are starting an adventure together. That’s what matters the most.

Do not buy the official fancy wedding day lingerie.

  • I love lingerie as much as the next woman, but as soon as you search for wedding lingerie the prices doubles if not triples. Why? Because it’s white. Save your money and go for color.
    • Consider making that your Something Blue
  • Most wedding dresses have built in cups and corset so you don’t need those special undergarments anyways. Save your money for your honeymoon lingerie!

Just buy white shoes.

  • Most wedding shops will recommend purchasing special dyeable shoes. This way you can dye your shoes to match the exact shade of white of your dress. Trust me, no one else will know if your shoes are white or diamond white.
  • Wear your favorite comfy shoes for the reception. I wore my black work shoes and no one knew they weren’t special shoes. I didn’t have any blisters and saved money.

Shop online for hair/veil accessories.

  • You can find cheap homemade beautiful accessories on ebay and etsy.com that are brand new at a quarter of the price of a bridal boutique.
  • If you’re exceptionally crafty, you could make your own hair/veil accessories which will add a nice, special touch to your big day.

I love wedding magazines, but most of them will list things that they consider to be necessities. Sadly, the reality is that if you purchase everything they recommend you need to add several thousands to your wedding budget. You can have a perfect wedding day without all of the extra fluff. Your wedding is about two people who love each other making a vow before their friends and family. It’s not about whether you used real rose petals of fake ones. Some of these may seem like silly suggestions, but if you’re getting married on a tight budget then something has to give. You can still have the most memorable day and use a few creative touches to make it even more special.

wedding simple

Finding the Perfect Wedding Location

ceremony 2

Picking the perfect wedding location can make or break your budget. Yes, shopping for the dress is fun, but picking your location should be your priority. There are tons of options, but it’s up to you to decide which venue you like best and estimate the number of additional costs.

Additional costs can be basic things like chairs, tables, table cloths, silverware, serving dishes, tents if you’re outdoors, a dancing floor and so much more. A lot of locations cost less because you have to rent all of these items. Do you have any idea how much it costs to rent a punch bowl and spoon? It’s ridiculous! Rental companies charge down to the last coffee cup. They also charge per day yet most aren’t open on the weekends. In the end you’ll have to pick up everything on a Friday, store it somewhere – hopefully at your reception location – and return it on Monday unless you want to pay extra for delivery and pickup. In my opinion, you have to really love your location to be willing to go through all of this. It’s a hassle and can easily double the amount you’re paying for your location by just purchasing the basics. That’s not even looking into decorations, an aisle runner, or flowers.

Before you start falling in love with locations, here are some basic tips to help get you started.

  • Do some research online and schedule some appointments. Pick a variety because websites can be very misleading.
  • Consider some unique locations such as parks, golf courses and camps. They’re used to having large events and won’t cost as much as the fancier locations will.
  • Consider getting married on a Friday or a Sunday when the cost for your location is almost cut in half.
  • Know how many people you plan on inviting and how many will actually come.
  • Get a notebook and write down the pros and cons of each location. Accompany this with pictures you take of each location. After a while all of your locations will start to blend together. Your notes will help immensely along with the pictures as you go back through your options.
  • Try to visit during the time of year your wedding will take place or look at pictures of weddings that took place at that time of the year. This way you can get an idea of what it will look like during the season.
  • Try to visit during the time of day that your wedding will take place. During the day everything might be bucolic, but at night there could be barking dogs, moaning cows or loud neighbors/companies/guests to compete with.
  • How far away from civilization is it? If it’s too far it will be very difficult to get last minute forgotten items and trust me, there’s always something you forgot. Also, extremely rural locales can be quaint or even picturesque, but, offer their own set of unique conditions. One of our location possibilities got ruled out by my husband when he had to step over a snake on the way to the “public use” restroom. Just imagine your future mother-in-law splayed across the ground with a bruised or broken hip the day of your nuptials after trying to dodge the local “residents”!
  • Is it difficult to find? Guests tend to get lost on wedding days unless the roads are marked clearly. The last thing you want is for someone you love to miss the ceremony because they drove past the turn several times. (Another possible additional cost would be signs)
  • Do guests have to travel from the wedding location to the reception? Sadly, a lot of guests slip away when there are two separate locations. Don’t ask me why, but if they don’t have to get in their cars a second time they are more apt to stick around.
  • If it’s outdoors, are there a lot of bugs? Does it smell? Is it well kept or are your guests going to be walking through a lot of mud?
  • Is the location private or are you the center of attention? I have seen venues where receptions are placed in the middle of heavy walking traffic so you get to share your special moment with everyone who walks by.
  • What does the rainy day location look like? We all dream that it will be beautiful and sunny on our wedding day. However, you have to plan for the worst. You have to know if you’d be just as happy if you had to get married at that rainy day location.
  • Is there enough parking or will you have to shuttle people in? (If it’s not provided there’s another additional cost)
  • Does the location have their own sound system or do you have to rent a microphone and speaker? You might be able to save costs and create your own music mix instead of hiring a DJ. It’s not as personalized, but keeps you in control of the music.
  • Do you have to rent chairs, tables, and other basic items?
  • What kind of decorations would you want? If the location is very plain you’ll need more decorations than you would for one that is already beautiful.
  • Do you have to use their catering company? How much per person do they typically charge? Is there an additional fee if you bring your own hors d’oeuvres?
  • How much do they charge for you to serve alcohol? Is there a corking fee? Is it an open bar, limited bar or do they charge per drink? Wedding alcohol bills can go through the roof if you’re not careful. Guests love an open bar, but they also get out of hand when they’ve indulged too much. Decide if you want to limit the alcohol or simply offer your guests a ride back to their hotel.
  • How many extra charges are there? Do you have to pay extra for the staff to setup and clear tables? Every location has a fee or two, it’s to be expected. It’s simply a question of how many.

For our wedding we got married at a golf course on a Sunday. The wedding and reception were in the same location so more guests stayed. The golf course had its own caterer so we were able to work out a deal for a nice buffet. We didn’t have an open bar and decided to have one signature drink. We had less than 50 people at the wedding and only half of them drank alcohol, so we purchased 3 gallons of a special alcoholic punch. I did my research and everyone swore 3 gallons was enough for 30 people. We should have doubled it. The reception was beautiful and came with the chairs, tables, plates, silverware, tablecloths and more. We did simple centerpieces and decorations since the location was already breathtaking. The best part: we were given free range of the golf carts so the wedding party got to race around the golf course to different picture locations. It was a lot of fun!

DSC_0549 EDT

Here’s my two cents: when it comes to weddings, people forget the little details unless you do something truly amazing. A lot of people will forget the centerpieces or what color the flowers were. They want to go to a wedding, have fun and not starve. Just keep that in mind when you’re looking at whether you want to purchase a fancy cake cutter or simply use the one provided by your caterer. No one else will remember but you.

reception

Worth it or Not – Homemade Tile/Grout Cleaner

Clean bathroom

Florida is a beautiful state, especially in the middle of winter. While the rest of the nation is shoveling snow, we’re strolling around in short sleeves. The only drawback to the more temperate climate is the humidity. It’s a breeding ground for mold and sadly our bathroom used to be a prime example of what happens with the black darkness takes over. Now, my husband and I are very good about keeping our bathroom clean. We cleaned it regularly and bought one of those daily shower sprays to help prevent mold. We’ve scrubbed and sadly the black moldy nastiness did not go away.

Because I have my new fabulous theme, I decided to do a little research. My husband had some serious doubts that something homemade would work, so we had a mini competition. He bought Kaboom, the latest advertised bathroom mold destroyer, and I made a homemade tile and grout cleaner.

My tile cleaner smelled like vinegar and didn’t work at all in the shower. I think the black mold simply laughed at me.

Kaboom didn’t really work either. To start, it reeks! Our shower stall is enclosed and when you spray Kaboom the fumes will make you cough and gag. The product did a good job with some of the shower stains, but we still had nasty mold that would not die.

I also tried using Bartender’s Best Friend, a powdery substance that worked wonders on kitchen stains. I scrubbed, let the substance soak and had no luck whatsoever. The force is strong with this mold.

We were about to give up when we talked to our apartment complex manager. They recommended Tilex. We bought it the version specifically for mold and were thrilled. The Tilex doesn’t have as many fumes as Kaboom so you can actually breathe when using it. The best part is that it actually works. We have banished the black disgustingness back to the abyss it came from!

tilex
Morale of the story: homemade cleaning products are good. I still use my tile and grout cleaner on the countertops in the bathroom. I like that it’s a natural product, however it just isn’t strong enough for the serious problems that call for a little elbow grease. Would I make it again? Probably not. I prefer my bathroom to smell like something more than vinegar. Even though I spent less than a dollar to create it, I would prefer to spend the extra money and have something that I know will work on all of the surfaces in the bathroom.
Mold
For those of you who would like the recipe:
Tile and Grout Cleaner –
3 cups hot water
½ cup vinegar
1 Tablespoon dish detergent (I used Dawn)
1 Tablespoon Borax
Mix in a spray bottle, shake and use.