My Version of Congo Bars

Ever come across one of those recipes where you just have to try it, but you want to do things your way?

In my case, that currently means “Add coconut, but no chocolate.” I know, negatory on the chocolate.  Now you’re wondering what kind of nutcase I am, aren’t you? Unfortunately, the nutcase who takes 100 mg of Prednisone a day and can no longer stand the taste of chocolate. It breaks my heart, too.

The original recipe came from Pinterest (*gasp*) and were titled Congo Bars. They’re from Reeni at  Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice. The photos look amazing, and the recipe itself is great. The premise of the bars is that you can add whatever chips/mix-ins you please. Right up my alley!

Hubster actually took part in this one, helping me choose our poison.

There are pros and cons to this recipe and particular bar. I’m on the fence about them, hubster doesn’t like them, E-man has fallen in love and would probably eat the entire pan if I didn’t put them away. How’s that for varied reactions?!

I had the cutest helper ever, in his Tom & Jerry undies.

He helped every step of the way, from measuring out the ingredients (perfect teachable moments, love it!), to breaking his first set of eggs!

It’s great to have little hands help stirring in the mix-ins, too. Especially when my PM kicks in and my hands were hurting a bit too much.

This batter looks amazing.

Ethan can assure you, it was fab.

The recipe calls for 3 cups of your choice of mix-ins. We picked cinnamon chips, Reese’s baking bits, coconut and caramel bits. Since I’m a huge coconut fan, I added an entire cup. But seriously, it’s what you want in these bars.

The original recipe calls for baking these babies for 30-32 minutes; my bars took way longer than that. I kept cooking them in 10 minute increments before finally setting them on the stove and hoping they continued to bake themselves. I know that sounds odd, but I just let them be. Set themselves. I didn’t want to overcook them in the oven.

The tops and sides are a nice golden brown, and the interiors are all ooey-gooey.

They still don’t look completely done to me. Boo.

Hubster says they are way too sweet for him. They are incredibly sweet.

I think the Reese’s overpower the entire bar. But I enjoy the texture of the coconut and the gooey centers, but I agree with Hubster – they are really sweet.

Yet that hasn’t stopped me from having one right now with my coffee as I write this. Oh, no. Because even though they’re sweet, they’re still yumm-o. I’m on the fence, but I’m leaning towards love…

Ethan would eat the whole pan. Oh, the refined tastes of a 3 year old.

I think they’re overly gooey because of the caramel bits, so I may not use those next time. I’m also thinking I should add the nuts in my next batch, too. I think the crunch and flavor of the walnuts would actually make these bars even better.

In all, I’m going to make these again. And again, most likely. No Reese’s or Caramel bits next time though.

You should check out Reeni at Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice. She’s got some brilliant recipes that I’m itching to try, including Deep-fried Zucchini, *drool*!

Loaded Congo Cookie Bars
adapted from Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice

Ingredients
2/3 cup butter
2 cups + 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
2 + 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
2 + 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups mix-ins* (a combination of different flavored chips, Reese’s pieces or other candy, toffee pieces, coconut flakes, etc)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
*Reeni used 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips + 1/2 cup white chocolate chips + 1 cup mini Reese’s + 1/2 cup coconut flakes + 1/2 cup toffee bits
* I used 1/2 cup Reese’s baking bits + 1/2 cup Cinnamon chips + 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut + 1/2 cup Kraft Caramel Bits + 1/2 cup mixture of Reese’s, Cinnamon, and Caramel to equal 3 cups

 

Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease or (line with parchment) a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.
  2. Melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar then the salt and vanilla until well combined.
  3. Allow to cool slightly then add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition and scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  4. Stir in the baking powder and flour then all the chips/candy and nuts.
  5. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan spreading it edge to edge with a wet spatula.
  6. Bake 30 to 32 minutes until they rise and are golden on top. A toothpick in center won’t come out clean – the middle may still be slightly gooey but will set up as they cool.
  7. Cool bars completely before cutting. Best if you can let them set overnight. Store tightly covered at room temperature up to 5 days.

Read more: http://www.cinnamonspiceandeverythingnice.com/congo-bars/#ixzz2iS1UZ4xE

I hope y’all enjoy this recipe and bake a batch! Let me know what you add in, I would love to try some other combinations in these bars!

Much love,

Trina

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Homemade Pumpkin Spice Lattes

I am totally addicted to Pinterest. That’s probably not a shock to most people, because seriously, as soon as you join, you’re done. There’s no turning back! I’ve recently been in love with the Food and Drink section, finding tons of new ideas that I just can’t resist. It works really well, because my family has been eating at home, which means I’m cooking. I get tired of the same old things all the time. Luckily the recipes on Pinterest have come to the rescue! Some have been… interesting. Others have become regular rotation keepers. Then there are the special recipes like the one I’m in love with today.

This is a crock pot latte!

Pumpkin Spice Latte.

I cannot tell you how excited I am that this recipe actually tastes yummy! I am a Pumpkin Spice Latte snob. As soon as it gets close to October I’m haunting my local Starbucks just waiting…I know it’s coming. And I must partake of its pumpkin-y fall-y goodness.

But alas, we live a good 20 miles outside of town so getting a PSL everyday is more … daydream than reality.

Enter Pinterest. A quick search for Pumpkin Spice Lattes at home. A million or so results… I chose this particular recipe, however, because it let me use my (new) (red) crock pot.

It’s an incredibly simple recipe, but next time I will definitely only make half. I’ve already had 3 cups and I’m starting to wear out, haha.

The original recipe comes from the Thriving Home Blog. I’m telling you, she’s a genius. Anyone that can keep me swimming in Pumpkin Spice Latte is a friend in my book 😉

Seriously, I could swim in that. Not sure I would enjoy the second degree burns, but sacrifices, right?

It was so good I was forced to share with little man. We added some whipped topping and cinnamon on top.

I don’t recommend letting it get cold. The pumpkin pie kind of re-solidifies when it gets cold. Gross.

Hot = good.

You can find the original post and recipe at Thriving Home Blog’s Pumpkin Spiced Latte Recipe post. It’s amazing.

I followed the same recipe, but I did tweak just a wee bit, not much.

Crock-Pot Pumpkin Spiced Latte

Ingredients
  • 6 cups of milk (I used whole)
  • 4-6 cups of strongly brewed coffee (I used Hazelnut flavored coffee and it’s amazing!)
  • 8 tablespoons of pumpkin puree
  • 8 tablespoons of vanilla extract (yes, 8!)
  • 8 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 3 cinnamon sticks (I actually didn’t have any of these, so I didn’t add them)
Instructions
 

In your crock pot, combine the milk and coffee.
Whip together the pumpkin, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon and pour into the crockpot.
Mix together well.
Toss in 3-4 cinnamon sticks.
Cover the crockpot, and cook on high for 2 hours.
 
Next time I’m definitely going to half the recipe, there’s too much for just me!
 

I’m planning on keeping the latte in my crock pot all day, it’s got my house smelling amazing, it’s got me happy with a PSL in my hand that is *literally* the equal to Starbucks and with the cooler weather outside, how can that not put a smile on my face?!

So enjoy the homemade yumminess of this recipe and go check out Thriving Home’s recipe!

Much love, y’all!

 

Menu Planning Quickie

The past few months I’ve been obsessed with creating and maintaining a menu plan for my family. I’ve found that not only has it helped ease the dinner time stress, it’s also starting to help my bank account, which, lets face it, is a good thing.

My goals when starting the menu planning did revolve around attempting to save money while grocery shopping, as well as trying to stay within a monthly budget on food/grocery expenses. My family has a lower income now than we did in the past, but I think we’re actually eating better!

It’s not a complicated process, but it does take some effort and preplanning. I’m not promising that you’ll cut your grocery budget in half, or only spend $50 on everything. What I’m saying is that in a few short months you will notice a reduced grocery bill, you’ll notice when something is truly on sale, and you’ll catch on to the sneaky little tricks that grocery stores play.

When I sit down to start menu planning, I start with an idea of how long the plan is for. Am I planning for a week, two weeks, month, etc. I check out the dates, count up how many meals I may cook, and list it out. For instance, when planning for one month, I look at the calendar at when we get paid and generally plan it for the pay period. I look at how many days between paydays, which for my family is roughly 26-28 days. I don’t plan on cooking 28 meals, nor do I buy for that many meals. I usually plan for about 19-20 (sometimes less) meals. I know there are going to be leftover nights, I know there are going to be frozen pizza/fend for yourself nights, I know there may be a night of take out, or a night grilling with friends.

For this particular month, I knew we had a wedding anniversary, a holiday, and a birthday (please note that these plans occurred prior to the Government shutdown). That helped me decide to plan for 19 meals.

My next step was to look over the ads for the local stores. I compare what they have on sale, look at the meat and veggies and decide if I’m going to multiple stores or not. I’ve noticed that the first page is the “get you in” page and the following pages are usually “normal” pricing that they’ve spruced up.
This particular round I found kielbasa sausage and bulk hamburger on sale. Spinach, potatoes and bell peppers were on sale as well. One store had a great buy one get one sale, and canned beans/veggies.

I planned my meals around these options. My next step is to take stock of what I have in the cabinets, what is still in the refrigerator and freezer, and what must be used first. All of this information helps me choose which recipes I’m going to utilize. I chose recipes that can double up (i.e. leftovers can be used in another dish), and that don’t take a lot of ingredients.

I then choose which recipes/meals I’m going to prepare and start my grocery list. Grocery shopping is the most stressful part, and I prefer to do it alone. I have a toddler and a Veteran hubby (who hates crowded stores), so it can be eventful. Note that I do make a list that includes snacks (hubby has a condition that requires him to have sodium, so chips/crackers, etc are always on the list) and takes into account lunch/frozen items (so I do check on these items in the sales ads).

Based on the sales, I don’t have an issue with going to multiple stores, however, I create a strict list and divide it into store sections and only get what’s on the list (so when I go to the outlier stores toddler/hubby stay with friends!). At this point, I have an idea of what really is a “good” price vs “normal” so it’s easy for me to ignore the huge displays and such. The point is to avoid the impulse buys that will inflate the bill.

I generally find that there are 5-6 items at one or two stores I want to get, and then the majority will come from Wal-Mart (unfortunately. Hate wally world, but many of their prices are better and they do price match). I don’t mind doing this because this is the main shopping trip for my family. I do make milk runs, but that’s it. Usually we end up going Kroger/Wal-Mart, but you have to watch Kroger, because they require you use their store bonus card for the savings. (On a side note, when you use the card, you get point and you can redeem those points at the gas pump for up to .10 off…).

When I’m grocery shopping, I prepare to spend an additional amount on stock-up items, but only when they are on sale. For instance, I came across kielbasa on sale for $1.25/pack this month. I bought 6 packs, but I only plan on using it in 3 meals. Last month, chicken was on sale, so I did the same. I still have chicken in the freezer, and I now have additional sausage. When the bulk hamburger is on sale, I buy one because I can portion that out (personally, I prefer the bulk hamburger like this for tacos, or spaghetti, not patties). This also applies to other items – hot dogs, canned beans, rice, pasta, etc. I’m stocking up while they’re on sale to prepare for future menu planning which helps buy less in the long run. I keep it simple though. This period I got extra sausage, hot dogs, and spaghetti/marinara sauce because they were priced well. Last month it was chicken and canned items. Currently, I’m stocked up on noodles, rice, and beans. All from buying extra when it was on sale. These are things my family will definitely eat, so it’s not waste.

At this point, I’ve got my groceries, I know which meals I want to prepare, so I then decide when I’m going to prepare what. I don’t usually encounter issues with fresh produce going bad, but I do try to take into account fresh items when planning. Leftovers are also considered; we have leftover nights, but there may be a meal or two where I use the leftovers as part of the second meal.

For example, don’t be afraid to use leftover meatloaf in tacos, spaghetti, on a sandwich, chili, etc. Hamburger meat is incredibly versatile! So is chicken – leftover chicken can be picked/shredded and thrown into a meal. I’ve also found that black beans can take the place of meat in quite a few dishes. I’ve used black beans instead of chicken/hamburger in tacos, enchiladas, pasta, casseroles, etc. Left over pot roast can become beef stroganoff (once I used left over steak from Texas Roadhouse for a stroganoff!); left over taco supplies can become nachos or taco salad. Pretty much anything can be thrown into a tortilla shell and covered in cheese. Potatoes, rice, and beans are a great way to stretch a meal, as well as create meals that don’t require meat.

I have a menu board that I created and keep on my fridge. This is where I list what meal we are having on which night, I also have a list pad. The list isn’t a grocery list. It’s a reminder list. Hubby has memory problems, so the reminder list says, “HEY you have these things you can eat!”

I have a menu planning binder that I use for recipes, past grocery lists, menus and receipts.

I date my lists and hold onto the receipts so I can get an idea of when my local stores put things on sale. I also put recipe notes in the binder; it helps me with meals we liked or didn’t like, as well as modifications that we enjoyed.

 It’s not overly complicated, but it is a process. I find that it helps me prepare for grocery shopping and creating a budget. I have several recipes that my family enjoys that are low cost, filling, and yummy that I could share.

This next month will be a true testament to how well this process will work for me, what with the government shutdown. I’m planning on using my crock pot more, and creating larger meals that can be divided up and enjoyed more than once.

What tips or tricks do you utilize?