Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Breakfast Tater Tot Casserole

We enjoyed this casserole on Christmas morning.  Easy, delicious, and can be made the night before.

Breakfast Tater Tot Casserole
1 ½ lb. breakfast sausage
6 strips crumbled bacon (optional, can reserve some for top)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (can reserve half cup for top)

4-6 eggs, beaten (we did 6)
½ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1-2 cups milk (we did one)
2 lb. Tater Tots
Optional topping: half cup cheese, crumbled bacon
Optional garnish: 3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Cook sausage on med.-high heat, breaking up and browning it.  Drain and layer on bottom of 9x13.  Sprinkle with bacon, if desired.  Evenly sprinkle cheese over sausage.

In large bowl, whisk together all other ingredients except tater tots.  Pour evenly over cheese.  Layer with frozen tater tots.  If not baking right away, cover and chill overnight in fridge.

Preheat oven to 350 with rack in middle position.  Heat uncovered 35 min. (45 if no toppings being added).  Add topping if desired and bake another 5-10 minutes or until top is golden brown.  Garnish with parsley, let rest 10 minutes, and serve.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas 2016

On my favorite day of the year, we stay home and relax while enjoying our favorite traditions.  The morning is a little hectic, because I like to start with a clean house and nice breakfast, but after that it's all fun.

One of our past neighbors who didn't move too far away still leaves homemade jam on our doorstep every 23rd or so.  There have been lots of yummy flavors, but peach is one of the best.  We had it on toast alongside the breakfast casserole prepared the night before. 

I forgot to get pics until we were almost done!

We read about Jesus' birth as always, but this time I looked up commentary for a couple of scriptures that spurred a great discussion!  Afterwards, we picked out gifts for the needy.

I read the latest installment in the "If You Give A Mouse" series, in memory of Kylen's childhood.  One year, our Christmas letter was a spin-off of one of those stories,  I think it started "If you give a Kylen a candy cane . . ." and included details and events from the year.

Next, the gifts . . .

The big one from Greg was Spyder Pong.  I've never heard of it, but I like it!  It's a slow version of ping pong.

This was a weird one!

Kylen fiddled with it quite a bit trying to ascertain it's purpose, much to Greg's delight.

Turns out, it was a huge net to hang in our basement to keep stray tennis balls inside the playing area.

We got lots of lovely things but just a few more highlights.  From Hubby, an item off my wishlist:

From an old friend, who was probably thinking of our Hawaii trip.  Despite the challenges we faced, we have so many wonderful and incredible memories, reminders are always welcome.

Continuing the tradition of new comment t-shirts.  I LOVE this one for Kylen, "God is greater than."

Ain't this the truth:

Although Greg took his new desk calendar to work, he's actually bringing the puzzles home and doing them with Kylen.  Even better, Kylen is enjoying them!

Friends served pepper jelly at a recent gathering.  I bought a jar for Christmas, and Greg has eaten most of it himself.  He has it directly on Ritz crackers, but I prefer mine with cheese or cream cheese.

It was a white Christmas!

Kylen FINALLY got his own phone, and let me tell ya, he was WAY overdue!  Driver's licenses should come with a cell phone.  It has been extremely annoying sharing mine, even though I rarely use it.  Here he is probably downloading his favorite apps and games.

Even though the phone knew Kylen's age, the parental controls had messages for a 5-year old.

We've now adjusted it, but seeing this pic still makes me laugh!  Lol!!!

The day wouldn't be complete without new games!  We played Dominion Empires first (from Kylen's and Greg's wishlists), which was a lot of fun.  7 Wonders was on my wishlist, and we've played it several times.  We love that it's relatively short and easy but still requires some strategy.  We've enjoyed the Terra Mystica expansion as well.  Hoping to try Pandemic Legacy soon!

Happy birthday, Jesus!  Thank you for your blessings!!!  It was a wonderful day!!!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Orange Rolls

Ever since I saw these orange rolls, I've been wanting to try them.  We decided to make a batch for our annual Christmas get-together with Greg's parents.  They were divine!!!!  The leftovers were still delicious the next day, so I might make them a day in advance next time.

Orange Rolls

3 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
One ¼-oz. packet yeast (we used Fleischmann's RapidRise Instant)
Pinch of salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (1 stick)
1/2 cup buttermilk (used Greek yogurt and milk substitution)
2 large eggs, lightly whisked

6 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup orange marmalade
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

Orange Glaze
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners' sugar
Pinch of salt

About 3 tbsp. milk or cream, as needed for consistency
2 tsp. orange zest

To a large mixing bowl, add flour, sugar, yeast, and salt; set aside.

In microwave-safe bowl, add butter.  Heat to melt, about 1 minute on high.

Add buttermilk to melted butter and heat in microwave about 45 seconds on high. (Follow temperature instructions for the yeast you are using.  Err on the cooler rather than hotter side so you don't kill the yeast.)  Whisk it to smooth.

Add butter-buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients in mixing bowl.

In a small bowl, crack and lightly whisk eggs, and then add eggs to mixing bowl.

Stir mixture 7 to 10 minutes, switching to your hands when it becomes difficult. If dough is very sloppy, wet, and won't come together, add up to 1/4 cup flour, or as needed until it does come together. However, the more flour added, the denser and heavier the rolls will be; wetter dough is preferred to overly dry. If dough is dry or crumbly, drizzle in buttermilk until it comes together.

Remove dough from mixing bowl, oil a large bowl (used veggie oil), place dough in the bowl, and flip it over once so it's lightly oiled both top and bottom.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size. (At this time, remove butter from fridge so it can soften to room temp while dough rises.)  A great place for rising is the oven.  Turn it to 400 F for 1 minute, and then turn it off.  Place the covered bowl inside, and shut the door.

While dough rises, butter a 9x13-inch pan; set aside.

After dough has doubled in size, punch it down. Turn dough out onto floured counter. With a rolling pin, roll it out to about 26-by-13-inches. Use the 13-inch side of the 9x13 pan to eyeball it, no need to use a ruler.

Using a knife, evenly spread butter over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch bare margin.

Add about a cup of marmalade, and smooth it with a knife. It should be a thin layer; too much and you risk it leaking, but not enough and the rolls aren't orangey enough; use your judgment. The butter and marmalade get smeared together, which is okay.

Evenly sprinkle brown sugar over top, and lightly pat it down with your fingertips to help it adhere.

Starting with a long edge (26-inch side), roll dough into a tightly wound log, with the seam side down.  Using a knife, make small hash marks so there will be 20 evenly sized rolls (about 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide). Hash marks create less guesswork once you start slicing.

Use plain dental floss to slice rolls (wrap around and keep pulling ends until they slice through). Floss does not squish or compact the log like knives do.

Arrange rolls in prepared pan, 5 rows of 4 across. Cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm, draft-free place until nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour.  ( make overnight, don't let rolls rise. Place pan in frig up to 16 hours. Before baking, let rolls rise at room temp until they have nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour.)

Bake 375 F for about 15 minutes, or until lightly golden on top and cooked through (cooking times vary, so be watchful - they won't taste nearly as good overdone).

In a medium bowl, add orange juice, vanilla, confectioners' sugar, and salt, and whisk to combine; mixture will be thick.  Drizzle in milk as needed until mixture can be whisked smooth and is to desired consistency.

Whisk in zest.  Evenly pour glaze over rolls.

Serve immediately or keep in airtight container at room temp (they'll dry out in the fridge) up to 4 days; if desired, reheat in micro about 5 seconds to soften as desired.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Favorite Christmas Videos

Christmas According to Kids by Southland Christian Church

12 Days of Christmas by Straight No Chaser

Christmas with a Capital C

Liam Neeson Auditioning for Santa

Captain Picard Sings "Let it Snow!"

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Outing

I was hoping to go on a Christmas outing with Greg and Kylen before we got too far into December, and last Saturday ended up being the perfect time.  :)

We left our snowy driveway - which set the mood, by the way! - and drove downtown to Davenport Hotel's Christmas Tree Elegance event.  Twelve beautifully decorated trees were raffled, each one gorgeously staged and part of a larger package of goodies (including a substantial cash prize!).  At only $1 each, it was fun walking around with a handful of tickets, dreaming and deciding where to enter them.

Kylen was still recovering from a cold and opted to relax in a chair with his phone, while Greg and I did all the looking.  But he did help fill out tickets!

View from the tree area looking down on the dining area.

This was one of the more unique trees - not a traditional evergreen.  My shot doesn't do it justice.  It was beautiful and elegant.

A close up.

Another beauty.

So much variety!

My absolute favorite display was a woodland theme with gnomes, mushrooms, and lots of forestry touches.  You can see the box for raffle tickets on the right.  It's pretty full - not a very good chance of winning!  Greg put all his tickets in one of the less popular trees, which I thought was smart.

Next, we ate at Anthony's.  They did a wonderful job decorating, the food was excellent, and we had a table next to the window with a snowy view of the falls.  Delightful!

They usually have a specialty ice cream on the menu, and this time it was candy cane.  It was delicious!  I'm hoping to go again before the menu changes.  :)

Finally, we checked out Gaiser Conservatory at Manito Park, something we wanted to do last year but gave up when there was a long line on a chilly evening.  It was cold this time too, but we got in quickly.

All I can say is WOW.  Lights and more lights draping over plants everywhere!  We were all really impressed, even Kylen who doesn't usually enjoy conservatories.

Just look at those needles!

This was an ideal Christmas outing in many ways and definitely gave the "festive fix" I was hoping for!  It was almost magical!  Now back to shopping and wrapping.  :)

Friday, December 2, 2016

November Highlights 2016

November marked the beginning of break from co-op.  The month flew by in a whirl of playing catch up and preparing for Thanksgiving.  Kylen's CYT time commitment shot up once rehearsals began for the production of Elf Jr.  He was gone 4-12 hours each day over a span of about 10 days.  His core drama class also had a two hour showcase that Kylen performed a monologue in.  He thoroughly enjoyed CYT and is signed up to take another class in January: core voice.  He's also planning to try out for their next production, Schoolhouse Rock.

One of my students from art appreciation gave me a thank you card and the perfect gift: an inflatable sword.  It put a big smile on my face.  :)  (I do actually love inflatable swords!)

Kylen had a great time at another teen Christian writer's workshop.  He brought home this paper landscape created as part of one of the games.

My good friend Carrie turned 40!

My aunt turned 40!!!  Lots of 40th birthdays this year!

I posted about Thanksgiving.  It was a very good day with family!

I wasn't able to get a clear shot of Kylen doing his monologue at showcase due to it being dark and us sitting pretty far back.  He did a great job!

We attended one Elf Jr. show and caught glimpses of him between scenes.  It wasn't one of their best shows, but they did a decent job, and it was well received by the audience.  (We were a little uncomfortable with some of the pro-Santa stuff though.)

Afterwards, we ate at The Cracker Barrel.  We liked some of the dishes and didn't care for others.  I seem to remember having a similar experience at a Cracker Barrel in Montana.  We will probably go back.  Kylen was crazy about their mac and cheese, and their flavored lemonade was fantastic.  They have a cute store with a bottled pop section that is a lot of fun: tons of flavors to choose from!

And that concludes November.  :)