Having "a day off" from school or normal work always puts me in the mood to cook or bake something special.
I'll be honest: on our normal weekdays, I don't find much time for playing in the kitchen. I keep things quite simple and am usually doing good to just get dinner ready on time, despite how simple a meal it is. ;)
But on the weekend, when the kids wake up at their normal (early) time, and the day stretches ahead? I've picked out 3 recipes to make before it's even 7:00. Yes, I am more of a morning person. ;) Of course, usually by the time I've finished one of my "projects", too much time has slipped by and I am busy with meals and other tasks and end up shelving the other plans for another weekend. :)
Having company is my favorite excuse to make a more elaborate meal and do some extra special cooking! I have served very simple meals to guests (I am not superwoman, and have plenty of embarrassing flops in the kitchen, too!). But, if I can make the time, I like to make a nice meal with things we might not normally have.
Like this Natural Fruit Cake. It's so good!! I think the slices are similar to a good fruit and nut granola bar... and with ingredients like whole wheat flour, honey, and eggs, it ranks as a fairly healthy dessert in my book. (I do realize the dried fruit has sugar added to it...)
And with a food processor, Natural Fruit Cake is pretty quick and easy. It won't, however, be cheap. Even with buying our honey, nuts and fruits in bulk, Natural Fruit Cake is about $3 per small-ish loaf. That's acceptable for a special occasion, coupled with the fact that it's so rich and filling that a small slice is a perfect serving size. :)
My mom's homemade cheese ball is a long-time family favorite! I buy cheese and cream cheese in bulk to make this one a little more affordable. We've given cheese balls as gifts and had many compliments on this cheese ball recipe.
I try not to make cheese balls unless we're having company or taking it to a potluck, because I love cheeseball and crackers!! :)
I've not found any good, affordable sources for serving crackers to a crowd, unless I make my own, such as homemade "Wheat Thins" style crackers or Homemade Rosemary Crackers -- pictured at the top of this post.
This summer, we bought crackers at Costco (discounted) which made cheese, smoked salmon, and crackers into an easy "special" snack option. Homemade crackers are not difficult, especially with a food processor (which I don't currently have). :)
I love hot snacks! And hot + cheese? Mmmmm. These easy baked jalapeno poppers are super good. They can also be made only mildly hot by removing the stems and seeds of the jalapenos, so even people who are "afraid" of hot things can enjoy them. :)
Homemade hummus is one of my favorite frugal (but still kinda fancy!) appetizers/dips. We like hummus a lot, so when I make it, I cook at least a pound of garbanzo beans (chick peas) in my crock pot for the hummus. The slow-cooked beans make a perfect, creamy hummus!
Cream cheese apple dip with fresh apple slices is my go-to fruit or dessert to make when we're having guests and I haven't made anything "special".
In the fall, I almost always have apples on hand, and I usually have cream cheese in the fridge. Cream cheese apple dip takes 5 minutes to mix up, and the apples can be washed and sliced even after company has arrived. Everyone loves this fruit/dessert! :)
Maple-glazed walnuts take about 5 minutes to make, and turn into an irresistible "candy" nut snack. This is another one of those really-good-but-not-cheap snacks, but ranks a little bit healthy with ingredients like walnuts, cinnamon, maple syrup, and butter. ;)
Dill Dip is another from-scratch dip option (along with the hummus above). I haven't tried this with my homemade kefir (or yogurt) cheese yet, but I want to! This dip doesn't taste just like Hidden Valley dip packets, but IS the best homemade dill or ranch-type dip I've found (and without the MSG).
And a little off-topic... cold weather gets me in the mood for sewing. :) I have some bags of flannel fabric that were given to me, and made time to sew new pillow cases for the children a couple weeks ago.
These snowman pillow cases are soft and warm and so cute! I use an old pillow case as a "pattern" to make my own. They're quick to make (with a sewing machine) and it's nice to have fresh, new ones to use. :)
We haven't gotten any snow yet here in the Seattle area... Joshua (who commutes to work every morning) says that's perfectly fine with him. ;) I know the kids and I will enjoy it if/when we get some snow this winter, though! Snow is way better than mud for playing outside, in my opinion. ;)