Tag Archives: gifts

Christmas With College and Adult Children: 40 Presentation Ideas for Cash or Gift Cards

Christmas With College and Adult Children: 40 Presentation Ideas for Cash or Gift Cards

This fall we took a family vacation to Florida (all fourteen of us!), so we decided beforehand that due to finances and time to shop (we returned a few days before Thanksgiving), we would give our kids gift cards for Christmas rather than presents (except for our Christmas Eve Plastic Wrap Prize Ball and Grab Bags). As it turns out, my dad was very sick and in the hospital for two weeks, and I was completely tied up between him and working/writing/teaching that I didn’t have a chance to do any Christmas shopping until mid-December, so we were glad we had made that decision early on. (If you’ve read about our plastic wrap prizes and grab bags, you will know that those require some shopping and planning too!)

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Plastic Wrap Christmas: Big Kid Fun

Plastic Wrap Christmas: Big Kid Fun

Plastic wrap prizes! Several have asked how we do this activity, so here is a somewhat-clear description! (The pics are a little grainy in our living room that night!)

One thing that I highly recommend as you prepare for Christmas with teens and adults is that you try to make new memories…that you try to do things that are applicable to their ages. Yes, we definitely continue some of the earlier traditions. But we’ve also added new ones that are more age-appropriate. One of those is plastic wrap prizes.

This activity could be in lieu of stockings, Christmas Eve PJs, piñatas, etc. It is a ton of fun for teens and adults. With younger kids, there’s always a danger of some disappointment if they get Chapstick or antacids (lol!), but with teens and adults, it is all just good fun. Lots of laughs. Lots of usable items. And more family unity than you would think, LOL!

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Christmas With College and Adult Kids: Group Gifts

Christmas With College and Adult Kids: Group Gifts

One of the things that I love about our adult children having such close relationships is when they ask for group gifts (still!).

It is not uncommon for them to ask for things like these:

1. Restaurant gift cards to a place that they all want to go to together but that the college kids couldn’t afford without a gift card.

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The Easiest Homemade Food Gift I’ve Ever Made: Fudges

“The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” Johnny Carson

In earlier posts, I gave ideas and recipes for snack mixes that parents and kids can make with their kids for gifts. Today I would like to share the hands-down easiest food gift I have ever made. (Well, maybe it was so easy because Kara made all 100+ pounds of it that year!) Seriously, if you know how to make simple fudge recipes (i.e. evaporated milk, marshmallows, and marshmallow cream, etc.), you will be surprised how quickly many (dozens!) of food gifts come together in this tip.

I purchased those little six-eight inches or so across plastic holiday tubs (the real inexpensive ones without lids that are about three to five inches deep). (You can use any container really, that you don’t care to get back—but because you do not need lids, you can get them extremely cheaply—I think I got mine like 4/$1 at Dollar Tree or somewhere like that.)

Then we, uhm, Kara, began making fudge (recipes below). She started the butter melting in the huge “saucepan” and spread the containers out on counters. When the fudge was ready, rather than pouring it into 9 x 13 glass baking dishes (like we usually do), she simply filled each little plastic container (200 of them!) with fudge. She continued in this manner with all of the chocolate-walnut, then all the peanut butter. In two to three hours or so, she had like 70-80 containers filled with 50 lbs of fudge! (She was sixteen when she did this and was not all that experienced cooking on her own as she was our chief editor at the time—so she got out of kitchen duty a lot!)

When the fudge was cool and firm, she slid each one into a decorative bag (the little tub sat down in the bag so the top of the bag was twisted and tied (with ribbon) above the little tub—so tub sat upright in the bag) and tied it up. At that point, because we have a small house and little storage, she simply stacked them all in Rubbermaid tubs with lids and placed them in the storage shed (our “other refrigerator”) until we were ready to distribute them!

We have done various gifts for neighbors, students, church friends, family members, librarians, and more, including cookie trays, snack mixes, quick breads, yeast breads, and goodie tins. This is the simplest and fastest, by far. It is easy to clean up (just sauce pan, measuring cups, thermometer, and spoons). Plus, they taste amazing! 

Below are the recipes for all three of the fudges she used for this—chocolate walnut, peanut butter, and chocolate-peanut butter ribbon. Merry Christmas!

  Chocolate Walnut Fudge 6 pounds

8 Cup Sugar

1 Cup Butter 1 cup = 2 sticks

2 Each marshmellow cream 7 oz jars (2 of them)

2 Cup Walnuts, chopped Or more!

2 Each Evaporated Milk 12 oz cans (2 of them)

2 Package Chocolate Chips 12 oz pkgs (2 of

them=4 cups)

Instructions

1. Melt butter in large heavy sauce pan.

2. Stir in milk and sugar.

3. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching (on

medium to medium high heat).

4. Bring to softball stage (235′).

5. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted.

6. Add marshmellow cream and nuts, stirring until well blended.

7. Pour into 2 9 x 13 baking dishes.

8. Cool at room temp.

9. Makes approximately 6 lbs.

————————————————————

                     Chocolate Walnut Fudge — Double 12 pounds

16 Cup Sugar

2 Cup Butter 1 cup = 2 sticks

4 Each marshmellow cream 7 oz jars (2 of them)

4 Cup Walnuts, chopped Or more!

4 Each Evaporated Milk 12 oz cans (2 of them)

4 Package Chocolate Chips 12 oz pkgs (2 of

them=4 cups)

Instructions

1. Melt butter in large heavy sauce pan.

2. Stir in milk and sugar.

3. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching (on

medium to medium high heat).

4. Bring to softball stage (235′).

5. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted.

6. Add marshmellow cream and nuts, stirring until well blended.

7. Pour into 4 9 x 13 baking dishes.

8. Cool at room temp.

9. Makes approximately 6 lbs.

_______________________________________

                               Peanut Butter Fudge 5-6 pounds

4 Cup Brown Sugar

4 Cup Marshmallows, miniature

4 Cup Sugar

4 Cup Peanut Butter, creamy

2 Cup Evaporated Milk

4 Tablespoon Vanilla

1/2 Cup Butter 1/2 cup = 1 stick

Instructions

1. Combine sugars, evaporated milk, and butter in heavy saucepan.

2. Cook until softball stage on medium (235′), stirring often.

3. Remove from stove.

4. Stir in marshmellows, peanut butter, and vanilla.

5. Stir until all is melted and begins to thicken.

6. Pour into 2 13 x 9 greased (PAM) baking dishes.

7. Cool, cut, and serve.

8. Makes approximately 5-6 pounds.

————————————————————

                    Peanut Butter Fudge — Double 10-12 pounds

8 Cup Brown Sugar

8 Cup Marshmallows, miniature

8 Cup Sugar

8 Cup Peanut Butter, creamy

4 Cup Evaporated Milk

8 Tablespoon Vanilla

1 Cup Butter 1/2 cup = 1 stick

Instructions

————————————————————

1. Combine sugars, evaporated milk, and butter in heavy saucepan.

2. Cook until softball stage on medium (235′), stirring often.

3. Remove from stove.

4. Stir in marshmellows, peanut butter, and vanilla.

5. Stir until all is melted and begins to thicken.

6. Pour into 4 13 x 9 greased (PAM) baking dishes.

7. Cool, cut, and serve.

8. Makes approximately 10-12 pounds.

________________________________________

                    Chocolate-Peanut Butter Ribbon Fudge 12 pounds

Ingredients for Both Layers

4 Cup Brown Sugar

4 Cup marshmellows miniature

12 Cup Sugar

4 Cup peanut butter, creamy

2 Cup Evaporated Milk

2 Each Evaporated Milk 12 oz cans

4 Tablespoon Vanilla

1 1/2 Cup Butter 1 stick=1/2 cup

2 Each marshmellow cream each jar=7 oz

2 Each Chocolate Chips each=12 oz package

Instructions for Chocolate Fudge “Ribbon”

1. For the chocolate fudge, melt 1 cup butter in large heavy sauce pan.

2. Stir in 2 (12 oz) cans evaporated milk and 8 cups sugar.

3. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching (on

medium to medium high heat).

4. Bring to softball stage (235′).

5. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted.

6. Add marshmellow cream, stirring until well blended.

7. Pour chocolate fudge mixture into 4 9 x 13 baking dishes.

8. While chocolate layer is cooling, make peanut butter fudge according to

instructions below.

Instructions for Peanut Butter Fudge “Ribbon”

1. Combine 4 cups brown sugar, 4 cups white sugar, 1 cups evaporated milk,

and 1/2 cup butter in heavy saucepan.

2. Cook until softball stage on medium (235′), stirring often.

3. Remove from stove.

4. Stir in marshmellows, peanut butter, and vanilla.

5. Stir until all is melted and begins to thicken.

6. Pour over the four pans of chocolate fudge once it is cooled somewhat.

7. Let all cool before cutting; may put in fridge or cool garage, etc. to

cool quicker.

day 350: quick bread gifts—recipes

Banana Bread— four “small” loaves

2 Cup Sugar

1 Cup Butter 1 stick=1/2 cup,

2 Teaspoon Baking Soda

2 Teaspoon Salt

4 Each Egg(s)

1 Cup Milk sour milk or part sour

cream

6 Cup Flour

6 Each Banana/s large

2 Cup Walnuts, chopped or more

Instructions

1. Cream sugar and butter in mixing bowl.

2. Add eggs and blend.

3. Add sour milk. (To “make” sour milk, put 1 TBSP vinegar in bottom of one

cup measure before adding milk to glass measure.) Blend.

4. Mix flour, salt, and soda in another bowl with a fork.

5. Stir gradually into creamed mixture.

6. Add smashed bananas.

7. Pour into four small, well-greased bread pans.

8. Bake at convection at 350′ for 30-45 mins or until fork or toothpick

inserted in center comes out clean. (Regular oven 45-60 mins.)

————————————————————

Banana Bread — Double eight “small” loaves

4 Cup Sugar

2 Cup Butter 1 stick=1/2 cup,

4 Teaspoon Baking Soda

4 Teaspoon Salt

8 Each Egg(s)

2 Cup Milk sour milk or part sour

cream

12 Cup Flour

12 Each Banana/s large

4 Cup Walnuts, chopped or more

Instructions

1. Cream sugar and butter in mixing bowl.

2. Add eggs and blend.

3. Add sour milk. (To “make” sour milk, put 1 TBSP vinegar in bottom of one

cup measure before adding milk to glass measure.) Blend.

4. Mix flour, salt, and soda in another bowl with a fork.

5. Stir gradually into creamed mixture.

6. Add smashed bananas.

7. Pour into four small, well-greased bread pans.

8. Bake at convection at 350′ for 30-45 mins or until fork or toothpick

inserted in center comes out clean. (Regular oven 45-60 mins.)

————————————————————

Pumpkin Bread 4 large loaves

1 1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon

3 Teaspoon Baking Soda

3 Teaspoon Allspice

6 Each Egg(s)

1 1/2 Cup Butter 1 stick=1/2 cup

4 1/2 Cup Sugar

1 1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg, ground

4 3/4 Cup Flour

1 Cup Evaporated Milk

1 Each Canned Pumpkin each=24 oz here

Instructions

1. Mix all ingredients together in large mixing bowl until thoroughly

mixed.

2. Pour into greased and floured bread pans (two).

3. Cook for 40-55 minutes convection or one hour regular at 350′.

4. Yield four large loaves.

————————————————————

Apple Bread makes 1 loaf

1/2 Cup Margarine

2 Each Egg(s)

1 Cup Sugar

1 Teaspoon Baking Soda

1/2 Teaspoon Salt

1 Teaspoon Vanilla

2 Cup Flour

2 Cup Apples, sliced

1/2 Cup Nuts, chopped optional

Topping Ingredients:

2 Tablespoon Margarine very soft

3 Tablespoon Flour

3 Tablespoon Brown Sugar

1 Tablespoon Cinnamon

Instructions

Blend margarine, eggs and sugar together. Add soda, salt and vanilla; beat.

Add flour, mix, and then add apples and nuts. Place in greased bread pan.

Mix topping ingredients together until crumbly. Sprinkle on top of breads.

Bake at 325 degrees for 55-60 minutes.

Freezing Directions:

Wrap in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil. Seal, label and freeze.

Serving Directions:

Allow the bread to thaw. Slice and enjoy.

Comments:

It’s really good warmed up in the microwave with a little bit of butter on

it!

————————————————————

Apple Bread — Double makes 2 loaves

1 Cup Margarine

4 Each Egg(s)

2 Cup Sugar

2 Teaspoon Baking Soda

1 Teaspoon Salt

2 Teaspoon Vanilla

4 Cup Flour

4 Cup Apples, sliced

1 Cup Nuts, chopped optional

Topping Ingredients:

4 Tablespoon Margarine very soft

6 Tablespoon Flour

6 Tablespoon Brown Sugar

2 Tablespoon Cinnamon

Instructions

Assembly Directions:

Blend margarine, eggs and sugar together. Add soda, salt and vanilla; beat.

Add flour, mix, and then add apples and nuts. Place in greased bread pan.

Mix topping ingredients together until crumbly. Sprinkle on top of breads.

Bake at 325 degrees for 55-60 minutes.

Freezing Directions:

Wrap in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil. Seal, label and freeze.

Serving Directions:

Allow the bread to thaw. Slice and enjoy.

day 349: quick bread gifts

Earlier I discussed food gifts that you can make with your kids—snack mixes and fudges.

Snack mixes start here: http://positiveparenting3-6-5.blogspot.com/2010/11/day-311-holiday-snack-mixwhite.html

Fudge gifts start here: http://positiveparenting3-6-5.blogspot.com/2010/12/day-342-fudge-gifts-for-christmas-part.html

Lastly, I wanted to leave you with a third gift idea that we have had success with—not quite as fast as the snack mixes or fudge gifts, but tasty and inexpensive. That is the gift of quick breads.

Quick breads are cake-like, non-yeast, non-rising breads. These include pumpkin, apple, applesauce, banana, zuchini, cranberry, lemon, carrot, and more. They are generally well liked, freeze wonderfully (some are better after freezing), may be embellished with nuts and fruits, and can be made in various sizes for various purposes.

When we did strictly quick breads for gifts, we used the small (think “mini”) loaf pans, popped them out, cooled them, then bagged them in decorative bags. I have seen others bake them in mini foil bread pans and bag them, pan and all in decorative bags. For larger families or larger gifts, you may desire to use full sized loaf pans. I like using the mini loaf pans and giving two of these to larger families. (That way, they all baked evenly, etc.)

Before I give you three of our favorite quick bread recipes (in the next post), I want to share with you our funny “banana bread/courtship” story…from December 2004:

“I have to relate a funny story to our practice of making doughs and batters early and keeping them in cold places until we bake them. Last year, Joshua and Lisa had just gotten engaged the day before our banana-bread-batter-making-day. Lisa pulled into the driveway to spend the evening with us when Joshua ran out of the shower announcing that we had to do something with the banana bread batter (now in what I would most accurately describe as a vat of at least a dozen gallons in the middle of the dining room table) ——because Lisa gets sick over bananas. She can’t eat them, or even smell them, he related. Well, we were filling loaf pans on the dining room table, and you have to understand that our dining room table is about six feet from every room in our small downstairs. There’s simply no escaping it. So we filled the pans quickly and baked several loaves, then promptly put the remaining vat of batter in the back of the van (to keep the cats out of it!). Of course, the banana bread smell was all through the house by this time.

The next night, Joshua was on his way up to pick up Lisa to go to a Christmas philharmonic concert when I called him and told him he had the banana bread batter in the back of his van. He said it was okay because it must be frozen; it didn’t smell at all, so he went on up to pick her up. By the time he got to her house, the batter was nice and warm from the heat of the van, and the entire van smelled like rotten bananas! (Needless to say, Joshua drove her parents’ car to the concert.) The moral of this story: Keep your batters and doughs in cold places away from cats and anybody who doesn’t like ‘banana bread batter.’ (I think that’s the moral of this story. Maybe it’s find out any complete aversions your future daughter-in-law has before immersing her in that aversion.)”

Tomorrow—recipes for banana, pumpkin, and apple breads.

day 343: fudge gifts for Christmas part ii of ii

Day 342’s post was how to make fudge in little containers for gifts. I will post all three fudge recipes below (regular and doubled). For instructions on how to make these in individual gift containers, check out Day 342. Happy cooking!

                              Chocolate Walnut Fudge 6 pounds

8 Cup Sugar

1 Cup Butter 1 cup = 2 sticks

2 Each marshmellow cream 7 oz jars (2 of them)

2 Cup Walnuts, chopped Or more!

2 Each Evaporated Milk 12 oz cans (2 of them)

2 Package Chocolate Chips 12 oz pkgs (2 of

them=4 cups)

Instructions

1. Melt butter in large heavy sauce pan.

2. Stir in milk and sugar.

3. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching (on

medium to medium high heat).

4. Bring to softball stage (235′).

5. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted.

6. Add marshmellow cream and nuts, stirring until well blended.

7. Pour into 2 9 x 13 baking dishes.

8. Cool at room temp.

9. Makes approximately 6 lbs.

————————————————————

                     Chocolate Walnut Fudge — Double 12 pounds

16 Cup Sugar

2 Cup Butter 1 cup = 2 sticks

4 Each marshmellow cream 7 oz jars (2 of them)

4 Cup Walnuts, chopped Or more!

4 Each Evaporated Milk 12 oz cans (2 of them)

4 Package Chocolate Chips 12 oz pkgs (2 of

them=4 cups)

Instructions

1. Melt butter in large heavy sauce pan.

2. Stir in milk and sugar.

3. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching (on

medium to medium high heat).

4. Bring to softball stage (235′).

5. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted.

6. Add marshmellow cream and nuts, stirring until well blended.

7. Pour into 4 9 x 13 baking dishes.

8. Cool at room temp.

9. Makes approximately 6 lbs.

_______________________________________

                               Peanut Butter Fudge 5-6 pounds

4 Cup Brown Sugar

4 Cup Marshmallows, miniature

4 Cup Sugar

4 Cup Peanut Butter, creamy

2 Cup Evaporated Milk

4 Tablespoon Vanilla

1/2 Cup Butter 1/2 cup = 1 stick

Instructions

1. Combine sugars, evaporated milk, and butter in heavy saucepan.

2. Cook until softball stage on medium (235′), stirring often.

3. Remove from stove.

4. Stir in marshmellows, peanut butter, and vanilla.

5. Stir until all is melted and begins to thicken.

6. Pour into 2 13 x 9 greased (PAM) baking dishes.

7. Cool, cut, and serve.

8. Makes approximately 5-6 pounds.

————————————————————

                    Peanut Butter Fudge — Double 10-12 pounds

8 Cup Brown Sugar

8 Cup Marshmallows, miniature

8 Cup Sugar

8 Cup Peanut Butter, creamy

4 Cup Evaporated Milk

8 Tablespoon Vanilla

1 Cup Butter 1/2 cup = 1 stick

Instructions

————————————————————

1. Combine sugars, evaporated milk, and butter in heavy saucepan.

2. Cook until softball stage on medium (235′), stirring often.

3. Remove from stove.

4. Stir in marshmellows, peanut butter, and vanilla.

5. Stir until all is melted and begins to thicken.

6. Pour into 4 13 x 9 greased (PAM) baking dishes.

7. Cool, cut, and serve.

8. Makes approximately 10-12 pounds.

________________________________________

                    Chocolate-Peanut Butter Ribbon Fudge 12 pounds

4 Cup Brown Sugar

4 Cup marshmellows miniature

12 Cup Sugar

4 Cup peanut butter, creamy

2 Cup Evaporated Milk

2 Each Evaporated Milk 12 oz cans

4 Tablespoon Vanilla

1 1/2 Cup Butter 1 stick=1/2 cup

2 Each marshmellow cream each jar=7 oz

2 Each Chocolate Chips each=12 oz package

Instructions for Chocolate Fudge “Ribbon”

1. For the chocolate fudge, melt 1 cup butter in large heavy sauce pan.

2. Stir in 2 (12 oz) cans evaporated milk and 8 cups sugar.

3. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching (on

medium to medium high heat).

4. Bring to softball stage (235′).

5. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted.

6. Add marshmellow cream, stirring until well blended.

7. Pour chocolate fudge mixture into 4 9 x 13 baking dishes.

8. While chocolate layer is cooling, make peanut butter fudge according to

instructions below.

Instructions for Peanut Butter Fudge “Ribbon”

1. Combine 4 cups brown sugar, 4 cups white sugar, 1 cups evaporated milk,

and 1/2 cup butter in heavy saucepan.

2. Cook until softball stage on medium (235′), stirring often.

3. Remove from stove.

4. Stir in marshmellows, peanut butter, and vanilla.

5. Stir until all is melted and begins to thicken.

6. Pour over the four pans of chocolate fudge once it is cooled somewhat.

7. Let all cool before cutting; may put in fridge or cool garage, etc. to

cool quicker.

day 342: fudge gifts for Christmas part i of ii

“The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” Johnny Carson

In earlier posts, I gave ideas and recipes for snack mixes that parents and kids can make with their kids for gifts. Today I would like to share the hands-down easiest food gift I have ever made. (Well, maybe it was so easy because Kara made all 100+ pounds of it that year!) Seriously, if you know how to make simple fudge recipes (i.e. evaporated milk, marshmallows, and marshmallow cream, etc.), you will be surprised how quickly many (dozens!) of food gifts come together in this tip.

I purchased those little six-eight inches or so across plastic holiday tubs (the real inexpensive ones without lids that are about three to five inches deep). (You can use any container really, that you don’t care to get back—but because you do not need lids, you can get them extremely cheaply—I think I got mine like 4/$1 at Dollar Tree or somewhere like that.)

Then we, uhm, Kara, began making fudge (recipes in next post!). She started the butter melting the huge “saucepan” and spread the containers out on counters. When the fudge was ready, rather than pouring it into 9 x 13 glass baking dishes (like we usually do), she simply filled each little plastic container (200 of them!) with fudge. She continued in this manner with all of the chocolate-walnut, then all the peanut butter. In two to three hours or so, she had like 70-80 containers filled with 50 lbs of fudge! (She was sixteen when she did this and was not all that experienced cooking on her own as she was our chief editor at the time—so she got out of kitchen duty a lot!)

When the fudge was cool and firm, she slid each one into a decorative bag (the little tub sat down in the bag so the top of the bag was twisted and tied (with ribbon) above the little tub—so tub sat upright in the bag) and tied it up. At that point, because we have a small house and little storage, she simply stacked them all in Rubbermaid tubs and placed them in the storage shed until we were ready to distribute them!

We have done various gifts for neighbors, students, church friends, family members, librarians, and more, including cookie trays, snack mixes, quick breads, yeast breads, and goodie tins. This is the simplest and fastest, by far. It is easy to clean up (just sauce pan, measuring cups, thermometer, and spoons). Plus, they taste amazing! 

In the next post, I will include recipes for all three of the fudges she used for this—chocolate walnut, peanut butter, and chocolate-peanut butter ribbon. Merry Christmas!

day 341: other holiday leftover ideas

I’ve already posted turkey and ham leftover ideas. This post will give some other leftover ideas for other foods and side dishes.

                                           WHITE POTATOES

Mashed Potato Patties

Leftover mashed potatoes

1 egg

little milk

Optional: onion, grated cheese, and a little chopped green pepper

1. Form into patties and roll into crushed crackers or corn flake crumbs.

2. Put on cookie sheet and bake in 350 degree oven until heated through

3. Remove from oven and place on a broiler rack for a few minutes to brown the outside.

4. Optional: Instead of baking, “fry” the patties in a skillet with a small amount of oil.

Mashed Herb Potato Soup

1/2 teaspoon crumbled, dried rosemary

1 teaspoon crumbled, dried thyme

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup minced onion

1 small rib of celery including the leaves, minced

1 carrot, grated coarsely

2 cups unsalted chicken broth or stock (fresh or canned)

2 1/2 cups leftover mashed potatoes

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/3 cup fresh parsley, minced

1. In a small dry skillet toast the rosemary and thyme until fragrant, do not burn. Shake the skillet and heat for about 3 minutes. Set aside.

2. In a large saucepan sauté the onion, celery and carrots in olive oil over moderately low heat for about 1 minute, stirring constantly.

3. Stir in the broth or stock and bring to a boil.

4. Break potatoes up with a fork. Using a wire whisk, add potatoes a half cup at a time.

5. Continue whisking until smooth, reduce to a simmer and add toasted herbs, lemon juice and fresh parsley.

6. Taste soup and add salt and black pepper if desired. Makes 4 servings.

                                      SWEET POTATOES

• Sweet Potato Ravioli: Place a spoonful of mashed sweet potatoes on a wonton wrapper, fold and simmer in chicken broth until cooked through.

• Curried Sweet Potato Soup: Puree sweet potatoes with chicken broth, onions, leeks and curry powder; season to taste.

• Asian Potato Salad: Combine cubed sweet potatoes with shredded red cabbage, sesame oil and a touch of cilantro; top with chopped peanuts.

• Sweet Potato Dip: Puree potatoes with any or all of the following: low-fat sour cream, bell pepper, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and salt.

                                                    OTHER

Garlicky Croutons or Cheese Toasties

Leftover dinner rolls are excellent cut into cubes and toasted into croutons for potato soup or to make Garlicky Cheese Toast.

6 to 8 leftover dinner rolls (any kind)

1/2 cup olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed and chopped finely

2 tablespoons Parmesan Cheese

1. Using a serrated knife cut the dinner rolls in half lengthwise. Set aside.

2. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. While the skillet is heating.

3. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine garlic and olive oil. Microwave on high for one minute or until garlic begins to sizzle in the oil. This step can also be done in a skillet.

4. Brush cut side of each dinner roll with oil and place oil-side-down on the hot skillet.

5. Using a spatula or pancake turner, press each piece flat as it cooks. When golden brown, turn and continue pressing. Remove from heat and sprinkle each with a little Parmesan cheese. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve warm with soup.

Stuffing (Homemade or Boxed)

• Dumplings: Make golf-ball size rounds of stuffing with a small ice cream or melon ball scooper. Simmer, covered, in turkey or chicken soup for 10 minutes.

• Croutons: Cut stuffing into squares and bake for 8 minutes at 400ºF. Toss into a salad or use as a garnish for stews.

Cranberry Sauce (Canned or Fresh)

• Cranberry-Citrus Sauce: Combine diced cranberry sauce (if using canned) with frozen and thawed or canned corn, diced red onion, and mandarin oranges or seedless clementine segments.

• Cranberry Salsa: Mix together cranberry sauce, freshly minced cilantro, salt and pepper.

• Chutney: Simmer cranberry sauce, diced onion, a pinch of ground ginger and about 1 tablespoon each of vinegar and brown sugar, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until thick. Consider adding a jalapeno for a kick!

Pumpkin Pie (Store-Bought or Homemade)

• Pumpkin Smoothie: Scrape the filling out of one piece of pie and blend it with low-fat vanilla yogurt. Put in a parfait glass and top with a small amount of crumbled piecrust and a dash of cinnamon.

• Crisp Crusted Pie: If your crust gets soggy, place the pie in a 350ºF oven for 10 minutes to crisp it up.