Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Do you have any foods tied to specific memories? Or memories that revolve around excellent meals? One particular memory I have is of a little restaurant in Scotland. My husband and I went on a tour of the British Isles in 2013 and stopped here for a wonderful dinner.


Now, one doesn't usually go to Scotland for the food, as Mike Meyers put so well: "I think most Scottish cuisine is based on a dare."


But while the haggis was only okay, the sticky toffee pudding was amazing! I thought I might have a picture of it, but apparently I devoured it too quickly! I do remember that it was thick and moist and full of caramel flavor.

This year, some friends invited us over for dinner on Christmas Eve, and I decided to attempt to recreate the pudding I remembered. This is a great party cake, so give it a try next time you get together with friends and family. It is sure to please the whole crowd!

The key ingredient in making this toffee pudding "sticky" is the dates. I didn't understand why until I started chopping them up.


You know that stickiness you get on your fingers when you grab a handful of raisins? Multiply that by about ten and you might understand the stickiness of dates. You can apparently use fresh or dried dates, but buying a bag of 8 oz dried and pitted dates made it so easy!


In my memory from Scotland, I had no idea there was anything in the cake except gooey caramel flavor, so I decided to chop my dates in the food processor to make them extra small. It worked pretty well, though I might chop them even smaller next time.


You then pour 1 1/2 cup boiling water over the dates along with a teaspoon of baking soda. It will foam as it soaks.


Then I hit a major problem! I had somehow let myself run out of flour and I only had 1 cup in the house! How did I let that happen? I debated borrowing a cup from my neighbor, but after realizing that I was also low on eggs, I decided to make a quick run to the store while the dates soaked.


Whew, that's better. In hindsight, I could probably have been fine with just 1 cup and had a denser cake, but oh well.


Cream well your butter and sugar, then add the eggs, the combined dry ingredients, and the entire date mixture. Mix gently.


I must admit that the batter did not look appetizing and like I wanted to lick the bowl, but I popped it in the oven anyway.


Meanwhile, make your caramel sauce. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to cook 4 minutes. Allow to cool while the cake continues to bake.


As soon as the cake comes out (and is nice and springy), poke holes in it with a skewer or fork, then pour about half the caramel sauce over it.


Okay, that looks yummy! Allow the cake to completely cool and soak up the sauce, then serve topped with the remaining caramel and whipped cream or ice cream. Yum yum!





Sticky Toffee Pudding


Makes: About 12 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz dates
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water

  • 1 stick butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Finely chop dates by pulsing in food processor. Combine with baking soda.
  2. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to boil. Pour boiling water over dates and allow to soak for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of 9x13 pan.
  4. Cream butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
  5. Reduce speed and add eggs one at a time.
  6. Whisk dry ingredients, then slowly fold into batter. Fold in date mixture until just combined.
  7. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-30 minutes until cake springs back when touched with a finger.
  8. While cake is baking, combine sauce ingredients in saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 4 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  9. Immediately after taking cake from the oven, poke holes about 1 inch apart with a skewer or fork.
  10. Pour half of the caramel sauce over the cake and allow to soak as the cake cools.
  11. Serve with remaining sauce and either whipped cream or ice cream.

I'll be joining these link parties: Link Party List


Ivy and Elephants Photobucket

Sunday, December 20, 2015

About Me



Hi, I’m Megan, and I’m a Microsoft Excel nerd. 

I’ve been working as an actuary (statistician) for over ten years, and use Excel every day. I think most people who work in business have used Excel at least a little bit, and there are a myriad of websites and trainings to help them with their work tasks. But what I’ve grown to love over the years is the way Excel can be used for household and life tasks. I’ve made spreadsheets for the family budget, household chores, my Christmas card list, and even choosing the hymns at church! 

So what I really want to do with this blog is help non-technical people see how easy it is to organize things in Excel. Check out my posts for my favorite at home spreadsheets and tutorials on how to build and use them. If there is anything specific you would like, send me an email at excelathome.blogspot@gmail.com.

When I’m not messing around with spreadsheets, I’m playing with my sons, reading fantasy novels, cooking for the family, or anything else that sounds fun at the moment. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Hire Me to Build Your Own Personal Spreadsheet

Do you have a specific need? As you peruse my site, you'll see some of the spreadsheets I've already built, but everyone has different preferences and requirements.

If there is anything you need, but don't know how to do it, I can help! Just send me an email at excelathome.blogspot@gmail.com and I will provide a free consultation to determine what you need and provide an estimate of the time and cost it would take to build.

If you have questions or concerns, feel free to let me know!

What is a Formula?

In my opinion, the two top reasons to use Excel are the automatic organization of rows and columns, and formulas. Instead of adding numbers by hand or searching manually through a huge list, you can write a formula and Excel will calculate it for you.

As always, if this topic is brand new to you, I highly recommend watching this video, where I walk through the basics. Then I encourage you to try it out on your own to get comfortable with it.



If you've used Excel much, or at all, you've probably seen a formula of some kind. They are (usually) live, meaning they recalculate anytime you hit Enter or Tab on your spreadsheet. You can turn this off if you want, but that's for another post.

Formulas can be as simple or as complicated as you need.  My personal favorites include:

SUM
SUMIF
COUNT
COUNTIF
SUMPRODUCT
INDEX
VLOOKUP
IF

Obviously, some of these are my favorites at work when dealing with large datasets. And while there are over 200 Excel functions to choose from, I think you'll find that most of what you want to do can be done with these few.

Formatting

The first thing to know about writing a formula is how to start. The answer is simple. You start with "=". Go type = into any cell in Excel. Anything happen?

Now type just about any letter in the alphabet. Strange fact: there are no functions that start with J, but there is at least one for every other letter of the alphabet. Who knew?

But anyway, when you start typing after an = sign, Excel starts guessing at what formula you want. If you select a formula from the list, it will tell you what the formula does.

Once you've found your formula, either hit Tab or finish typing it in with an open parentheses (. Now you get to the meat of the formula.

Parameters

I use this word a lot when talking about my spreadsheets. What I mean are the values used within a formula. In an extremely simple case like the SUM formula, the parameters are the numbers you want to add together.

Let's use the SUMIF formula as a slightly more complicated example. When you type =SUMIF( into Excel, you'll see a box that says SUMIF(range, criteria, [sum_range]). What on earth does this mean?

What it means is that for this formula, your parameters are range, criteria, and sum_range. Sum_range is in brackets because it's optional. The formula will work whether you enter the third parameter or not.

Now, just because you know what Excel calls your parameters does not mean you know how to write the formula. There are a few ways to figure it out: Trial and error, Excel help, or check out one of my tutorials! Honestly, all three of these are viable ways to get what you want, and each will be faster depending on the situation.

The Bottom Line

To write a formula, always start with your "=" sign, and then don't forget to make sure you know what your parameters are. I will have lots of tutorials on my favorite formulas, but if there is a specific one you want, please let me know! I'd be happy to help.

Good luck writing your first formulas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Welcome to Excel

The whole purpose of my blog is to help people realize how easy it is to use Excel for everyday tasks. But it's come to my attention that in order to do that, I have to make sure people know the Excel basics!

One thing I want you to remember, especially if you are brand new to Excel, is don't be afraid! Just like anything else, you get better with practice. Try things out, make mistakes, learn to correct them. And, of course, check out my blog for tips on how to do things easier and faster!

If you have never used Excel before, I highly recommend watching this video. I walk through all the basics of opening and navigating through a spreadsheet.



If you've used Excel before, and just need a reminder, here is a brief walk-through of what you'll find when opening a new spreadsheet.

First Definitions

  • Workbook - Your entire file is called a workbook. Think of it like a spiral notebook. It's just a blank page where you can enter your data.
  • Worksheet - Within your "spiral notebook" you have several pages. We call these individual pages worksheets, or tabs.

Parts of the Spreadsheet


  1. The Ribbon - Excel created the Ribbon a few years ago as a new menu bar. The whole section at the top of your file where you see "Home," "Insert," etc. is the Ribbon. Here you will find almost any command you will want.
  2. Quick Access Toolbar - Excel allows you to display your favorite buttons at the top (or bottom) of the Ribbon so that they are always on display. This means you don't have to click through all the tabs of the Ribbon to find them. Personally, I prefer my Quick Access Toolbar below the Ribbon, but it will automatically show up above the Ribbon. You can easily customize it by clicking the arrow on the right of the toolbar and selecting the command you want. As you can see from the picture below, I have a ton of buttons in my Quick Access Toolbar. I hate having to search for them. :)
  3. Formula Bar - The next thing at the top of your file is the formula bar. In this bar is displayed whatever you have entered into your cell. It does not have to be a formula. When you enter data into your spreadsheet, you can type into this bar or you can type straight into your cell. Either one will work. Just make sure you pay attention to where it is showing up in the spreadsheet.
  4. Main Spreadsheet - And now we get into the meat of your file: your actual spreadsheet. Let's break down the pieces.
    1. Cells - The spreadsheet is made up of cells. You can enter anything you want in these cells: numbers, titles, notes, or even formulas that Excel will calculate for you. Note that because of the grid pattern of Excel, things that you enter will always stay lined up. Sometimes this is very helpful and sometimes it is a pain, but it will take lots of practice and use before you really get the feel for when those two situations happen.
    2. Rows - Rows are always numbered in Excel. The latest version allows for up to 1,000,000 rows, which is far more than you'll ever need for most spreadsheets.
    3. Columns - Columns are lettered in Excel. The latest version allows up to column XFD, which is over 16,000 columns. Again, this is far more than you'll likely need.
  5. Tabs - See at the bottom where it says Sheet1? This is your first tab, or Worksheet. Again, this is just like the first page in your notebook. You can change its name by double-clicking and typing your new name. Note that there is a 31 character limit, so the name can't be too long. You also can't name two sheets the exact same thing. If you need a new tab, just click the little plus sign or right click on the sheet name and hit Insert then Worksheet. Ta da! Now you have a new page in your notebook.

Spreadsheet Navigation

  • Enter - Hitting Enter at any time moves you down one row in your spreadsheet. If you've typed anything into a cell, hitting Enter will store that information in that cell.
  • Tab - Tab will also store information typed in a cell, but instead of moving down one row, it will move over one column
  • Esc - Hitting Esc will clear anything typed in a cell without "storing it" and will leave the same cell selected.
  • Arrow keys - Have the same effect as Enter and Tab, in that it will move one cell in the direction indicated and store whatever has been typed in the cell.

I hope that helps you get started! Try some things out. Test what you can do. When you're ready, check out my other videos and tutorials for other ideas on what you can build with Excel.

As always, if you have questions or are stuck, please send me an email at excelathome.blogspot@gmail.com.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Fantasy Fudge



Isn't it funny the memories that we associate with certain foods? For me, fudge will always remind me of the Boy Scouts. Sound strange? It's because when I was growing up, the Boy Scouts in my church would do a "fudge drive" every year to pay for camp. They probably made hundreds of pounds of fudge in one night and sold them for $4 per pound.

I remember our family always buying at least a couple pounds. I also remember the year I had my own money and could buy my own pound so I didn't have to share with my brothers. That was the best part!

Last week, while at my parents' house, my mom had her own pound of fudge for us to snack on. Unfortunately, my mom's favorite kind of fudge is Rocky Road. I hate nuts in my fudge. To me it's just wrong to ruin a good batch of fudge with nuts. But, to each his own.

With two Christmas parties this weekend, I decided to make my own batch. Without nuts. :)

While there are a million fudge recipes out there, this is the one our Boy Scouts made, and so will always be my favorite.




I usually put the fudge into five tins, one pound each, but since I was going to be sharing this at a party, I decided to pour it into a 9x13. I lined it with parchment paper to easily lift out and cut.


It's easier to prep the chocolate chips and fluff in a large bowl first so it's ready.



Then set the butter, sugar, and evaporated milk to boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring slowly to prevent burning, for six minutes.




Do this next part quickly before it sets! Add the hot sugar mixture to the chocolate and fluff. Mix completely and then add the vanilla and salt.


Pour into prepared pan and allow to cool. Then cut into squares. And try to not eat as many as I did in one go. :)

This made plenty to take to both parties and still have a tin full at home.




Fantasy Fudge


Makes: 5 Pounds
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 12 oz can evaporated milk
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 7 oz jar marshmallow fluff
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch salt

Directions:

  1. In large, heavy saucepan, combine butter, sugar, and evaporated milk over medium high heat. Bring to full boil and cook, stirring slowly, for 6 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and add to bowl with chocolate chips and marshmallow fluff.
  3. Add vanilla and salt and pour into 13x9 pan. Allow to set.

I'll be joining these link parties: Link Party List

Monday, November 30, 2015

Turkey Tetrazzini


Whew! Did everyone survive Thanksgiving? We had 11 adults and 2 toddlers at my house this year, but we all survived! It certainly went better than the first one I hosted. Three years ago, I sliced my finger open, my husband dropped the pie, and the turkey didn't want to go into the oven. It has come to be known in our family as the Great Turkey Drop.


But I had no problems this year, except for a crowded house. And now I have a different problem: turkey leftovers!

This is one of my favorite recipes, and one I make often using leftover roast chicken, but turkey gives it that rich flavor that I love in the days after Thanksgiving. You only need a few ingredients.


Sautee the mushrooms in about a tablespoon of butter and a little salt.


While the mushrooms are cooking, make a roux with 2-3 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of flour. Add your turkey broth, then add the cream when the sauce begins to thicken.


I like the "layer" effect: pasta, turkey, mushrooms, then sauce. Top it with parmesan cheese, then cover and bake for about 30 minutes.


I alway make tons of this because I can eat the leftovers for days! In this case, I made a small pan to go in the freezer for a night when I just don't feel like cooking. Hooray for plenty of tetrazzini!



Turkey Tetrazzini


Makes: 6 Servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb pasta
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 8 oz mushrooms
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 cups turkey broth (can use chicken)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, room temperature
  • 2 cups cooked turkey or chicken
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Sautee mushrooms in 1 Tbsp butter.
  3. While mushrooms are cooking, make a roux of remaining butter and flour. Cook 1-2 minutes, then slowly whisk in broth. Cook over medium heat until sauce begins to thicken. Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Slowly add cream to sauce and allow to cook another 5 minutes.
  5. In a 9x13 pan, layer cooked pasta, then turkey and mushrooms. Pour in sauce and top with Parmesan. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

I'll be joining these link parties: Link Party List


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Holiday Slush, A Family Tradition



Have you ever had a family tradition that you thought was the same across all families? Like turkey at Thanksgiving; it's what everyone does, right?

I don't remember when I first discovered that not everyone has "slush" at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I do know that I'm still disappointed to find it missing when I visit other people's homes for the holidays.

With Thanksgiving at my house this year, I knew I had to once again teach my in-laws about holiday slush.

My grandmother keeps our slush recipe in her famous family cookbook (the one she gives to the grandchildren when they get married, meaning she refused to give me one until my wedding at age 29). I had a couple problems with this recipe.

First, it makes enough to serve my grandmother's entire family (consisting of 6 children and their spouses, 25 grandchildren and their spouses, and I don't know how many great-grandchildren). In other words, for my group of 10 adults, I really only needed half of the recipe. But the amounts were weird and not easily divided in two.

Also, once upon a time, when my grandmother wrote down this recipe, the grocery stores carried giant 46 ounce cans of pineapple grapefruit juice. At some point in the last 30 or so years, these special mixes became unavailable. So, in order to half the recipe, I needed 12.5 ounces each of pineapple and grapefruit juice. Not the easiest of measurements.



And so I just rounded it to 12 ounces, or 1.5 cups each of the juices. I rounded a couple of the other amounts to make things easier, and there you have it. I hope my in-laws love it as much as I do, but if not, I'll have no problem eating all the slush myself!

This is definitely a make ahead of time recipe, which is fine because it keeps very well in the freezer. Make a syrup of the sugar and water, and mix it all together in a large tupperware or pan. You want something wide enough that you can easily serve from, but tall enough that when you mix it, you won't wind up with more on the floor than in your pan.



I like to let it freeze overnight. Then, at least a day before you serve it, take it out and let it defrost for an hour or so.




Break it up into chunks with a large spoon, and then attack it with a hand mixer. This part is super messy, so wear an apron!




Once it's light and fluffy, return to the freezer. With it whipped, it's easy to serve with an ice cream scoop.

Serve as an appetizer with Sprite or your favorite lemon-lime soda. A wonderful holiday treat!





Holiday Slush


Makes: About 12 Servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Freeze Time: Overnight

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 mashed bananas
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 1/2 cup grapefruit juice
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Make a syrup with the sugar and water over medium heat. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. Mix all ingredients in a large tupperware or pan. Slowly add the syrup. Place in freezer until set, at least 5 hours or overnight.
  3. At least 2 hours before serving, remove from freezer and allow 1 hour to defrost. Break ice apart with a heavy spoon, then whip with handheld mixer until fluffy. Return to freezer.
  4. Serve straight from freezer as appetizer with lemon-lime soda.

I'll be joining these link parties: Link Party List


Dwellings-The Heart of Your Home

The Easiest Taco Soup

In case you missed my earlier post about visiting the farm, let me tell you that I absolutely love the Fall! After living in Utah for 10 years where the first snow is almost always before Thanksgiving, I am relishing my time here in Georgia. The leaves are still falling, it's warm enough to take my son outside, but everything feels cool and crisp. It's wonderful!



With the change in the weather, I am determined to get better at whipping up a soup off the top of my head. It's something I'm still learning.

This soup, however, I've been making for years. A friend gave me her recipe and I tweaked it a little to my own tastes. It is so easy to adapt this recipe to whatever you want it to be. Personally, I'm a fan of taco flavor, not chili, so this is my chili substitute.

Start by browning about a pound of hamburger meat. I love to buy the Costco patties because they're about half a pound each and I can freeze them, then pull out however much I want. So here are my frozen patties waiting to be defrosted.




I then just dump in however much taco seasoning I feel like. This can of Old El Paso recommends 1/4 Cup for 1 lb meat, and that is a good rule of thumb. But if you like a good strong flavor, feel free to add more. I also sometimes dice half an onion and add it to the meat.



Once your meat is fully cooked, add it to a large stockpot or your crockpot.

The next step is the "hardest" part...opening cans. Yup, just open a bunch of cans and add them in to the pot. I highly recommend draining and rinsing your beans, though. :)

This is also where you can get creative. I love a nice thick soup, so I do two cans of diced tomatoes and two cans of corn. I also will often buy the "fancy" diced tomatoes that are fire roasted or come with chilis, sweet onion, or whatever I feel like that day. Feel free to experiment and find your perfect taco soup.


I usually just dump these all into a pot (or crockpot) with the hamburger meat and let simmer for a while, but I've also been rushed at times and served it right then and there. This time, I put it into a Ziploc and into the freezer for my husband to make while I was out of town on business. It worked great!


Top it with grated cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips. Yum! A family favorite for sure!




Taco Soup


Makes: About 6 Servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time (Stove): 30 minutes
Cook Time (Crockpot): 2-4 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb hamburger meat
  • 1/4 cup taco seasoning
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cans corn, drained
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato soup
  • grated cheese
  • sour cream
  • tortilla chips

Directions:

  1. Cook hamburger with taco seasoning over medium high heat in a large skillet or stock pot.
  2. Drain and rinse the black beans. Drain corn.
  3. If you're making the soup on the stove, add all ingredients to a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer minimum 30 minutes.
  4. If you're making the soup in your crockpot, add all ingredients to the crockpot and set to low for a minimum of two hours.
  5. Serve hot topped with grated cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips.

I'll be joining these link parties: Link Party List

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Unwritten Link Party Rules

Link Parties. Apparently a blogger's dream. If you do it right. And they come with such cute buttons!

Please note that all my parties are organized by when they go live. 

This is why, for example, you see all these Wednesday parties listed under Tuesday. I have found that they go live on Tuesday evening. This makes it so much easier for me when I'm linking up. On Tuesday morning, I open up all the Tuesday parties, and then check them throughout the day until they go live. Then I can close everything at the end of the day and know I caught them all.

If you want to see how I keep track of my parties and which ones I've joined, check out my Link Party Tracking Sheet.

Monday

Dwellings-The Heart of Your Home 10308754_10203781373763465_7536899127074402936_n faithfilledparenting.com

Tuesday

party in your pjs Savvy Southern Style

Wednesday


No Minimalist Here Weekly Blog Link Up Party-Treasure Hunt Thursday- From My Front Porch To Yours

Share Your Cup

Thursday

This Is How We Roll Thursdays A Kreative Whim Photobucket Olives-n-Okra

Feathered Nest Friday

Friday

Snippets of Inspiration Embracing Change

Saturday


The Girl Creative Fun Money Mom
Saturday Sharefest

Sunday


Craft-o-maniac This Makes That How To Get Organized At Home Mummy Do It
Celebrate Your Story

When I wrote this, I was a brand new blogger. I just want to make that clear from the beginning. So all of these thoughts and ramblings are my own, based on what I read and experienced in the first few weeks of blogging.

Before I even wrote my first post, I was researching the internet on how to have a successful blog, and I found these things called "linkies." They are a great way to promote your blog and get the word out that you have something worth reading.

So after a couple weeks of writing silly little at home posts, I finished my first original blog post. In my case, it was my Christmas Card List. I was pretty proud of it and very nervous about putting it out on the web, but I knew I had to try it.

When you join a link party, they will often have a set of rules. Something like:
  1. Link to a specific post
  2. Don't include link parties or givaways
  3. Link back to the party via a text link or button
  4. Visit at least 2 other blogs and comment (and tell them the party you came from)
  5. Joining the party gives the host permission to feature your post
These are the basics, and they vary a little (or some parties have no rules), but stay pretty close to the same. But after my first weekend attempting to join a link party, I have put together my own set of rules.

Beginners Link Party Rules (and things you must know)

  1. Know what time the party starts and post as early as possible. This can be hard to figure out for some, but others make it easy (even including it in their button).
  2. While some parties ask that you not repost something from a previous party, it seems that linking multiple posts to a single party is totally fine.
  3. Linking up to multiple parties, visiting the other linked posts, and leaving comments, can easily turn into a full time job. I understand a bit better now why people say you spend as much time promoting your blog as you do writing it.
I'm sure this list of mine will evolve over time, and perhaps some link party veterans will correct me on my observations. Maybe I'll get good at this someday. :)