Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dr. Seuss Birthday Party

For birthdays each year, our four kids can choose to get a present from us or a birthday party. For her fifth birthday this year, one of our daughters chose to have a party. I kind of love the party option because even though it's a lot more work, I get to have fun being creative with cupcakes!

I baked two dozen pretty basic chocolate cupcakes, then went to work on them!

For the Thing 1 & 2 cakes: I baked these in red liners. (This picture shows just one liner, but I later switched the label to a second liner and placed the cupcake in that.) I made a simple cream cheese frosting and tinted it aqua with mostly blue and a touch of green food coloring. After lightly frosting the cakes,  I waited until the last minute (very important!) to top the cakes with tufts of cotton candy. The labels are just circles cut out of white paper, and I hand-wrote "Thing 1" or "Thing 2" with a black circle around the edge.
For the Cat's Hat cupcakes: I baked these in blue liners and lightly frosted them with some of the un-tinted frosting. On these, you can see that I added a second liner. I just liked the brighter color it gave them. The topper is an Oreo cookie (red velvet, no less!) I took the top wafer off and used a smidge of frosting to adhere the marshmallow to the top. For the marshmallows, I dipped each end slightly in water, then in red decorating sugar. For the bow ties, I drew a template, then traced and cut them out. I added the squiggly black lines to mimic a cartoonish style.

I kept the food to just cupcakes and chocolate ice cream, though it was tempting to go all out! We played several simple games like Memory, using the hats in the bottom right of the picture. The red cups have white paper stripes taped around them and they were used for bowling. 



The party invitation is pictured above. I wanted something a little abstract, but that was unmistakably Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat. And of course, on the address card that I sent out I used our real address and phone number. (Though if you called that number you might find someone named "Jenny".)

I also went abstract on the the decorations, trying to stick to shades of aqua, pink, and red, just like the book! I did have some Cat Hats that I hung up (the same ones from the memory game) but I don't have a great picture of those. 

*The original inspiration for the Thing 1 & 2 cupcakes is a picture I saw on Pinterest years ago. The source for that picture can be found here.

The Cat's Hat cupcakes were just something I came up with.

Monday, December 29, 2014

All-In Challenge

After Lauryn was born, I knew I wanted to focus on getting the best nutrition possible while reclaiming my pre-pregnancy self, not to mention having enough energy to keep up with 3 big kids plus a newborn! Thankfully, I had AdvoCare to help me meet those challenges. I focused on clean eating while doing a modified version of AdvoCare's 24-Day Challenge. After 24 days, I was amazed to see I had lost 5 pounds and 14 inches! I was completely out of maternity clothes, and best of all, I felt great!

Because this time of year is when many people start making new goals or recommitting to old ones to focus on eating well or losing weight, AdvoCare is offering special pricing on their 24-Day Challenge through Noon on December 31st!

For Distributors who place a challenge order, you receive:

* Free Expedited Shipping

* A free limited edition blender bottle and wrist band

* Free shipping on your next order of $250 or more in January 2015

If you're not a distributor, you can still join in the challenge by contacting me for your order to receive the same benefits! I'd love to help you reach your goals for a healthier lifestyle and more energy.

Give me a call, email me, or take a look at my AdvoCare website to learn more.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Buttermilk Bread

I have been making homemade bread for years, and watched my mom make it for years before that, but I learned something new about the whole process recently. Apparently, adding just a pinch of ginger to the yeast mixture when starting your bread makes the yeast go crazy! I have never seen yeast bloom like it did when I used ginger in with the sugar/yeast/water mixture. I highly recommend giving this recipe a try because the bread and rolls I made were tender, fluffy, soft ... perfect!

Buttermilk Bread

I used half the dough to make rolls and half to make a loaf:

Naturally I tried to find out why the ginger affected the yeast the way it did, and this website had a pretty good explanation. (At the link, scroll down to the final answer to the question.) In a nutshell, ginger keeps the pH at the optimum level for yeast growth.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Hamburger Today

I don't even remember when I started making hamburger patties using this method, but I've done it for years. I love it because my hands stay relatively clean. That means not only do I have easy clean-up, but that I can also do other things in between forming patties. I'm a big multi-tasker - I think most cooks are! It's a necessity in the kitchen. My oldest daughter took process shots so you can see what I'm talking about:

Use a good-sized piece of plastic wrap to protect your hand.

Scoop up a portion of your ground beef.

Twist the plastic wrap up loosely to form the meat into a ball.

Press the meat down firmly into a patty.

Unwrap and ...

... fold the plastic wrap over and press to shape the patty.

Then turn your hand over to drop the patty ...

... onto your waiting plate!
If you're making a big batch of patties and need a double layer on your plate, simply lay your used plastic wrap over the first layer of patties. Then get a fresh square to make the second layer of patties.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

By Special Request

I have to say, we have the best mechanic! We've had a few issues with our van over the last year and our service place always goes above and beyond to make sure that we get back on the road quickly and affordably. Because of that, I've made cookies a few times to share with them as a Thank You. The latest batch I whipped up included a special request for Lemon Coolers, which is coincidentally one of my childhood favorites! You can't really buy them anymore since Sunshine Biscuits merged with Keebler. The recipe I used made a nice imitation, and were really fantastic in their own right. I also included a batch of my Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Bars.

Lemon Meltaways

Chocolate Cream Cheese Bars, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Lemon Meltaways

Also this week, Jeff received a request from someone at work for Cookie Dough Brownies. I made them several months ago and his friend remembered how good they were! I follow the recipe more or less as written, but I use mini chocolate chips and omit the walnuts. I put half of the chips in the cookie dough batter and melt the other half to drizzle on top. I don't like having a solid layer of chocolate on the top - it makes them hard to bite into.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Five Dollar Meals

As I was scrolling through my news feed the other day, a Wal-Mart ad caught my eye (Thanks, Facebook!). It was a picture of a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese and a big jug of storebought, prepared Kool-Aid. The picture was captioned, identifying the combination as a "weeknight family meal". Now call me Judgy McJudgerton, but THAT is not a weeknight family meal! At best, it's a "there's nothing left in the pantry or refrigerator and payday isn't until tomorrow" kind of meal. Or even a "Mom is incapacitated and Dad's fixing dinner tonight" kind of meal. (See, now I'm judgmental AND sexist!)

All I'm saying is, it's easy to whip up a healthy, filling meal under normal circumstances without resorting to such extreme measures. I mean, at least serve a side of apple sauce or a handful of grapes with that meal! I'd be happy to show you just a couple of options for roughly the same price.

Let's just say I'm fixing lunch for my four little darlings. Here's what Wal-Mart's meal looks like:

Macaroni and cheese: $1.00 per box X 2 boxes = $2.00
Kool-Aid (purchased prepared): $3.00
Total Meal: $5.00
(Of course, this doesn't include the butter and milk needed to prepare the pasta. They'd be negligible.)

Here is a different option:

Black beans: $0.60 per can X 2 = $1.20
Tortillas: (1/2 package) $0.60
Spinach: (1/2 package) $0.40
Cheddar cheese: (8 oz) $1.90
Pineapple chunks: $0.90
Total Meal: $5.00

With these ingredients, plus some salsa and other seasonings you probably already have in your fridge, you can make Black Bean Soup, spinach and cheese quesadillas, and a side of pineapple!

Guess which meal is healthier? Now, I'm sure some of you may be saying that your kids wouldn't eat that, but I have at least two that don't like boxed mac and cheese! That's fair enough, though. I make homemade "Spaghettios" for my kids (and me!) all the time, and that's comparable to good old cheesy mac. Check this out:

Pasta: (2 cups) $0.50
Tomato sauce: $1.00
Tomato paste: (negligible, but let's say) $0.10
Cheddar cheese: (4 oz) $0.95
Gala apples: (3 small) $0.63
Greek yogurt, vanilla: (1/2 large container) $1.95
Total Meal: $5.13

That's a BIG pot of flavorful pasta, plus a side of apple slices with Greek yogurt for dipping (I add a sprinkling of cinnamon, too!) And neither of these two meals takes much more time than cooking up that blue box.

It's all about perspective and priorities. Sure, there's a time and place when all you feel like is that blue box and Kool-Aid, if that's how you roll. My objection is to the suggestion that those two items are a legitimate complete meal.

Let's come up with a better "weeknight family meal" advertisement, Wal-Mart!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Red Pepper Hummus

I improvised this hummus recipe the other day when I realized I was out of spinach for my favorite Spinach & Feta Hummus. I was craving a relatively healthy snack that could pretty much double up for my lunch and this Red Pepper Hummus satisfied my craving perfectly. I used pita crackers from Aldi as my dipper, and also had a hard-boiled egg and half of a honeycrisp apple. It kept me full all afternoon!

Red Pepper Hummus

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon cumin
1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup feta cheese (optional)

In a small skillet over medium heat, saute the red pepper and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil until tender. Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes and cook for a minute longer. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, in a food processor combine the chickpeas, salt and pepper, cumin, and lemon juice. When the peppers and garlic are ready, add them to the food processor and blend. Drizzle in about 1/4 cup olive oil and blend well. Add in the feta if using and blend. At this point you'll want to check your seasoning and adjust if necessary, adding a touch more oil or lemon juice to get the hummus to your desired consistency.