Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Warm Vanilla Milk

This has become a new favorite drink for my kids to have before bedtime.  Pour a glass of warm vanilla milk and serve with a cookie and you just made the ultimate bedtime snack.

What You'll Need:
2 cups milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar
[optional]- sprinkle of cinnamon ''

In a medium sized bowl or pyrex measuring cup add in milk, vanilla, and sugar.  Stir gently until the sugar is dissolved.  Place in the microwave for 2 minutes.  Serve with marshmallows or some whipped cream on top.  You can find the recipe for '2 Ingredient Whipped Cream' here. I added some chocolate syrup on top of our whipped cream. It was absolutely delicious!


2 Ingredient Homemade Whipped Topping

What You'll Need:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
5 Tablespoons powdered sugar

Add both ingredient into a bowl.  In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer beat on low for 1 minute. Tun on high and mix for 5 minutes until peaks form.  You could also add a teaspoon of vanilla extract for added flavor.  If you don't like your whipped cream sweet, you can add the desired amount of powdered sugar until you reach the level of sweetness you like.  I love to serve this on hot chocolate with some marshmallows.  But it's delicious on just about anything!


Sunday, January 19, 2014

North Pole Breakfast

What better way to bring back your Elf on the Shelf then with a super festive North Pole breakfast.  This was our first year doing this and it has become a new tradition we will do year after year.  Not only were the kids so excited that Harry {our elf} was back but that he fixed them such a nice breakfast.  That elf has a lot of love to share, doesn't he?

At each of their place settings I had a little stuffed elf that I had picked up at the dollar store {my son got a boy elf} and the girls got the same cute little red elf.  I had printed out a blank Christmas printable and typed up a little note from Harry.  I taped together three candy canes to make a little 'place card holder'.  And each of them got a new pair of Christmas socks.  

For the food I kept it pretty simple.  Remembering that I had to prepare most of this stuff the night before because my kids get up as soon as the sun peeks through their windows!  And I didn't want any chance of them waking up and seeing me preparing anything.  How awkward would THAT have been?

This was the breakfast that was served.

For the "snowballs" they were just plain white powdered donuts.  For some reason, every store in my town was on a donut hole shortage and I had to settle for the regular donuts.  But not before driving myself insane trying to look for those darn donut holes! I made "Merry Strawberry Crunch" which was basically a fancy, festive way of saying strawberry yogurt with granola on top.  But I *ahem* Harry did serve it in champagne glasses.  For our "Not Candy, Candy Canes" they were just sliced bananas and strawberries arranged into a cane shape.  Pinterest it.  There was WAY easier ways to do this then what I did.  I was ready to smash this fruit trying to arrange it just right.  Little did I know that if you just slice them and cut the bottoms, they'll sit much nicer.  I found that out AFTER the fact.  Moving on.  For the main part of the breakfast I…HARRY made reindeer pancakes.  It's just two pancakes, one cut smaller than the other. Save the little leftover pieces from cutting the smaller one and use that to shape some ears.  Place the smaller pancake on top of the larger pancake.  Add two chocolate chips for eyes and I used two slices of turkey bacon for the antlers.  And a strawberry tip for the nose.  And for a drink I just served some chocolate milk topped with whipped cream.  Complete with a striped straw and a christmas straw topper.  Which by the way, I paid almost 4 dollars for the bag of straws in Target only to find out they have them in the dollar section at Target.  And they also now sell them in Wal-Mart by the baking supplies. What's with me finding things out after what I'm doing is over?!

Now those are some happy little kids. 

*I will be posting my 2014 North Pole Breakfast when it's complete.
Check back and keep a look out for that.  I'll be offering some free printablse for this year as well.

Friday, January 17, 2014

25 Elf on the Shelf Ideas

Because I had just started my blog in January, I was a little sad to realize that Christmas is over and I missed the window to post about my Elf on the Shelf. Even though I did post my pictures daily on my Facebook and Instagram. Which I'm pretty sure probably irritated many people. 

But while it seems a little silly to be posting Christmas ideas the month AFTER Christmas, I hope it will give you some inspiration and ideas for NEXT Christmas.

My family and I had started the tradition a few years back.  (If you're not familiar with what the Elf on the Shelf actually is, you can read more about it here.) At first, it was just a simple little Elf that would land in a different spot each night.  But now it has turned into some massive game for the parents to see what ideas they can come up with.  And each year I find that it gets more and more difficult to come up with ideas.  

The way that I am, I can't repeat something I've already done. No, no.  That just can't be.  I must make things more difficult for myself.  It's what I do.  

I love getting new ideas from friends, people on Instagram, and of course…my favorite and yours. Pinterest!  So hopefully this little (or slightly long) list will get your creative juices flowing so your little elf can surprise your kiddos in the morning. 

So without further adieu, I present: 25 days of Harry the Elf.

Harry made a North Pole Breakfast for the kids.

Glad he bundled up.

What a good little elf.  Doing the laundry and cleaning. 

Elves have to have some fun, too.

He obviously fixed himself a bowl.

He'll do anything to get his tiny little hands on some cookies.

I see you.

So creative when it comes to making snowflakes.

Can he ever do anything without making a mess?

Doesn't he look so cozy?

He picked out all the boring cereal pieces and fixed the kids a bowl of marshmallows. 

It's hard work to do what he does.  He deserves it.

He's always watching.

What a cute little tree topper, isn't he?

Do you even lift?

He 'mustache' you to be good!

He brought back some coloring pages from the North Pole.

That better not be one of mine!

Turtles in a half shell …

Pure sweetness.

He packed their lunches.  Wish he'd do that everyday.

He knows the reason for the season.  What a good little elf, huh?

His annual report.  

He drew red noses on the kids while they were asleep.  He's got jokes.

It's time to say goodbye.  He brought a Santa Key with him to hang on the door. It's always sad to see him go, but until next year.

So that was my '25 days of The Elf on the Shelf.'  You'll notice that some days are better than others. 

There have been times I've gotten into bed, pulled the covers over me, closed my eyes and almost drifted off to dream land.  Then being woken up by this horrible feeling that I forgot to do something.  And I surely did.  Angrily, I ripped the covers off of myself and walked around my house thinking "where am I going to put this thing?!" Praying my kids didn't walk out of their rooms while their mother is talking to herself and pacing around the house with poor little Harry in her hands, hanging from his feet and being thrown around like a rag doll. 

I always try and make him do something fun, even on my lazy days.  All you have to do is add a simple printable, pose him in a silly way, or add some type of little prop when you just don't know what to do with your elf.  Or you're just simply too tired to put in much effort.  

I try and enjoy it every year as much as I can and not complain too much about it because I know that the season flies by.  And every year we get a step closer to my kids not believing in him anymore.  

So as much as this little guy may seem like a pain in the butt on certain days, just remember that these days will pass.  And one day you'll stare at him in his little box and wish you had these days back.  That's why I take the time to do this.  

While it may seem a little strange or ridiculous to some people, to me it's just adding a little something special to the magic of Christmas for my kids.  And that makes it all worth while.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallow Topping

 Ahhh, yes.  The good ol' sweet potato.  The potato's sweeter, more attractive sister. I absolutely love sweet potatoes.  Not only because they're packed with nutrients but they're just so darn delish.  

This yummy side dish is easy to make and you probably have all the ingredients already in your pantry. 

What you'll Need:
4 sweet potatoes
3 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons butter/margarine
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
miniature marshmallows

To start off, bake or microwave your sweet potatoes until soft.  If you bake them in the oven at 350 degrees they usually take around 30 minutes or so.  I prefer to microwave them.  Cuts the time in half.

Once they're cooked, slice lengthwise in half.  Scoop out the insides into a bowl, leaving a 1/4 inch thick border of sweet potato and the skin.  (I always rush mine and not wait until they're cool enough to handle and a lot of times mine break.  It's not pretty.) 

See what I mean?  Not attractive. But delicious none the less, so lets move on.

 Add remaining ingredients (except marshmallows) into the bowl and stir until butter melts and the mixture is smooth. No need to use your fancy Nancy hand mixer for this.  Just a good ol' wooden spoon and some muscle.  Spoon mixture back into the skin 'shells'.  Top with marshmallows. 

Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until marshmallows have melted and are golden brown.
Serve warm.


Full Recipe
Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallow Topping

4 sweet potatoes
3 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons butter/margarine
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
miniature marshmallows

Bake sweet potatoes at 375 degrees for 30 minutes until soft. Or microwave for 15 minutes, depending on the size.

Once they're cooked, slice in half lengthwise and scoop out the middles into a bowl, leaving a 1/4 inch thick 'shell'.  Add in all ingredients (except marshmallows) and stir until smooth.  Spoon mixture back into the skins.  Top with marshmallows. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until marshmallows have melted and are golden brown. Serves 4.

Easy Sloppy Joes (from scratch)

Like most people, I try and watch how I eat most of the time. And I'd say I cook pretty healthy most of the time.  But sometimes that can be difficult when you have three little mouths to cook for (and a slightly picky husband).  I have to keep my weekly menu planning with at least two days a week of 'kid friendly' meals.  And how much more kid friendly can you get than sloppy joes? 

I now make my sloppy joes from scratch. I took the main ingredients from the back of the Manwich can, and added my own twist.  I don't even buy the Manwich cans anymore like I used to.  Did you ever read the back of that can?  You better get a dictionary out.  I don't know about you, but when I have the choice between making something from scratch or buying from a store, I'm always going to go with option A.  And if it's super easy to do and tastes almost identical, if not better, than the store bought stuff…well, that makes me just want to do a little happy dance.  

This recipe is SO easy and SO delicious. 

What you'll need:
1 lb. ground beef (I use lean ground beef)
8 oz. tomato sauce
1 cup ketchup
1 Tbsp. dried minced onion
1 Tbsp. white sugar
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chopped bell pepper (any color you like)
1/2 tsp. chili powder (optional)

Brown ground beef in a skillet.  Drain.

Return to heat and add in all remaining ingredients. Stir and let simmer on medium-low for 15 minutes.  The longer it simmers, the thicker the sauce will be. 

Put it on a bun and eat.  How simple was that?  And you'll never buy store bought again.

*For an extra 'kid friendly' way to make them, add a slice of Velveeta cheese and pop in the microwave for 20 seconds.  Pure cheesy, deliciousness.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fried Chicken Breasts

I don't know about you, but chicken is one of my favorite foods. There's thousands of different ways to prepare it and it's always delicious.  Well, maybe not ALWAYS.  But the weird thing about me is that I can eat chicken breast, but no other part of a chicken. And even eating a chicken breast, it has to be sliced extremely thin.  I don't know what it is but the thought of gnawing on a bone just grosses me out.  I know, I know.  I'm crazy.  But it's just this weird thing I have.  I guess you can call me a slightly picky eater.  Note to self:  remember I just admitted that when I say "these kids don't eat anything, where did they come from?"

 Every time someone ate a fried chicken leg around me I was always envious.  I wanted the crunchy, fatty, amazingly delicious taste but I couldn't bring myself to touch that thing!  So I decided to come up with a recipe for my own fried chicken.  Using chicken breast.  And the outcome was amazing.  If I could marry a food, this would be my groom.

1 package boneless chicken breasts
2 cups flour
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 tsp. paprika
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. milk
2 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine
oil for frying

Remove any excess fat from chicken breast and fillet to make them as thin as you like. (I usually get three filleted pieces from one chicken breast). Set aside.

In a bowl, combine flour, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and paprika.
In another bowl, combine eggs, milk, and melted butter.

Place the bowls side by side.  Dip your chicken breasts in the flour mixture first making sure to coat both sides. Then dip the floured chicken breasts in the egg mixture, then back into the flour.  Set on a plate.

In an electric skillet or a frying pan, heat oil on high.  To test the temperature of the oil, drop a piece of flour into the oil.  If it bubbles up quickly, it's ready.

Place your chicken in the pan.  You'll probably have to do this in two batches.  You don't want to overcrowd the pan.

Lower the temperature to medium low. Fry on one side for about 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Flip and fry another 8 minutes.  In the last 5 minutes of cooking, turn the heat back up to high.  This will give your chicken that nice crispy breading.

When the chicken is golden brown, remove from the pan and place on a paper towel covered plate to remove any excess oil.  Serve with some mashed potatoes and corn and you have some delicious comfort food. Amazing.

Stuffed Artichokes

When I was a little girl my Grandma used to make these all the time.  As soon as I was married and on my own it's one of the first recipes I asked for.  Of course, no matter how many times I've watched her make them they just never quite tasted as delicious as hers did.  Even though I followed the recipe exact! Why does that happen?

These artichokes are not only easy but they are absolutely delicious.  One of my favorite meals of all time.  And I'm happy to say that all of my kids love it.  Even my little one who hardly eats anything that isn't a hot dog or an apple.

There are a lot of different types of stuffed artichokes I've seen.  Stuffed with different meats, breading, and chopped veggies.  You can actually stuff them with anything you want but for my Grandma's sake, I always stick to only breadcrumbs.  And because of the flavor of these leafy little angels, you don't need anything else!

What you'll need:
Fresh artichokes (I usually make 6)
3 cups Italian style bread crumbs
2 T. grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Cut the stems off the artichokes. You have to make them as level as possible because they're going to have to stand upright in the pot.  

Next you're going to take a scissor and cut the points of the leaves off.  Remove any dead or split leaves from the bottom.  (Be prepared that you'll probably be finding tiny little green points around your kitchen for days.   I've tried everything to make sure they land in one spot and one or two always seem to get away from me!)

Take a sharp knife and cut off the very top of the artichoke as well.  They should look like the picture below when you're all finished. 

Run them under warm water and make sure you've washed away any dirt or pieces that you've cut that have gotten stuck.

In a bowl, mix together 3 c.breadcrumbs, 2 T. parmesan cheese, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, and 1 tsp. of. garlic powder.

Time to stuff these bad boys!

I find that if you place the artichoke inside the bowl while you stuff it, you'll minimize a whole ton of mess and a whole ton of breadcrumbs being stuck to the bottoms of your feet, too.
Spread the leaves one by one, sprinkling your bread crumb mixture inside.  You can stuff them as much or as little as you want. 

When they're all stuffed, place them in a pot.  They can be touching or not.  It doesn't effect the cooking time or how it will turn out.  I was able to fit 5 in a big pot and had to boil one in a small sauce pan on it's own.  (He was the black sheep of the bunch).

Fill your pot with water, about half way up the artichokes.  Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. 

Cover and bring to a boil.  Lower to about medium-high heat, and cook about 2-2 1/2 hours, checking periodically if you have to add in some water.  The bottom half of the artichokes should always be in water.  Larger artichokes might take a little longer. 

To test if they're done cooking, pick a leave off from around the top side of the artichoke. If it comes out easily, they're done.  You don't want to take one from the bottom since they'll cook slightly faster because they're submerged in water. And you have to taste it to make sure the leaves aren't hard.  Just one! (Good luck with that).

To eat the artichoke (if you don't know how), scrape the leaf with your teeth removing all the stuffing and the "meaty" part of the leaf. 
Some people serve them as an appetizer but I serve them for dinner.  I make my family's favorite pasta and take the left over "sauce" from the artichoke pot and pour it on top.  I know, it sounds REALLY strange but just try it.  I promise you, you'll love it.


Full Recipe:

  • 4 artichokes (I usually make 6)
  • 3 cups Italian style bread crumbs
  • 2 T. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • oil

Cut the stems off the artichokes. Make them as level as possible because they're going to have to stand upright in a stock pot.  Trim the points off of the leaves and remove any bottom leaf that is split or rotten.  Cut the top of the artichoke off. Rinse them off to make sure you clean off any dirt or clippings. 

In a bowl, combine breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. 

Starting from the bottom leaves, open up each leaf and sprinkle your breadcrumb mixture inside. Stuff the top as well. 

Place the artichokes in a large pot and cover with water half way up the artichoke. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with some salt.  Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-high and cook for about 2 hours.  Check water often and add as needed, making sure the bottom half is always submerged in water. 

The artichoke is ready when you can remove a top side leaf with ease.