Monthly Archives: July 2012

Cue-ing it Up in the Slow Cooker

Standard

Any time of year is perfect for putting your slow cooker to use, but when temperatures are so hot that you don’t want to put on the oven, it’s even more perfect.   My favorite slow cooker recipes are those that allow me to put the ingredients in and turn it on– no messing up other pans, and minimal prep– AND has a long cook time, so that I can assemble everything in the morning and go about the rest of my day.  This one, by Hungry Girl, not only meets all of those criteria, but it’s also a perfect summer dish– Barbecue pulled pork.  Some baked beans and salad or coleslaw on the side, and you’ve got full meal.

You can see the original recipe here.  Hungry Girl is a great site for recipes, and doubly so if you want a caloric count, or if you’re tracking carb intake or following Weight Watchers.   She also makes a great foldable flat bread that you can buy in supermarkets.  I modified her recipe slightly by using less onions, Splenda brown sugar blend, and using only a pork tenderloin.

You’ll need:

1 cup canned tomato sauce

1/2 cup ketchup

1 tbsp plus 1 tsp Splenda Blend brown sugar

2 tbsp plus 2 tsp apple cider vinegar

2 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup chopped onion

1.5 lb. raw boneless pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat.

You start by making your own sauce from ketchup, apple cider vinegar, garlic powder, brown sugar blend (if you use regular brown sugar, double the amount you add),  and, if you want to make clean up a breeze, a Reynold’s Slow Cooker Liner.

 

You just pop the sauce ingredients directly in your slow cooker.  Stir them together thoroughly.

 

 

 

After stirring to combine your sauce ingredients, add your chopped onion and whole pork loin.  The big old chunk of it.

 

 

Roll your pork loin around to coat it and the onions in sauce. You want the flavor to get into every bit of the meat.

Turn your slow cooker on for 3-4 hours on high or 7-8 hours on high.  You’ll smell everything cooking up nicely.  Your friends will comment on how delicious it smells.  Tell them how easy it was to make, they’ll love you for it.

When it’s cooked through (pork should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees), carefully remove the pork loin and place it in a large bowl.  Shred the pork using two forks.  Just drag the forks through the meat.  It will shred easily if it’s thoroughly cooked.  Shred it nice and fine. Then return it to the slow cooker and stir it into the sauce and juices.  Coat everything evenly.

I eat mine plain or on a bed of lettuce (I call it barbecue salad), which saves me a few carbs and calories.  My husband and boys eat it on hotdog or hamburger buns, depending on what’s handy.  It’s good on anything.  And it makes a lot, so you could even score lunch leftovers out of this minimal effort dish.

If pork is not your thing, try using the same sauce and substituting boneless, skinless chicken thighs for the pork tenderloin.  Just keep in mind that the internal temperature of chicken should be 165 degrees when it’s fully cooked.  I’ve used frozen boneless, skinless chicken thighs in similar recipes, and set the slow cooker on high for an hour, then decreased the temperature to low for 6–8 hours.  The chicken will just fall apart when it’s done.

Little effort, no mess, and big taste.  What are your favorite no fuss summer dinners?

 

 

 

 

Batter Up! Another Swing at Cake Batter Dip!

Standard

Earlier this year, I told you about how Funfetti Dip (which I learned about from Shannon at Adventures in Food, and pinned here) was a hit at a play date I hosted. Well, this past week, Christopher asked me to make some more, but I didn’t have any more funfetti mix or plain yogurt.  I did, however, have a box of yellow cake mix, and some vanilla flavored yogurt.

Cake batter is cake batter… and yogurt is yogurt… Sooo….why not change it up a bit, do a little ingredient experimentation?

I decided that there was nothing to lose by giving it a whirl with yellow cake mix and vanilla yogurt.

I used the same ratio as the Funfetti Dip:

3/4 cup dry yellow cake mix

1/2 cup vanilla flavored yogurt

1/4 cool whip

And I mixed it for about a minute on medium speed.  It was pretty thick.

I served it with animal crackers and pretzel crackers.

I let Christopher taste test it, and the results were favorable.  But really, who doesn’t like cake batter?

His Majesty certainly does.

I’m pretty sure that you can use any dry cake mix and come up with a dessert style dip.  You can mess around with different yogurts and give it your own flair.  Strawberry pound cake mix, strawberry yogurt and cool whip perhaps?  Or butter pecan mix, vanilla yogurt, and cool whip?  There are so many flavors of yogurt and cake, you could really make it interesting.

Have you made any new recipes, lately?  Or put your own twist on an old one?

Button Snakes and Beans

Standard

No matter how much of an effort I make to spend time with my kids outside during the heat of the summer, sometimes my internal thermometer begs for some indoor activities.  North Carolina is hot, y’all.  I know there’s a heat wave all over the country right now, but the South is known for it’s brutal summers and thick humidity.  Air conditioning is my friend.

My heat intolerance isn’t problem for Christopher, who is old enough to ride his bike outside with his friends even when I’ve had enough for the day.  But for His Majesty, it can sometimes take a little creativity to keep him busy,and adequately distracted from the things he wants to do outside.  If you have the same dilemma with your own toddler, allow me to suggest two ideas that have made our indoor time simple, quiet, and enjoyable.

The first idea is playing with dried beans.  All you need is some dried beans, a kitchen funnel, a few measuring cups, bowls or containers in various sizes(empty yogurt cups, spice jars, or oatmeal containers will work great for this), and spoons.  You can make an easy funnel by cutting off the top of a plastic pop bottle if you don’t have one.

His Majesty has enjoyed this activity since he was about 18 months old. It’s a bit messy, but I just vacuum after he’s done, and all is well.  He loves pouring and scooping the beans.

When your child is ready, you can make clean up a sorting activity, and sort the different beans into similar groups.  You can count them.  You can also hide little toys (he likes when I hide little people in the beans) and have your child can dig for them, like a little sensory scavenger hunt.

His Majesty has never been the type of kid who mouths things, so I don’t really worry about him choking on these.  Plus, if he decided to eat a few (which hasn’t been a problem thus far), beans are obviously edible, so no worries there.  However, you should also be aware that some kids will stick things in their ears or nostrils, so keep an eye out if your kid is into that.

When we’re done playing with these, I put them back in a container in the pantry and they’re ready to play with the next time.  I don’t cook dried beans (I honesty don’t know how, but I do know that doing so takes a long time, so I don’t really care to learn either), so I don’t have to worry that they’ll accidentally end up served for dinner after laying on the carpet or being handled by sweaty toddler hands.

Another fun, and very easy, busy toddler activity is a button snake, like this one from The Activity Mom. All you need for this is some very basic sewing skills, a button, some ribbon or fabric trim, and felt squares in assorted colors.  I also used an elastic hair band, but that it totally optional, and I’ll tell you about that in a moment.

Start by cutting your felt into shapes that you want your toddler to “feed” the button snake.  I used squares, just because it was the easiest, but you could use triangles, stars, circles, hearts, or a combination of shapes.  Set one shape to the side to serve as the base of your button snake.

In the center of all of your shapes except for the one you reserved, cut a slit long enough for your button to fit through.  Those will be your button holes.

Take the one felt shake that you set aside and sew your ribbon (I used a squiggly trim, since it was a bit firmer) to it.  I made a few passes with my sewing machine, and I didn’t even change the thread color, I just used the pink that was already in there.  Make sure you sew it on there securely, since your toddler is going to pull on the ribbon, and you want this to stay together so that the rest of the shapes don’t slip off the ribbon.

The next step is to sew your button on the other end of your ribbon.  I hand sewed it flush with the ribbon, and I did about 40 passes, to make sure it was good and sturdy.  Toddlers are rough, after all.

Here’s where an elastic hair band came into the picture.  I sewed the hair band to the underside of the felt base. I  sewed right down the middle of the band, giving me two loops.

That makes it easy to wrap everything up and keep it together for storage.

That’s it.  Your button snake is ready to rock.  Hand it to your toddler and let him or her “feed” the button snake.

The monkey tail you see peeking out from behind him is totally optional.  He got that at his Best Friend’s monkey themed birthday bash, and he has made it part of his daily wardrobe now.

The button snake is quiet and portable enough to bring to the doctor’s office, or on car trips, making it a great addition to a busy bag.  You can also reinforce color recognition into this activity, and, if you cut your felt into different shapes, you can extend the activity to include shape recognition.  As a perk, there’s little, if any, clean up involved when the fun is over.

Having simple little activities like this on hand has been really useful if I need a few minutes to make a phone call, or to assemble lunch or to just have a few moments of quiet.  Plus, they are great for fine motor development.

What have you been doing to keep yourself or your children busy this summer? I’d love some new ideas if you care to share!

One for the Grill: Chicken Parmesan Burgers

Standard

My husband handles the grill, but I handle the menu.  So when I came across the pin for chicken parmesan burgers from Annie’s Eats, I knew it would be a great idea for burger night.

I don’t know what it is about ground chicken burgers, but I like them much more than ground turkey burgers.  I kept the basic form of this recipe from the source at Annie’s Eats, but I added some of my own twists to it.

Chicken Parmesan Burgers:

(Makes 4 burgers)

I mixed the chicken through the olive oil together in my kitchen aid, and then divided it into 4 patties.  As you form your patties, squeeze them firmly to get out all of the air pockets.  I took Annie’s advice, and refrigerated the patties (for about an hour) before grilling.

1 lb. ground chicken

1/4 cup shredded parmesan

1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil

2 tbsp. Italian Parsley

2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 tsp. onion powder

salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp. olive oil

6 ounces sliced baby portabella mushrooms

2 tablespoons butter

4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup pizza or spaghetti sauce

4 Kaiser rolls

We kept them on the grill until the internal temperature was 170 degrees.  As my husband watched the grill, I sauteed sliced baby portabella mushrooms in butter.  We topped them with shredded mozzarella cheese, the mushrooms, and Trader Joe’s pizza sauce.  My husband and Christopher had theirs on kaiser rolls.  I had mine on a bed of baby spinach (it makes this dish a little lower in carbohydrates), and His Majesty had his patty and toppings cut up in smaller chunks.

They were delicious.  We can’t wait to make these again.  If you want them a little spicier, you can add 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes to the burger mixture, but honestly, it was delicious like this.  And, it’s a twist on the traditional burger night.

We’re always looking for new burger recipes around here.  Do you have any favorites that you can share?

Window Dressing

Standard

When I first saw this pin, from Janette at Style with Cents, I envisioned it in my house.

I wanted it right under this window, which faces out onto our screened porch/backyard, and I wanted it with seating for two.

The window is in the “eat in” portion of the kitchen, which we have open right now to allow for His Majesty to hoop it up with his Little Tykes basketball hoop.  He’s energetic.  Rather than fight it, we make it work.  We eat at the island, or in the formal dining room, and give him the run of the family room and all of the kitchen on one side of the island. Our kitchen table currently lives in the garage.  We’ll bring it in someday.  I’m not in a hurry.

Anyway, I thought the little shelf desk concept would work out great under this window, and my sweet husband agreed.  He went to Home Depot with the intention of getting a 48 x 12 shelf board and some shelf brackets.  He came home with shelf brackets, but no shelf board.  Because he’d found something better while he was there.

A stair tread.

A stair tread is thicker than a shelf board (1 inch thick vs. 3/4 inch thick) and the edge was already rounded, eliminating sharp corners and taking away the need to router the edges.  And it looked like a shelf board to me, so I had no complaints.

He painted the tread and brackets with three coats of the same white paint as our trim, and then got to work hanging it up.

Because he positioned the brackets underneath the windows, he was able to secure them into wall studs, increasing the sturdiness of the desk.

And then we got to work finding kiddie chairs.  We looked online at Ikea.  We looked online at Target.  We looked online on Amazon.

And then we found these plans from the amazing Ana White. She’s pretty much my hero, and her plans have enabled my husband to build me all sorts of stuff.

The next day, he built these two chairs in about 2.5 hours, at a total cost of around $20. 

Now the biggest decision we have to make is what color to paint or stain them.

I am debating whether to keep them white like the shelf, to stain them to match the cabinets, or to do them in a bold accent color.  But for now, they’re just bare wood, while I make up my mind.

His Majesty now has a place to color, eat a snack, sit with a friend, etc, that doesn’t require him to be confined to his high chair, a fact that he definitely appreciates.   If we decide to homeschool him, he will have a place to do his lessons that keeps him near me while I go about doing my work in the kitchen, and keeps Christopher from being distracted while he works up in the office.

But for now, it’s just fun, and functional.  But I need to decide on a finish for the chairs.  What do you think?  Bold accent color?  Simple white?  Matching stain?  I am going to need some help deciding.

Adorable Toddler Backpack

Standard

I got to break out my sewing machine again this month.  And I’m pleased to say that my meager skill set is improving.

I made a backpack for His Majesty last fall (which is when the first two photos below were taken, and as I look at these, I can not believe how fast he is growing up.  It is unreal), using this amazing tutorial from Indietutes.  When I say amazing, I mean it, y’all.  I have such a pathetic resume of sewing skills right now, but last fall, I was completely clueless (My husband had to thread my machine for me… true story), and yet, I was able to not only figure this out, but do a pretty decent job.  Not perfect, but certainly passable.  My son loves it.

As soon as I presented it to him, I immediately knew I wanted to make one for His Majesty’s “Beft Fwend”  (for those of you who don’t speak toddler, that would translate to “Best Friend”), and I’ve been planning this project ever since.  As much as he adores her, I do, too.  She was the first little girl born to any of my close friends after a slew of boys, so she has always been somewhat of a novelty,  and seeing her grow and watching her adorable flirty antics just makes my day every time I see her.  She’s a one of a kind kid, so it’s only right that she receive a one of a kind backpack.

 Well, Best Friend turned two this month, which gave me the opportunity to move on my plan.  I headed to Hobby Lobby with my good old 40% off coupon and picked up some fabric, fusible interfacing (that’s a stiffer lining that you can iron on to your fabric to give it more form.  I had no idea what it was when I first sewed the backpack for His Majesty.), coordinating thread, and a sequined iron on flower patch to make it more fun for my little friend.   I chose a bright, colorful pattern for her that I felt wasn’t too girly, because bows and tutu’s aside, she is one rough and tumble princess.  Then I printed out the free pattern from Indietutes, and by simply following her tutorial, I was able to go from this:

To this.

I ironed on the flower patch after I’d cut out the pattern and ironed on the fusible interfacing, as I felt it would be easier to do that than to do it after completing the entire project.

I am so pleased with how this came out.  My skills have definitely improved since I made His Majesty’s dinosaur backpack.  Best Friend really seemed to like it, too.  She put it on as soon as she opened it, and, as expected, it looked absolutely adorable on her.  It’s the perfect size for a toddler, and, while it won’t hold a whole bunch of stuff, it will hold a snack, or a stuffed bunny, or a pink puppy.

Happy Birthday to His Majesty’s Beft Fwend.  We love you!!