Friday, April 3, 2015

Spring Chick Cupcakes

Jake's class is having a spring picnic today and his teacher asked if I would be able to make cupcakes for them.  When you are feeding a class full of five and six year old kids I've always found it to be a good idea to give them all the same thing.  That way no one can complain that they didn't get the one they wanted.  Since I would be making only one flavor of cupcake I decided to stick to vanilla because pretty much everyone at least likes vanilla, even if it isn't their favorite.  Vanilla cupcakes also make my life easy because I always make them from a box mix.  Trader Joe's vanilla cake mix is richly vanilla flavored, unbelievably moist, and just plain delicious.

With the easy part of the cupcake decided I had to figure out how to decorate them.  Since it is a spring picnic I knew I wanted something springy.  Then I was at Target and they had the 15 packs of Peep's chicks on sale.  As soon as I saw those cute little marshmallows I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  Chicks sitting on the grass.  Very springy!  On top of that, it was a technique I've used before on this amazing (if I do say so myself) Cars cake I made for Jake's 3rd birthday. 

I don't know about you, but sometimes I volunteer to do something, and then I decide to try something fancy and new, and end up getting myself super stressed out.  Josh may have pointed this out to me a time or two.  These cupcakes are not like that.  The grass frosting looks impressive but it is actually super easy.  All you need is the right frosting tip, one with a bunch of little holes.  Mine is by Wilton and is number 233, but I'm sure other brands make them too.  Wilton even has a little video tutorial on how to use it to make grass. 

No. 233 Multi-Opening Decorating Tip

I started out by baking up two boxes of vanilla cupcakes (I needed 32).  Once they were cooled I made a batch of vanilla buttercream and then used Wilton's gel color Leaf Green to make it a soft green, I was going for a springlike color.  Before I got out my grass tip, I just used a frosting spreader to spread a thin layer of green frosting over the base to give the Peeps something to stick to.

Next I used my grass tip to pipe little blobs of grass around the edge of the cupcake.  Then pipe another layer of grass inside of that edge until you are left with an oval in the middle with no grass. 

Plop a Peep chick down in the center of your cupcake and you have an adorable springtime treat.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Crockpot Hoisin Chicken

I love my crockpot, but I have to be honest, I have a hard time finding good chicken recipes for it.  So often the chicken ends up really dry.  Whenever that happens I am so disappointed, but I'm not willing to give up on chicken in the crockpot.  When I saw Cookin Canuck's recipe for Hoisin Chicken in the crockpot I immediately gave it a try.  It was super juicy and the flavor was good, but I made a few tweaks to suit my family's tastes and to minimize dishes (my favorite thing).

For those of you who aren't familiar with Hoisin sauce, it is a thick, dark, sweet sauce used in Chinese cooking.  My first introduction to Hoisin sauce was as a little girl with the minced chicken lettuce wraps at Panda Inn, yum yum!  It is the star of this Crockpot Hoisin Chicken, but the soy sauce, ginger, and chili garlic sauce keep it from being too sweet.

It has been super hot here so the crockpot allows us to have a delicious homemade dinner without me standing over a hot stove or heating up our house with the oven.  This Crockpot Hoisin Chicken is also incredibly easy to make.  

Start out by spraying your crockpot with cooking spray and then putting some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the bottom.  To be honest, I'm not sure if you need the cooking spray, but I always use it when I'm cooking with my crockpot to make for an easy clean up. 

In a large liquid measuring cup combine your sauce ingredients.  You will need soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chicken stock, a little bit of honey, some minced ginger (I used a frozen cube from Trader Joe's), and some chili garlic sauce.  We don't like things very salty so I used low-sodium soy sauce and chicken stock.  Mix all of your sauce ingredients together and then pour it over the chicken.

Put the lid on and cook on low until the chicken is cooked through.  The amount of time will depend on your crockpot and how big your chicken breasts are.  It took mine about 2 1/2 hours.  Once the chicken is cooked through, take it out of the crockpot to shred it. 

Combine some corn starch and water and then stir it into the sauce in your crockpot.  Add the shredded chicken back in, give it a good stir, and continue to cook for about 30 more minutes so that the chicken can absorb some more of that delicious flavor.  If you are nervous about dry chicken because your crockpot has let you down in the past, do not worry.  Look how juicy that chicken is!

I served mine with our favorite brown rice and quinoa blend and some steamed broccoli.  This chicken is so flavorful and delicious.  The next day I made a little salad with the leftovers, some lettuce, a little rice vinegar, some extra Hoisin, and a few peanuts.  No matter what you pair with this Hoisin chicken, it is absolutely delicious!

Crockpot Hoisin Chicken
Adapted From Cookin Canuck 
  • 1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/3 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tbls. honey
  • 1 tsp. minced ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. chili garlic sauce
  • 2 1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tbls. cornstarch
  • 2 tbls. water
  1. Spray your crock pot with cooking spray and place chicken in the bottom.
  2. In a 2 cup liquid measuring cup combine soy sauce, hoisin, sauce, chicken broth, honey, ginger, and chili garlic sauce.  Pour over the chicken.
  3. Cook on low 2 1/2 - 3 hours or until cooked through.
  4. Remove the chicken and shred it.
  5. Combine the cornstarch and water and stir it into the sauce.  Put the chicken back in the crockpot and continue to cook about 30 more minutes so it has a chance to absorb the sauce.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Espresso Brownies

I've never been a coffee drinker.  There are lots of mornings where I wake up and wish that I liked coffee because I could really use the caffeine boost, but it's just not something I've ever gotten into.  That being said, I looooove coffee flavored desserts.  Coffee ice cream, yes please!  Mocha anything, sign me up.  Espresso Brownies, I can't get enough.  The only problem with these brownies is having enough willpower not to eat them for breakfast after another early wake up call from my human alarm clock.  

These Espresso Brownies are easy enough to make for no reason at all, but the espresso makes them special enough to serve to guests.  We recently went to a barbecue and I volunteered to bring a dessert.  I knew that I wanted to bring some sort of brownie, but I had a hard time deciding which one.  I love caramel so I was debating between these Peanut Butter Caramel Swirl Brownies  and these Salted Caramel Brownies, but then I remembered these Espresso Brownies.  I used to make these brownies all the time, but I haven't made them in years.  Since everyone at the barbecue had a baby or a toddler I figured that a little caffeine boost would be a welcome treat so Espresso Brownies it was.

To make these Espresso Brownies you will need two packages of brownie mix.  I used my favorite Ghiradelli Triple Chocolate brownie mix that I buy in a six pack at Costco, but feel free to use your favorite mix.  In a large bowl, whisk together equal parts water and vegetable oil along with four eggs and 1/4 cup of espresso powder.  I know that sounds like a lot, but remember that you are using two packages of brownie mix.

Stir in the brownie mix until everything is well combined.  Now you know that I love chocolate, A LOT, so I like to add a little bit more.  Stir a heaping cup of semisweet chocolate chips into the batter and then pour it into a baking pan sprayed with baking spray.  You have two options when it comes to your baking pans.  Some people like their brownies to be a little bit crispy, I am not one of those people.  I'm a soft and gooey brownie girl all the way!  If I'm just making these for my family, I like to use two square baking dishes because then I get all super soft and gooey brownies.  Also, I can freeze one pan for another day.  When I'm making these brownies for a crowd, I bake them in a 9 x 13 inch pan.  This will leave you with slightly crisper edges and softer, gooier brownies in the center.  That way everyone gets their brownies just the way that they like them. No matter what type of brownie lover you are, you will love these Espresso Brownies.  They are super chocolatey and the espresso powder gives them that little special something to make them out of this world!

Espresso Brownies
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup instant espresso powder
  • 2 packages brownie mix
  • 1 heaping cup chocolate chips
  1. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with baking spray and preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together water, vegetable oil, eggs, and espresso powder.
  3. Stir in brownie mix until well combined
  4. Stir in chocolate chips and pour into baking pan.
  5. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.
  6. Let cool completely before cutting.
 I'm linking up with Tasty Tuesday, Tasty Tuesdays, Whimsy Wednesday, Cook It Craft It Share It, Crafty & Delicious, Create It Thursday, Creativity Unleashed, Pin Junkie, Thrifty Thursday, Showcase Your Talent Thursday, Link Party Palooza, Best of the Weekend, Weekend Potluck, Best Recipes, and Pinworthy Projects.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Spiced Zucchini Muffins

As a mom, I want my kids to eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables.  Jake has always been a great vegetable eater so I never thought I would be searching for ways to sneak in veggies, but then we had Luke.  After we starting feeding Luke solids he started having some serious GI issues that were impacting his growth.  We finally figured out what was causing them; his body couldn't absorb fructose.  He has now started to outgrow it, but we still have to limit the amount of fruits we give to Luke so I feel even more pressure (from myself) to get extra vegetables into him.

Getting him to eat food in general is a challenge, unless it is a bread product, so I find myself having to get creative to feed him a balanced diet.  Because of how much he loves bread in all of its iterations, I've been thinking about mixing vegetables in with muffins.  I like almost all vegetables, but zucchini is one of the few foods that I don't really like.  I will eat it, but it isn't something I generally choose.  That is probably why I've never had, let alone made, zucchini bread.  Luke inspired me to give it a try.

I decided to make zucchini muffins instead of zucchini bread so that I would have individual servings.  Since this was my first foray into baking with zucchini I wasn't sure where to start so I did a lot of searching.  So many of the recipes that I found had applesauce or banana in them and I wanted these muffins to be fruit free.  I finally found a recipe that was fruit free and decided to give it a try.

The recipe sounded great as is, but I couldn't resist making a few tweaks.  I've pretty much abandoned all purpose flour for white whole wheat flour.  I find it works just as well (at least it does for me) and makes me feel like I'm being a little bit healthier.  As I mentioned, I'm not zucchini's biggest fan so I decided to add in some pumpkin pie spice because it is DE-LI-CIOUS!  I also added in Greek yogurt to keep the muffins nice and moist.

Start out by preheating your oven to 400 and whisking together your dry ingredients: white whole wheat flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Make a well in the center.

In another bowl mix together some shredded zucchini, Greek yogurt (I used fat free), vegetable oil, honey, an egg, and a splash of milk (I used whole but I think whatever you have on hand is fine).

Once your wet ingredients are thoroughly combined, pour them into the well in the center of your dry ingredients and stir just until moistened.

Use an ice cream scoop to scoop the batter into muffin tins sprayed with baking spray.  Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown, and then remove to a cooling rack.

I made these for Luke, but couldn't stop eating them myself.  The warm flavors from the pumpkin pie spice make these feel like comfort food.

Spiced Zucchini Muffins
Adapted from Kathie's 
  • 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/3 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 cup fat free Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbls. milk
  • 2 tbls. vegetable oil
  • 2 tbls. honey
  • 1 egg
  1.  Preheat oven to 400 and spray muffin tin with baking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together dry ingredients, flour through salt, and make a well in the center.
  3. In another bowl or large measuring cup, combine remaining ingredients.
  4. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until just combined.
  5. Use an ice cream scoop to portion batter into muffin tins and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

I'm linking up with Create It Thursday, Cook It Craft It Share It, Crafty & Delicious, Showcase Your Talent Thursday, Cookin & Craftin, Creativity Unleashed, Pin Junkie, Thrifty Thursday, Friday Favorites, Best of the Weekend, Weekend Potluck, Best Recipes, Link Party Palooza, and Pinworthy Projects.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Chicken & Rice Casserole

I love meals that can be made ahead.  If they freeze well too, bestill my heart.  While I always love a good casserole, when the temperatures drop I love them even more.  A couple of years back I discovered this Cheesy Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole on Picky Palate.  I couldn't find the wild rice she recommended so I made a substitution and then a few more tweaks.  It quickly became one of my favorites.  This recipe is a little more time consuming to prepare, but it can all be made ahead and then just popped in the oven before dinner.  It is also super easy to double so you can get two wonderful meals without having to do the work twice.  I like to make a double batch of this Chicken & Rice Casserole on the weekend for a delicious Sunday dinner, and then freeze one to bring a little weekend goodness to a busy weeknight.

The cheese sauce in this Chicken & Rice Casserole is homemade, but I take a little shortcut with this super yummy Quinoa & Brown Rice mix.

I buy mine at Costco in a 6-pack but you can get it at Target and Wal-Mart too.  Start out by microwaving your rice according to the instructions on the package and then set it aside.

Chop up some onion, carrot, and celery and saute them in a large pot with a little olive oil.  Once the vegetables are softened, add in a good amount of minced garlic and saute for about a minute more.

Stir in the pre-cooked rice, a few cups of chopped up rotisserie chicken, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  This recipe is deliciously garlicky, but not overly so.

While your veggies are sauteing, make your cheese sauce.  Melt half a stick of butter in a medium saucepan.  Whisk in an equal amount of flour along with a little salt and pepper.  Pour in two cups of chicken stock and continue to whisk until the sauce starts to thicken.  Stir in some shredded cheddar and Monterrey jack cheeses until they are melted.

Pour the cheese sauce over the rice mixture and stir until everything is well coated.  Pour it all into a 9 x 13 baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.

Top with some more shredded cheese because cheese is delicious.

  Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Look at that bubbly goodness.  This Chicken & Rice Casserole is comfort food at its finest.  The layered garlic flavors from the garlic, garlic powder, and rice blend give an incredible depth of flavor.  Combine that with the creamy, cheesy goodness of the sauce and the slight bite from the veggies and you have casserole perfection.  Dinner is served!

Chicken & Rice Casserole
Adapted from Picky Palate

For the casserole: 
    • 2-4 tbls. olive oil
    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 1 cup chopped celery
    • 1 cup chopped carrots
    •  4-6 cloves garlic, minced
    •  3 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
    • 3 (8.5 oz) packages Seeds of Change Quinoa & Brown Rice with Garlic   
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1/2 tsp. pepper
    • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
    For the sauce:
    • 4 tbls. butter
    • 1/4 cup flour
    • 1/4 tsp. salt
    • 1/4 tsp. pepper 
    • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
    • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
    • 2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack cheese, divided
    1. Microwave your rice according to the package instructions.
    2. In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat and saute onion, carrots, and celery, stirring occasionally, until softened (about 15 minutes).   Add in the garlic and saute for another minute.
    3. While the vegetables are cooking, make your cheese sauce:  Melt butter in a medium saucepan.  Whisk in flour, salt, and pepper and continue to cook over medium-high heat for about a minute.  Add in chicken stock, continuing to whisk until sauce starts to thicken.  Stir in 1 1/3 cups of cheddar and 1 cup of Monterrey Jack cheeses until melted.
    4. Add the chicken, rice/quinoa blend, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the pot with the vegetables.  Stir to combine.
    5. Pour in cheese sauce and stir until everything is coated.  Then pour into a 9 x 13 baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.  
    6. Top with the remaining 2/3 cup cheddar and 1 cup Monterrey Jack cheeses and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.
    *You can also divide this into two square baking dishes and freeze one for another time. 

    I'm linking up with Lou Lou Girls, Mad Skills, Create Link Inspire, Two Cup Tuesday, Tips & Tricks, Whimsy Wednesdays, Wednesday Whatsits, Moonlight & Mason Jars, Cook It Craft It Share It, Crafty & Delicious, Create It Thursday, Showcase Your Talent Thursday, Creativity Unleashed, Pin Junkie, Cookin & Craftin, Thrifty Thursday, Friday Favorites, Best of the Weekend, Weekend Potluck, Best Recipes, Link Party Palooza, and Pinworthy Projects.

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

    Slow Cooker Italian Beef

    My new year's resolution this year was to get back on track with my meal planning and to start trying more new recipes.  A while back another mom emailed me this recipe for Crock Pot Italian Beef Sandwiches.   She said it was one of her family's favorite meals and it only has a few ingredients so I decided to try it out.  After checking at four different stores, I decided to give up on the Chicago style Giardiniera it calls for and just go Italian style.  Oh my goodness, I am so glad I couldn't find the Chicago style!  I don't know how it would have tasted with it, but with the Italian style it was A-MA-ZING!!!!

    Alright, now that I have you excited, I'll tell you how to make it.  You will need a chuck roast, an envelope of Italian salad dressing mix (I used Good Seasons Zesty Italian), a jar of Italian style Giardiniera, a can of beef broth, and a jar of pepperoncini or banana peppers.  We aren't big on spice in this house so we used mild, you stick with how your family likes it.

    Trim the fat off of your chuck roast and cut it into big chunks (about 3-4 inches).  Spray your slow cooker with cooking spray and put the beef inside.  Sprinkle the packet of salad dressing mix all over the top.

    Add in half of the jar of pepperoncini peppers along with a couple of tablespoons of the juice from the jar.  Drain the liquid out of the jar of Giardiniera and dump it in.  The first time I made this I only used half of the jar and the bites with the veggies were so unbelievably flavorful that I decided to use the full jar the second time.  It was an excellent decision!  Pour in the can of broth and then give it all a little stir to get the liquid under the meat and the veggies and peppers evenly distributed.

    Put on the lid and turn your slow cooker on LOW.  Cook until the meat shreds easily, about 8 1/2 - 9 hours.

    Put the shredded meat back in and give it a good stir.  Recover your slow cooker and let cook for another hour or so to give the meat a chance to soak up some of that flavorful juice.

    Now, who likes to cook once and eat twice?  I do!  In fact, I love it.  I'm not talking about eating the exact same meal two times either, although we do that a lot.  Leftovers are a busy mama's friend.  The first night we had this Slow Cooker Italian Beef as recommended, on sandwich rolls with sliced provolone melting into all of the little nooks and crannies.  Then a couple of days later we had the leftover meat warmed up with some oven roasted potatoes and salad on the side.  It was delicious this way too.

    The photo really does not do this meal justice.  Slow Cooker Italian Beef has quickly become a family favorite for us and I'm sure it will for your family too!

    Slow Cooker Italian Beef
    Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats 
    • 3 lb. chuck roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 3-4 inch chunks
    • 1 envelope Italian salad dressing mix
    • 8 oz. pepperoncini or banana pepper slices plus 1-2 tbls. juice from jar
    • 16 oz. jar of Italian Mix Giardiniera, drained
    • 14.5 oz. can of beef broth
    1. Spray slow cooker with cooking spray and put chuck roast chunks into slow cooker.  Sprinkle meat with salad dressing mix.
    2. Add in peppers, pepper juice, Giardiniera, and beef broth.
    3. Stir to let broth under meat and evenly distribute vegetables and peppers.
    4. Cook on low 8 1/2 to 9 hours.  Remove meat from slow cooker and shred it.
    5. Return meat to slow cooker, stir, and continue to cook for another hour.
    6. Serve on sandwich rolls with sliced provolone or with roasted potatoes and salad.

    Slow Cooker Verde Chicken Chili

    I love chili and I love verde chicken so this Slow Cooker Verde Chicken Chili was a match made in heaven for me.  Even though I love chili, I don't make it very often because Jake won't eat soup (of any kind).  On top of that, Jake and Josh won't eat beans, total weirdos.  Luckily, Luke eats beans like they are going out of style.  Anyway, this chili was the perfect compromise because it is super versatile which made it something that all four of us happily ate.  I used a slotted spoon to take out some of the chicken to make tacos for Josh and Jake, Luke gobbled up the beans, and I ate it as intended.  No matter how you decide to eat this Slow Cooker Verde Chicken Chili your taste buds will thank you!

    In addition to being super delicious, this chili is very easy to make.  Other than chopping an onion and mincing a few cloves of garlic, you mostly just dump everything in and let the slow cooker do the work.  You could even buy some pre-chopped onion and those little cubes of frozen minced garlic (I love you Trader Joe's).

    Once the chicken is cooked through you take it out and shred it.  Look how juicy that chicken is!

    I wanted this to be thick like chili, not a soup, so I mixed a little bit of corn starch and water and stirred that in before I added the chicken back in.

    Serve this up as is or with your favorite toppings.  For me that was shredded Monterrey jack cheese and guacamole.

    Like most chili recipes, this Slow Cooker Verde Chicken Chili is even better the next day.  I'm pretty sure it will freeze well, but it didn't last long enough for me to find out.  Next time, I think I will make a double batch.

    Slow Cooker Verde Chicken Chili
    Adapted from Budget Bytes
    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 1/2 - 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • 2 cups salsa verde
    • 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
    • 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
    • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
    • 1 tsp. dried oregano
    • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
    • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
    • 2 cups chicken broth
    • 2 tbsp. corn starch
    • 1 tbsp. water
    • Monterrey Jack cheese, Greek yogurt, or guacamole for topping
    1. Put all ingredients except corn starch and water in slow cooker and cook on high for about 3 hours.
    2. Remove chicken and shred it.  
    3. Combine corn starch and water and stir into slow cooker.
    4. Return chicken to slow cooker and stir to combine.
    5. Continue to cook for 30 minutes.
    6. Serve with shredded jack cheese, Greek yogurt, or guacamole.

    I'm linking up with Inspiration Monday, Mix It Up Monday, Busy Monday, Munching Monday, Create Link Inspire, Lou Lou Girls, Mad Skills, Tips & Tricks, Two Cup TuesdayTasty Tuesdays, Tasty Tuesday, Whimsy Wednesday, Wednesday Whatsits, Moonlight & Mason Jars, Showcase Your Talent Thursday, Cook It Craft It Share It, Cookin & Craftin, Thrifty Thursday, Creativity Unleashed, Pin JunkieCreate It Thursday, Best of the Weekend, Weekend Potluck, Best Recipes, Pinworthy Projects, Saturday Night Fever, and Link Party Palooza.