Wednesday, May 13, 2015
One of my dearest friends is pregnant with her first little one, and it's a girl! Living in a house full of boys, I get extra excited at any opportunity to get crafty with my favorite color, PINK! Her mother-in-law and I are throwing a fun co-ed shower for the happy couple and we decided on a pink and gold Twinkle Twinkle Little Star theme. I immediately took to Pinterest and have been pinning like crazy. When it came time for the invites, the parents-to-be decided they wanted an email invitation. I went to Evite and Paperless Post and while they had some great design choices, they didn't have exactly what I was looking for. I don't know about you, but once I get an idea in my head, I get stuck on it and nothing else will do. So, to PicMonkey I went. If you have never used PicMonkey, get on it. I absolutely love this site. It's a great tool for bloggers looking to spice up their blog pics, but it is also perfect for designing your own invitations. Did I mention that it's FREE! They do have a Royale membership that has a few extra features, fonts, and overlays, but I've always managed to get by with the free version.
To make this invite I went to PicMonkey and clicked on the Design option.
That will bring you to a page that looks like this:
On the left you will see the basic edits available to you. First you want to pick the color of your card, if you are going with a white card, skip this step. I wanted pink so under Canvas Color I played around until I got exactly the shade of pink that I wanted. Once you are happy with the color, click apply.
Next you want to add in your decorations, I decided to keep it simple with just a few gold stars in the top right corner. From the little menu on the left, click on the butterfly. This will give you a bunch of little shapes you can use as decorations.
I clicked on the Stars because, um, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Stay with me people. Of course you can use whatever you want. Keep in mind that anything with the little crown icon is a Royale feature so you will have to pony up to use those. I picked a nice basic star and then played around with the color until I got a shade of gold that I was happy with. Then I copied the heart and resized it to get a few different sizes and rotated some of them to create visual interest.
Finally I clicked on the Tt from the menu on the left and inserted text boxes for all of the text I wanted to enter. I used the same shade of gold as the stars. One cool thing to keep in mind with text is that in addition to their fonts (non-Royale options are somewhat limited), you can use any fonts that you have on your own computer, yay! Once you have it how you want it, click save, name it, and save it to your computer. I was super excited with how this turned out!
In case you are thinking to yourself, "Wow Lauren, this looks great except for those random black boxes," I just added those on top for this post to protect their privacy. Once you have the invitation saved to your computer you have a couple of options. You can have them printed (or print them yourself if you have a good printer) and mail them out. The parents-to-be wanted their invitations emailed out so I had to find an online invitation service that would let me upload my own design. After a little bit of searching, I found a site called Celebrations that will allow you to upload your own design. It's a free service, unless you want it ad free in which case you have to pay to upgrade. This means that with a little bit of creativity and some time at your computer, you can design, send out, and manage RSVPs for your own custom invitations for FREE!
Sunday, May 3, 2015
I know it's been quite a while since I last posted, but I'm back! Things have been crazy busy around here and something had to give. Hopefully you haven't forgotten about me in the meantime. I recently hosted a potluck brunch for a bunch of my girlfriends and made this delicious Overnight Sausage & Vegetable Strata. It was such a hit, that I had to share it with you all.
I love entertaining, but it can be hard to cook when my boys are awake. That's why I love recipes that can be made, or at least prepped, in advance. This strata is perfect for brunch for a crowd, but it would also make a delicious Mother's Day breakfast. You completely assemble the strata the night before and then in the morning, just pop it in the oven.
My favorite omelette is one with cheddar, spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes with some sausage on the side. I had planned to incorporate all of those flavors into this strata, but then I realized that I had forgotten to get the spinach at the store so I just used the others. Evidently I was super distracted while I was at the store because I also bought the wrong sausage. I wanted to get mild Italian sausage and I did, but I accidentally bought chicken Italian sausage. This worked out perfectly so take my happy accident as an example and get whatever kind of sausage you like, spicy, mild, pork, chicken, as long as it's sausage it will be delicious!
Start out by browning your sausage. Once it is browned, drain it if necessary and then set it aside. Then cut up a loaf of bread into cubes, you can rip it too if you want it to be more rustic. You want about seven or eight cups of cubed bread. I used a french loaf this time but I've also made it with sourdough, both turned out beautifully. It's better if your bread is a little bit stale, but if you forget to buy the bread a day or two in advance, don't worry about it. Put half of the bread cubes into a 9 x 13 baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.
Next you are going to layer on half of your toppings. For me that was shredded cheddar, chopped tomatoes, and chopped cremini mushrooms. As I said, I had planned on adding some fresh spinach so feel free to add some of that too, or whatever veggies you like with your eggs. Then repeat your layers.
In a bowl crack a bunch of eggs. I happened to have extra-large eggs so I used 9, but if you have large eggs, use 10. Pour in 3 cups of milk, I used skim, just use whatever you have. Add in some dry mustard, salt, and pepper, and then whisk it all together. Pour the egg mixture all over the bread. If any cubes of bread are sticking up and dry, push them down a little so that they soak up some of the liquid.
Then cover it all and stick it in the fridge. The next morning, take your strata out of the fridge while your oven is preheating. Bake your strata at 325 for about an hour. I'm sorry to say that my guests arrived and I forgot to take a picture of the strata when it came out of the oven, perfectly golden and smelling divine. Luckily, this piece was leftover so I was able to snap a couple of pictures for you all.
Overnight Sausage & Vegetable Strata
- 1 lb. mild chicken Italian sausage
- 7-8 cups cubed bread
- 3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 Roma tomatoes, chopped and deseeded
- 1 cup chopped mushrooms
- 9 extra-large or 10 large eggs
- 3 cups skim or low-fat milk
- 2 tsp. dried mustard
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- Brown the sausage in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks. Drain any fat and set aside.
- Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Put half of the bread in the baking dish and sprinkle with half of the cheese, sausage, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Repeat the layers with the remaining bread, cheese, sausage, mushrooms, and tomatoes.
- In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, milk, dried mustard, salt, and pepper. Pour evenly over the ingredients in the baking dish. Press down any bread that is sticking up and dry. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- The next morning, bake at 325 for 55-60 minutes or until golden brown.
I'm linking up with Cook It Craft It Share It, Crafty & Delicious, and Showcase Your Talent Thursday.
Friday, April 3, 2015
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 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
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
- Spray your crock pot with cooking spray and place chicken in the bottom.
- In a 2 cup liquid measuring cup combine soy sauce, hoisin, sauce, chicken broth, honey, ginger, and chili garlic sauce. Pour over the chicken.
- Cook on low 2 1/2 - 3 hours or until cooked through.
- Remove the chicken and shred it.
- 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
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!
- 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
- Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with baking spray and preheat oven to 350.
- In a large bowl whisk together water, vegetable oil, eggs, and espresso powder.
- Stir in brownie mix until well combined
- Stir in chocolate chips and pour into baking pan.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.
- Let cool completely before cutting.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
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
- Preheat oven to 400 and spray muffin tin with baking spray.
- In a medium bowl whisk together dry ingredients, flour through salt, and make a well in the center.
- In another bowl or large measuring cup, combine remaining ingredients.
- Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until just combined.
- 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
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
- 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
- Microwave your rice according to the package instructions.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add the chicken, rice/quinoa blend, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the pot with the vegetables. Stir to combine.
- Pour in cheese sauce and stir until everything is coated. Then pour into a 9 x 13 baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.
- Top with the remaining 2/3 cup cheddar and 1 cup Monterrey Jack cheeses and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.
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.