Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Crock Pot Mac and Cheese

I want to start by saying I am VERY excited to share this recipe with you! This was my third attempt at Crock Pot Macaroni and Cheese and I seriously nailed it with this one thanks to Paula Deen. My first attempt was probably about a year ago and I ended up with a curdled mess. I decided to give a it a second shot a couple weeks ago at a fans request. Two words: curdle city. Just see for yourself:

Again, it ended up dry and despite using evaporated milk, it STILL curdled! 

I wanted something creamy. I wanted my noodles to stay separated. So after a bit more googling, I landed upon Paula Deen's Creamy Crock Pot Mac & Cheese. The reviews were good and I thought, ok I'll give it a go. Here is how it's done:

cups uncooked elbow macaroni
tablespoons butter
2 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 (10 3/4 ounce) can condensed cheddar cheese soup
1/2 teaspoon salt
cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • PLEASE NOTE: You will see on other sites that this recipe calls for 3 eggs. I highly recommend that you DO NOT ADD EGGS! 
- Boil the macaroni in water for six minutes. Drain.
- In a medium saucepan, mix butter and cheese. Stir until the cheese melts.
- In slow cooker, combine cheese mixture, sour cream, soup, salt, milk, mustard and pepper. Add the drained macaroni and stir again.
- Cook on low for 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. (I cooked mine for about 2 hours and stirred about 3x)

This is what the cheese should look like after you melt the butter and shredded cheese. It only takes a couple minutes on med/low. I also want to note that I used medium cheddar instead of sharp cheddar.

I can't rave enough about this recipe. Just look at how every noodle is swimming in a pool of ooey gooey cheesy goodness! 

BOTH of my boys devoured this. Big brother took one bite and said "Mommy, YUM YUM!" and asked for more when he finish his first bowl. Little brother couldn't get enough! I had a couple helpings as well :)

 I'm glad I gave Crock Pot Mac & Cheese one last try...Third time's a charm!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Homemade Happi Meal

It's no mystery why kids love Happy Meals. Little bite size nuggets, french fries and of course the toy in each box will keep little ones coming back for more. Even though he's only been there a couple of times, my son repeatedly asks for "Donald's." But I try to keep our trips to Mickey D's as a fun treat only for special occasions. In the meantime, I figured I could create our own Homemade "Happi" Meal (our version will be happi with an "i") for him to enjoy until our next trip to the golden arches.

So I set out to make the fry, nugget and meal box. Using a McDonald's Happy Meal as a template, I re-created all the elements I needed. And because I knew some of you would want to create your own homemade happi meals, I am giving you a downloadable fry and nugget template! You're welcome :o)

Click HERE to download the fry box template

Click HERE to download the nugget box template

After you have downloaded your templates, print them out on white or colored card stock paper. Cut and fold where I have indicated. I recommend scoring along the dashed lines before attempting to fold. Glue together using the grey spots as a indicator of where to put the glue.

Feel free to add your own embellishments. Color on the boxes or create your own labels. 

The meal box was too large for me to provide a template. If you want the box, you could save the one from McDonald's the next time you are there and trace it...or you could decorated a brown lunch bag, or come up with another creative style box to house your meal :o)

Here is the recipe I used for homemade chicken nuggets. It's a simplified version of Wee Nuggets from Weelicious:

I boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into chunks
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
1 egg
Olive oil spray (or PAM)

- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Mix bread crumbs, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning together in a bowl.
- Beat egg in a separate bowl.
- Dip chicken breast chunks in the egg first then roll in the bread crumbs.
- Place on lined baking sheet.
- spray nuggets generously with oil spray.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes

Line nugget box (I used Press'n Seal Wrap) and place 4 cooled nuggets inside.

As for the fries, well they aren't actually fries...  I cut an apple into the shape of french fries :o)

I included a Horizon Organic milk box and of course you MUST include a toy! I used a sheet of Disney stickers that came free in the mail and a mini play dough that I purchase in a pack of 5 at the dollar section of Target. You could also throw in a small toy that your child hasn't seen or played with in a long time.

I loved the surprised look on his face when he saw his lunch :o)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Yarn Words and Shapes

A couple weeks ago, I was searching for projects I could do with yarn (since I have so much laying around!) and came across a post called "Yarn Font" from The Journals of Giddy Giddy. Her pictures and tutorial are much better than what I have done. But I wanted to share how cute this could be sitting on your mantel or bookshelf. Especially with Valentine's Day upon us.

And the directions couldn't be easier.
Using pipe cleaners, create a word, letter or shape. Cut strips of yarn (about a foot or so) and wrap around pipe cleaners. You can reshape when you are done.

I love the imperfections of this project. And the possibilities are endless when it comes to color and shape. I am thinking about making little yarn animals in the near future :o)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Crock Pot Fajitas

Taco night is very popular at our house but this week I thought I would change it up and make fajitas. Especially since I was able to to throw the meat in the crock pot! This is a very simple recipe and you can easily add more or less of what you like.

I pretty much followed Crockpot365 again for this one:
- 2 lbs of thin cut carne asada (or you could use chicken)
- 1 or 2 packets of fajita seasoning mix (I used one but would probably use two the next time) 
- 1 onion

- 2 bell peppers (I used 1 orange, 1 yellow)
- 1/2 cup of water

1. Put meat in crock pot.
2. Cut the onion and the peppers in strips, and add to the crock pot.
3. Add the fajita seasoning and water. 
4. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours, or high for 6. The meat is done when it reaches desired tenderness. 

We topped ours with sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, avocado, and Trader Joe's organic tomatillo & roasted yellow chili salsa. They were sooo good and we had leftovers for lunch for the next two days!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Double-Sided Craft Stick Puzzles

If you are a fellow crafter you have probably seen Craft Stick Puzzles pop up on Pinterest and other crafty blogs. I really liked the way Play Create Explore made hers and quickly decided that I was going to have to make a few of our own! Then I thought, what if I made them double-sided? And what if I made the images correspond?! So I picked out a few different images that are opposites. I tried to keep it simple for my 2-year-old. Sun/Moon = Day/Night, Elephant/Mouse = Big/Small, Fire/Ice = Hot/Cold.

First, I printed out the images on computer paper and cut them out. Using scotch tape, I taped together the back of the craft sticks to keep them from sliding around while I was glueing.

Second, using Mod Podge, I glued the images to the craft sticks then generously applied the Mod Podge over the images. When dry (about an hour) I removed the scotch tape and used a box cutter knife to cut in between the craft sticks. Its easier if you do this from the back of the puzzle.

Repeat process for the backside.

When everything was dry, I numbered the sticks. Be sure to use a different color pen for the front and back numbers.

Front of Puzzles:

Back of Puzzles:

I am not exaggerating when I say we played with these ALL morning. 
And then he wanted to play with them again in the afternoon. Each time we talked about how the image on one side (for example the fire) was hot and the ice on the other side was cold. I think its safe to say these were a BIG hit :o)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Crock Pot Candy

With Valentine's Day around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to test out this recipe I found for Crock Pot Candy. The instructions were very specific that the ingredients and process be followed exactly as written, but after looking at 3 different stores, I couldn't find almond bark and ended up using Candiquik as a replacement (Google said I could!) And guess what, that candy turned out great!! 

Here is what you do:

1 16oz jar roasted, unsalted peanuts
1 16oz jar roasted, salted peanuts
1 12oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 bar (4ozs.) sweetened german chocolate (green packaging), broken into pieces
3 lbs. (two 24oz pkgs.) white almond bark, broken into pieces. (I used Candiquik)

1. Put ingredients into a 4 or 5-quart crockpot in EXACT order as listed. Cover and cook on LOWEST setting for 3 hours. DO NOT remove lid! Turn off and allow to cool slightly. Mixture will not be melted but will be soft.

Here is what mine looked like AFTER cooking.

 2. Mix thoroughly and drop by teaspoon size cookie dropper or a teaspoon onto wax paper (I used Reynolds Non-stick foil.)

3. Let cool thoroughly. Makes approximately 150 - 170 pieces. 

Anyone want to come over and help me eat some candy?!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sesame Street Nesting Dolls

We have a set of nesting dolls that my Brother-in-law brought back from Russia a couple years ago and big brother has recently discovered them. He has always liked puzzles so it made sense that he was really intrigued by how the nesting dolls fit together.

One day when I shopping on Amazon.com I came across Unpainted Blank Russian Nesting Doll 5pc./6". I quickly added them to my cart and was excited at the painting possibilities. I settled on Sesame Street themed dolls because they are such classic, timeless characters and little brother has taken a new liking to Elmo this past month.

Let me just start by saying, I didn't exactly paint these freehand. 
I first printed out images of the characters faces and taped them on the dolls. I purposely chose a sequence of red/orange/yellow/green/blue as a way to help teach my preschooler about colors and rainbows.

Then I took a ball point pen and traced the faces, making sure to press firmly. 
When I removed the paper I had a nice indented outline.

Using acrylic paints, I painted the background colors first and then made my way from the bottom to the top of the faces. At some points my indented lines got lost and I did have to freehand here and there.

After they completely dried, I used a gloss coating over each piece. 
After drying for 24 hours, they are ready for play!
(Note: Due to small pieces and the fact that little brother puts everything in his mouth, 
he will not be playing with these until he is older. I recommend supervision during any play time with this toy.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Crochet Owl Hats

I had a request last week to make an owl hat for a sweet 3 month old baby girl. Also, one of the teachers at my sons preschool gave birth to a baby boy this month and I thought an owl hat would be a cute gift. I have never attempted an owl hat but found this great FREE pattern from Daisy Cottage Designs.

I started with the newborn boy hat and I will admit that I started making my own alterations to the design. Mostly because I wasn't very diligent about keeping track of my rounds and kept losing my place. But all in all, I love the way it turned out. Instead of crocheting ears, I tied 6 strands of yarn in a small knot and trimmed the ends. I actually like how this looks on the smaller hats.

For the baby girl hat, I followed Alli Crafts 3 month old Earlfap Hat Pattern and then used the same embellishments for the eyes and nose as the first hat. 

I wish I had started crocheting before little brother was born because I actually decorated his nursery in an owl theme AND I purchased a crocheted owl hat from Etsy for his newborn photos. It's funny to think I could have made it myself!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Perfect Pairs (Sock Game)

This morning I posted a picture on my Facebook Page of what my Laundry Room/Craft Room looked like. I referred to it as something you would see on an episode of Hoarders...

Pretty bad, right? (And embarrassing!)

So I made a deal with myself that I wasn't going to do any more crafting until I got this room cleaned up! I liked organizing my craft space. I even found some supplies I had bought for specific projects that apparently I had forgot about. But then came time to wash and fold the laundry. I got through most of it ok, until the socks. Isn't that the worst part of the laundry? You can never find a match. Then I remembered something my son has been watching on Sesame Street.

Bert plays a computer game called "Perfect Pairs" which involves matching of socks.

So I decided to create our own real life "Perfect Pairs" game!

I strung yarn from one door knob to another and used clothespins to pin up socks to our makeshift clothesline. The other socks we laid out on the floor. I asked my son to find socks from the floor that matched the socks hanging on the clothesline. And guided him by asking if he could first match the blue socks, then red socks, long socks, striped socks, small socks, ski socks, etc. So there you have it, I tricked my son into folding laundry :) Am I evil?

Are you curious to see what the laundry room/craft room looks like now? Drum roll please.....