Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Top Recipes from 2017

Every year I come across new recipes- some are winners and some not so much.  Here are our family's top favorites from 2017:

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cookies are my weakness and chocolate chip are always a comfort food fav for me!  This year an acquaintance posted the secret to the best choc chip cookies ever and I have to agree!  I didn't know I could improve on this old time favorite but this is how to make THE BEST chocolate chips cookies I've ever tasted!  It does require a little extra work but it's so worth it!  The chilling time & under baking slightly, then allowing to sit on the pan 1 min are the keys.  I also have learned that true creaming requires 3 minutes of beating with a mixer.  Alternately, you can make the dough and roll it into cookie balls and freeze, then bake from frozen with great results!

Cream together:
1 c brown sugar
3/4 c white sugar
1 c butter
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
Combine & sift:
3/4 t salt
3/4 t baking soda
3 c flour
Mix into creamed ingredients & add 2 c chocolate chips or to taste.  Chill 2 hours.  Take tablespoons full dough, ball slightly, then push down to flatten on baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for 8-9 mins- UNDERBAKE slightly.  Bake until opaque looking and not shiny on top.  Let sit on tray for 1 minute longer to bake a little more.  Then remove to a cooling rack.  

Rib Rub

I think my Mom shared this one with me this year.  Maybe it was last year but close enough!  I've started making these on Sundays.  They are so easy and so good!  Our whole family loves them!  And ribs can be very inexpensive.  Leftovers also freeze well!

1 t cumin
1/4 c paprika
1 t granulated garlic
1 t onion powder
1 t chili powder
3/4 c brown sugar
1 T kosher salt
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 t black pepper
Mix together all ingredients and rub onto ribs.  Refrigerate overnight in a ziplock bag.  In the morning place ribs in crockpot and cook on low for 6 hours.

Caramel Sauce

My neighbor shared this with me and I could have eaten the whole batch myself- maybe I did!  We ate this with apple slices in the Fall.  It's also good poured over popcorn!

1/2 c butter
1 c karo syrup
1 c brown sugar
 Bring to a rolling boil over med/high heat.  Remove from heat and add:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 t vanilla
1/4 t salt
Stir until combined.

Creamy Swiss Cheese Chicken Bake from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Mel is one of my favorite food bloggers.  I tried this simple recipe a few months ago and made it for a couple of people when I brought them dinners.  Everyone gives this rave reviews and it's simplicity is awesome for this busy Mom!  (I double the sauce.)

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4-6 pieces)
6-8 slices swiss cheese
1/2 c light mayo
1/2 c plain greek yogurt
3/4 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
1 t garlic powder
hot, cooked rice
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly spray a 9X13 baking pan with cooking spray.  Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season on each side with salt and pepper.  Lay the chicken breast pieces in a single layer on the bottom of the prepared baking pan.  Layer the Swiss cheese slices over chicken.  In a medium bowl, whisk together mayo, yogurt, 1/2 c parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Spread this mixture over the chicken and cheese.  Top with remaining 1/4 c Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is hot and bubbly.  Serve over hot, steamed rice.

Chocolate Fudge Sour Cream Bundt Cake

This is another one of Mel's.  I'm pretty sure I just discovered this one this year and I've made it at least 4 times and am making it again today!  It's fudgy rich deliciousness!


  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder


  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) butter
  • 1/3 cup (1.25 ounces) natural, unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 3/4 cup (8.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (11.5 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 large eggs (3.5 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 cups (6 to 12 ounces) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips


  • 1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Preheat the 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, mix together the butter and cocoa powder for the pan until the mixture is well-combined and pasty. Use a pastry brush or folded square of wax paper to wipe the cocoa/butter mixture into a 10- or 12-inch bundt pan until the inner surface is evenly coated.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa powder, salt and water. Heat until the butter is melted and whisk to combine well. Set aside to cool to room temperature (just slightly warm is ok, too, but let it cool more if it’s overly warm or hot).
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and baking soda. Pour in the chocolate mixture and stir to combine.
  4. Add the eggs and whisk to combine. Stir in the sour cream and vanilla extract until the batter is smooth. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes until the top lightly springs back and the cake is baked through.
  6. Let the cake cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan before turning it out carefully onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
  7. For the glaze, place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl. Heat the cream to a simmer (either in the microwave or in a saucepan) and pour over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes without stirring. Add the vanilla and stir the mixture until it is glossy and smooth. The glaze will set up as it cools; if you want a thin drizzle, pour it over the cake while the glaze is still warm but if you want a thicker frosting, let it cool slightly.
  8. Once the cake is cooled, place it on a serving plate or cake stand and pour the glaze over the cake letting it drip down the sides.
This is quickly turning into a Mel-loving post.  I am truly indebted to that lady!  This rolls are awesome!  You can barely tell that they are whole wheat and they freeze beautifully so whenever I need some rolls for dinner I just take them out and leave them on the counter until dinner.

Instant Pot Jalapeno Popper Chicken Chili

Last Christmas I got myself an Instant Pot and LOVE IT!  I love how fast I can cook dry beans and a whole frozen chicken!  And cooking an entire meal in only one pot is pretty amazing!  My sister told me about this "chili recipe" around Halloween time and I made it for our neighborhood potluck Halloween night.  It was a hit!  I'm not sure it really qualifies as chili but I don't care because it is so good! 

Instant Pot Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

This is another Instant Pot favorite that a friend shared with me.  It's not quite like any other soup I've ever made.  My whole family gobbles this one up and they aren't big soup eaters!

Instant Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup (Mel's Kitchen Cafe)

Another great, warming soup that I love!  I like how she uses masa harina to thicken it up a bit. 

This year I was part of a freezer meal group and I've learned so much about freezer meals and all the different things you can freeze.  Freezer meals have become a lifesaver for me!  I don't know how I survived before!  It's so nice to be able to take something out of the freezer in the morning to defrost for dinner or pop in the crockpot on a busy day.  It's a great way to save money for so many reasons and to be able to serve someone who needs a quick meal.  The following recipes were our favorites that I collected from our freezer group and they all freeze beautifully:

Freezer Ravioli Lasagna

My kids and husband love this and I can sneak in lots of veggies.  Win-win all the way around!

Jar of spaghetti sauce
Bag of frozen ravioli
Any veggies you want (saute onions, peppers, zucchini and baby spinach)
Layer sauce, raviolis, and cheese in a casserole dish.  (You can add in any veggies or meat you want with these layers.  Repeat with second layer.  Top with sauce.  Then cover with foil and place in freezer.  When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Bake for an hour until heated through.  Top with more mozzarella cheese and bake an additional 15 minutes.

Salted Caramel Rice Krispie Treats

I love me a good ole Rice Krispie Treat and these take it to the next level!  You can't just eat one!

6 c Rice Krispies
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c whipping cream
1 T light corn syrup
1 t coarse salt
1 10 oz bag of mini marchmallows, plus 1 c of additional mini marshmallows

In a large, heat-proof bowl, toss together Rice Krispies and 1 c of mini marshmallows.  Set aside.  Spray 9X13 pan with cooking spray.  In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  When it's melted, reduce heat to medium and add brown sugar, whipping cream, and corn syrup and cook for 7 minutes, stirring frequently to keep caramel from scorching.  When the caramel is thick and syrupy, add the salt and stir to combine, then remove from heat and add 10 ozs of marshmallows.  Stir until marshmallows are dissolved, then quickly pour over the Rice Krispies and stir quickly to coat.  Press into prepared pan.  Allow to cool completely and cut into squares.

Brown Sugar Mozzarella Stix & Cheesy Garlic Stix

Dissolve 1 T yeast and 1 t sugar in 2 c lukewarm water.  Allow to bubble.  Add 2 T oil, 1 t salt and 4-5 c flour.  Be careful adding the last cup of flour.  You don't want the dough too stiff!  Let raise for an hour or two.  You can use fresh or precook in the pan you desire at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes.  Allow to cool before putting in the freezer or putting on toppings.  For Cheesy Garlic: brush on olive oil with a pastry brush, sprinkle with garlic salt and cheese.  For Brown sugar:  brush on olive oil with a pastry brush, cover with brown sugar, evenly spread small squares of butter and then top with mozzerella.  When ready, defrost from freezer, bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes. 

Thai Chicken Soup

This was surprisingly delicious!  I crave this soup.  Especially served with naan!

1 1/2 T red curry paste
1 1/2 T fish sauce
1 1/2 T honey
1 1/2 T peanut butter
1 1/2 c chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
1 lb chicken breast, sliced into strips
1/2 bell pepper, sliced into strips
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 c carrots, peeled and chopped
1 T freshly grated ginger
Juice from lime weges
chopped cilantro

In crockpot, stir together first 6 ingredients.  Then add chicken and veggies.  Cook on low for 6 hours or high 4 hours.  To freeze, place all ingredients in a ziplock bag except the coconut milk.  When ready to make, empty contents with coconut milk into crockpot and cook on low as indicated in the recipe.

Slow-cooker Pulled Pork Tacos

These are so easy and not like any other taco I've had.  They are so good- I think I'm making these tonight!

2 lbs pork shoulder (butt) or loin
2 T paprika
1 t pepper
1 t cayenne pepper
1 t garlic powder
1 t onion powder
1 t kosher salt
1 t cumin
1/3 c apple cider vinegar
2/3 c water
Thaw pork in fridge overnight.  Rub with seasoning.  Place in slow cooker, slowly add vinegar and water around edges of meat.  Careful to not rinse off rub.  Cook on low 6-8 hours.  Shredd with fork and serve on corn tortillas with slaw.

Slaw:  1 package of cole slaw
1 chicken Ramen
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c vegetable oil
1/3 c white vinegar
Place slaw and crumbled ramen noodles in bowl and set aside.  Combine the flavoring packet from the ramen with vinegar, oil and sugar.  Whisk until well blended.  Pour onto slaw and toss.


Friday, September 29, 2017

Menu Plan for Conference Weekend and the Week

Friday: Wacky Pasta, Green Salad, chicken fingers*  Start Cinnamon Rolls

Saturday:  Cinnamon Rolls, Pastry Wrapped sausage links
Hoagies, fruit
Emily's freezer meal: Million dollar spaghetti, cheesy rolls, salad

Sunday:  Berries and cream with German pancakes
Mac and cheese
BBQ Sliders, fried okra, french fries

Red Beans and Rice*

Leftovers or fish sticks

Stuffed Shells*

Chinese Spaghetti

Pizza or Stromboli


Mashed potatoes & gravy
Dump Cake

Honey Lime Enchiladas (use whole chicken)*
Refried Beans or Black Beans

*Make extra for freezer

Freezer Meals already in freezer:

White Chicken Chili
Pizza Stromboli
Cheesy Rolls
Butter Chicken
Chicken Cacciatore

Shopping List:
85/15 beef 2 lb
hoagie meat

Hawaiian sweet rolls
Buns for hoagies

Blue cheese
Cottage cheese

fish sticks
frozen broccoli

Salad stuff
pea pods
4 limes

Dishwasher powder
Brillo pad
quart freezer bags

Juice boxes

Chocolate chips
Corn meal

green enchilada sauce?

Granola bars


Friday, October 9, 2015

"The Big Disconnect" by Catherine Steiner-Adair

This is a life-changing book for me.  I have been feeling uncomfortable with the way screens and technology are changing our lives.  Taking over our relationships, our time, our thoughts.  My oldest is turning 12 and got a chromebook from school and it's made me look at what boundaries we need to set with.  Then it made me look at my own habits and wonder how I would like my children to pick up those habits.  How would it change our family relationships?  I didn't like what I was feeling but felt helpless as to what to do about it.  This book has helped put into words that uncomfortable feeling and backed it with research and real-life experiences.  It is inspiring me to look at my own screen habits and to "unplug" or "disconnect" more often and focus on being present.  I've always heard and believed how important it is to be "at the crossroads" with our children.  And I've tried to physically do so- to be home and available when my children come home from school or go to a friend's house or activity, just in case they need to talk or so I can be alert to any cues that something is going on.  I had never thought about how my smart phone/texting/emails/blogging takes me away mentally.  I need to be here mentally at the crossroads as well.

I miss those simple days when we spent our time outside as much as possible without a phone.  I miss the days when my husband and I could have a conversation without one of use scrolling through an article or email or texting on our phones.  I miss those days when I wasn't having 3 texting conversations and trying to listen to my 4 children and follow a recipe on my phone.  I miss those days when I would sew or read a book in the evenings instead of perusing blogs and gardening articles, pinterest, emails, facebook while watching a TV show- only halfway doing anything and getting really nothing done.  I miss the days when I accomplished more because I wasn't checking facebook and email and texting every 30 minutes.  Boy, am I telling on myself now!!

My husband and I were one of the last people I know to get smart phones.  Our 3rd child was about 2 years old when we got them.  That was when my life changed- and not for the better.  Yes, it's nice to text sometimes and have mapquest to tell me where to go, etc.  But is it worth the sacrifice of the rest of me?  Maybe I'm being a little dramatic.  Last year when  had my fourth child and the every two hour 20 minute long feedings began, I started getting on my phone even more.  I was on facebook all the time.  I googled every question I had and filled my head with the "wisdom" of the world wide web.  Now I cringe to think about all that wasted time.  I could have spent that time reading to my 4 year old or reading good books to myself or gazing upon the perfection of my newborn.  I so wish I could take back that time.

This week I have vowed to take back my life!  I am trying to get away from my phone, in particular, and focus on my family and building back those relationships.  This paragraph struck me: "The unlimited possibility of the World Wide Web speaks to all of us with its potential for creativity, new knowledge and new relationships.  It offers us an immediate escape from our daily world where so much of what we do is tedious.  But it also imprisons us in its world of infinite access.  It has added a new workplace boss-- not a person but the expanded job demands made of us round the clock with no regard to our need to be separate from work and connected to our self and our families.  In a much larger sense the medium itself has become an even more demanding boss...it has no boundaries...We feel compelled to connect and we struggle with the guilt, the lost time and the exhaustion that come with it."  SO TRUE!!!  I have greatly enjoyed the relief from taking back my life.  My phone still calls to me.  Sometimes it is hard.  Sometimes I don't know what to do with myself but it feels good to get away from it all. 

I can't possibly write down all the quotes I liked from this book but here are a few so that I can remind myself if I start slipping back to my old ways:

"Our expanded ability to be technologically connected on screens to the world almost anytime, anyplace, is unquestionably pulling us away from making families primary in children's lives and in grown-ups' lives.  Without being aware of it, we've shifted our attention from the primacy of nourishing family connections in the ordinary ways children need it, and turned instead to self-interests, work and other sources of fulfillment. Left to their own devices, our children will do the same."

"Neurologically speaking, empathy takes time and practice to sink in...the speed and superficiality of the tech experience have thinned the neural experiences that create empathy.  In contrast, activities such as reading books or other substantive content create complex arrays of neural pathways, the necessary rich weave of interconnectedness that develops empathy and allows it to deepen."

"We know that from birth to two the brain is learning not just what to think but how to think , and we know that tech and TV pose risks for your baby's healthy development.  With convenience and consumerism driving the conversation, empirical research can seem so remote, so out of step with what's popular...When we give babies stimulants instead of calming attention and offer tech distractions from ordinary life instead of guidance through it, we teach them at a very young age to deal with life's ups and downs by plugging into external sources to self-regulate rather than develop those skills within."

"As parents, we must find the social and emotional head space to calm ourselves and react to all of these minimoments in nuanced ways.  In our everyday interactions with our children, from doing errands to playtime to bedtime, we are teaching the same thing repeatedly-- self-regulation and social and emotional skills-- but we have to be able to focus on these tasks with genuine interest and presence."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Week

I love these cute crafts for apples:  http://www.readingconfetti.com/2013/09/easy-apple-tree-preschool-craft.html

And these are so cute for A is for Animals: http://www.readingconfetti.com/2012/12/noahs-ark-craft-kids-virtual-book-club.html

C Week

C is for Cloud
Read "Little Cloud".  Go observe the clouds in the sky.
Make cotton ball clouds
Do this from preschoolalphabet:
Blue Skies & White Clouds
  1. On a white piece of paper, use a white crayon to draw cloud shapes all over the paper.
  2. Give the kids a “blank” cloud paper and a cup of watered-down blue paint.
  3. Have them paint a blue sky over the whole paper, revealing all of the white clouds!
Eat blue jello with whipped cream. (clouds)

C is for Chameleon
We tried this idea.
C is for cow

C is for Cookie
Love these ideas! We did the cookie counting game except with chocolate chips instead of M&Ms.

C is for car
My son will love these ideas!

B Week

I got a lot of my ideas from preschoolalphabet.blogspot.com

B is for Bat

Read about bats and look at pictures of bats on the internet.
Go on a bat hunt.  Hide bat cut outs with googly eyes and a fact about bats written on them in white around the house like these.  Give your preschooler a flashlight and let them find the hidden bats.  When they find them, read the information about bats together.
Love this idea: http://www.readingconfetti.com/2011/10/handprint-bats.html

B is for Butterfly

We made butterfly cutouts in the shape of a B and then he painted them with water colors like these.
We also made a large flower cutout with a hole in the middle and put it over a cup with juice.  He put a straw through the whole to sip the "nectar."  We also made these butterfly cut outs and listened to the song found here.

B is for Baa Baa Black Sheep

Lots of fun from preschoolalphabet.  My son liked doing all of these.

B is for Bear

Again, lots of great ideas from preschoolalphabet.

And I love this idea to add sound effects to "We're Going on a Bear Hunt."

B is for Books

Go on a Book Scavenger Hunt (idea from here.)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Summer Bucket LIst

I love that my kids are driven and that they like to do projects and create things.  They have a summer bucket list but here are a few more ideas from pinterest for them...

Salt and paint

Balloon powered Lego car



Family History