Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Labor Day 2013 Recap

I realize summer is over and everyone has moved on to pumpkin spice lattes and apple picking, but I have a couple posts still to go covering summery things, so please bear with me. Plus, it is supposed to by 90 degrees in NJ today so it definitely still feels like summer here! 

The week before Labor Day Joe and I decided to throw a last minute, impromptu BBQ. We knew a lot of people would probably already have plans, but we wound up with a decent crowd. I decided to give a couple new recipes a spin.

First up was this Loaded Baked Potato Salad I have had pinned for over year:
Source: Dishing With Leslie
I attempted to double Leslie's recipe, but probably did a little more than double with the potatoes. As a result, I am not sure I had the right ratio of potato versus dressing.

Clearly Leslie is also a much better food photographer than me.
The Verdict: It was ok. I think I threw off the ratio since I only doubled the wet ingredients. I also undercooked the potatoes a little bit. I am just not that good at making a good potato salad. I would say I would try it again because I think its a great recipe, but I would probably be better off just buying it next time.

Loaded Baked Potato Salad
recipe by Dishing With Leslie
4 large Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup freshly chopped chives, divided
8 strips of bacon (6 for the salad and 2 for topping) cooked and crumbled
1 tsp black pepper
salt to taste
Serves 4 - 6 (Simply double list of ingredients if you need a larger serving)

In a small bowl, mix together your mayonnaise, and sour cream. Make sure the two are completely combined and then add half of the chives, cheese, and pepper. Taste mixture to see if you prefer some salt. (I usually add a dash or two.) Let chill in fridge for a bit. Meanwhile, peel and cube your potatoes in to bite size pieces. Put in a large pot, cover with water, and boil until fork tender. About 20 minutes. *You need to keep an eye on them. If they cook too long you'll end up with more of a mashed potato consistency when you mix them with the sauce.

When potatoes are ready, drain and let cool just a bit. *Let them cool a lot if you plan to serve chilled. Put potatoes in a large bowl or dish and combine with sour cream mixture. Fold in most of your crumbled bacon. Top with remaining half of chives and remaining crumbled bacon.
*See Leslie's post for some helpful notes.

Next up was this delicious looking Caprese Pasta Salad:
Source: Simple Scratch
Laurie grows her own basil, but I just picked some up from the foodstore. I can barely keep my flowers alive - I would hate to see what I could do to herbs! I couldn't find orecchiette pasta, so I settled on small shells.
Again, my food photos are crap, but it was night so it was dark and this is the best I could do.
The Verdict: I thought it was delicious. I am a sucker for anything with balsamic vinegar though so I may be biased.

Things to Consider: I used a whole pound of pasta and just tried to balance out the right amount of everything else. I probably could have used a little more dressing, cut the mozzarella a little smaller and added more tomatoes (I used only one package). Next time I would try just using less pasta as we had more than enough. I will definitely be making this again though - it was so easy and delicious! 

Caprese Pasta Salad
recipe by Simply Scratch

2 cups dried Orecchiette Pasta, cooked as directed on the package
1 pint Grape Tomatoes, quartered
1 container Fresh Mozzarella Pearls {or 1 ball fresh mozzarella, cubed small}
1 cup Fresh Basil, sliced into ribbons
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper
2 Cloves of Fresh Garlic, squeezed through a garlic press
1/3 cup Balsamic Vinegar

3 tablespoons Olive Oil

In a small bowl squeeze two cloves of garlic through a garlic press. Pour in balsamic vinegar and whisk. Continue to whisk while slowly, pouring in the three tablespoons of olive oil in steady stream.

Cook orecchiette pasta according to package directions. Drain and then rinse with cold water. Add the cold pasta to a bowl along with the quartered tomatoes, fresh mozzarella pearls and basil ribbons.

Season with kosher salt and black pepper and drizzle with desired amount of the balsamic vinaigrette. Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste preference before serving!

I hope everyone had a nice Labor Day weekend and is settling into their fall routines. JJ had his first day of "school" (which is really just mom's day out type program my aunt is taking him to twice a week) this week. He loved it and I am so excited for him to meet some new little friends and work on his social skills.
I promise I will get to some pumpkin recipes soon! 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Two Ingredient Pumpkin Brownies

One of my favorite recipes that I've ever came across on Pinterest was the Two Ingredient Pumpkin Cake that I first tried in 2011. Since then I've made it several times. The recipe simply consisted of combining a can of pumpkin with a box of cake mix – that’s it!  So when I came across this Two Ingredient Pumpkin Brownie recipe from Cookies and Cups, I just knew I had to try it.

I gathered my 2 3 ingredients (Cookies and Cups said you can add pumpkin spice), and got to work.

All I did was mix up the pumpkin, brownie mix, and a teaspoon of pumpkin spice – then pour it into the lined pan.

I baked it for 35 minutes at 350.

And you’re done.

The Verdict: These were AWFUL! I actually ended up throwing them out. The consistency was sponge like and it tasted like baby food.

Things to Note/Consider: I’m not sure what went wrong – maybe I overcooked them? Perhaps I shouldn't have added the pumpkin spice? Maybe I over mixed? Who knows? At least they were super easy to make and I didn't waste too much time and energy on them. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Travel Keepsake Boxes - Part 2

Oh hey there- remember me? It’s been a few months but I’m back with a new post. Not sure why I took the hiatus. I guess I've just been busy enjoying the summer. As Grace mentioned in her last post, we took a week long trip to Duck, North Carolina. There were 17 of us in one house (14 adults & 3 kids) – I’m surprised we all made it out alive!

This post is a revisit to the Travel Keepsake Boxes I made a few months ago. I had linked up the original post to the Pinterest Challenge hosted by YHL & BowerPower.

I finally got around to fixing up the stencils. I tried a new approach at the suggestion of a comment from Julia.  She suggested using a pencil or pen to outline the stencil and then fill it in with a fine brush.

I did something similar. I found this item at AC Moore that had a pen on one side and a brush on the other.

Using the blank side of the boxes - I tapped the stencils down and used the pen side to draw the outlines.

Then I took the stencils off and used the brush side to fill them in.

Much better right? I think so.

I wish I had thought of this option the first time around! Thanks Julia for the tip!

I did have one snafu. After I finished up the three boxes, I had the genius idea to paint over the original, messed up back side. I wasn't paying attention and on the “Greece” box, I painted over new side with the still wet ink. Whomp Whomp.

Oh well. Now that I know the easy way to stencil it, I can just purchase a new box and make another one. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Roadtripping with a Toddler

It seems Shannon and I have been MIA for a couple of weeks. And no, its not because our family trip to North Carolina was disasterous, I think we've just both been busy catching up on life since we got back. Actually, I was only home in NJ for 20 hours before I had to hitch a ride with Shannon back to Boston to attend a work-related conference. 

Anyway, I have a bunch of stuff to post about, but I am going to start with the actual travel to North Carolina. I was really nervous about how JJ was going to be strapped in the car seat for 7-8 hours. He is usually pretty good in the car, but he's almost two so he has been known to throw a tantrum here or there. I started pinning all sort of tips and tricks months ago in hopes that I could be well prepared. The two I found most helpful were this one from The Fun, Cheap, or Free Queen and this slideshow from Joslyn Gray at Babble. The biggest overall themes were to have his comfort items (lovie, blanket), plenty of snacks, and new toys/distractions. When all else fails, load up the iPad with some videos.

The weekend before we left, I hit the local Dollar Tree and Target to pick up some things to keep him busy. I got a little basket from the dollar store to hold everything. It was the perfect size to sit next to him on the arm rest but set back far enough that he couldn't see or reach it. 

Tools to keep a toddler busy during the 7 11 hour car ride
I was hoping he would sleep for half the ride (we did leave at 4am), but he was wired and knew something was up so he didn't go back to sleep until about 6. He was content with his lovie and blanket though so it was an easy couple of hours. Once he woke up (after only an hour and half, maybe) a sippie of milk and some cereal filled him up and killed some time. After that, though, he started to get a little whiney so I broke into my arsenal. First up were a couple new books (all from the dollar store):

The "first words" one in particular was loaded with a bunch of pictures on each page so he spent awhile looking through each page, pointed at the photos and starting over. 

After that was a mini magna doodle from Target. It helped that it was "Cars" themed, but this kept him busy for awhile. And as a bonus, it was really easy to bring along in my bag when we went out to dinner during the trip just in case the restaurant didn't have crayons. 

Mini Magna Doodle, so much cleaner than dealing with crayons.

JJ is into transportation right now. Anything that moves - planes, buses, trucks, fire engines, and most of all trains. I found these adorable little wooden cars in the dollar spot at Target and knew he would love them. 

One of the last things I broke out, and was the biggest hit of all, were magnets. I picked up a magnetic wipe off board (meant for college dorm rooms I guess?) from the dollar store and brought along a new set of Melissa and Doug animal magnets. He loved moving them around, taking them on and off, and making all kinds of sounds.

A magnetic wipe-off board from the dollar store and some new animal magnets kept JJ busy for a long time.

I also brought crayons and printed out blank coloring pages of his favorite things (Lightening McQueen, Thomas the Train, etc) but I never wound up using them in the car. I put the crayons in an old travel wipes case and tucked the coloring sheets in there as well. Also handy to throw in my bag and bring with us to keep him busy if we stopped somewhere to eat.

A couple boxes of dollar store crayons fit nicely into a travel wipe case. Throw in a couple small sheets of paper and you have a super easy portable coloring case.

A couple other things I learned along the way:

  • I have read that snacks, especially new and fun ones would keep kids happy. Unfortunately, JJ isn't adventurous when it comes to food. He likes what he likes. He had no interest in the fruit snacks I bought, just stuck with cereal, goldfish, and cheese. 
  • "Pencil pouches" from the dollar store are great for storing the little things. I kept the animal magnet set in one, some foam puzzle pieces (see the top row, middle pic at the top of the post) in another, and some first aid supplies in a third.
  • In the first aid pouch, which I kept in the glove compartment, I had pain reliever for JJ, all kinds of pain relievers, antacids, and migraine pills for Joe and I, some alcohol swabs, bandaids, mini sun screen, and anything else I might need along the way. I had more of everything packed away in our suitcases, but I wanted to have this stuff handy in case we needed it and I wouldn't need to dig around to find anything. 
  • I saved a couple books and bought a few more things than shown above and tucked them away under a seat. This way, I was sure I had something new and exciting for the way home. 
  • I really didn't need to spend a lot of money. I think I spent less than $15 for this stuff (with the exception of maybe the magnets) and it all came from the dollar store or Target. The Dollar Tree was a gold mine of little treats/treasures and there are even more possibilities if your toddler is a little older and you're not as worried about choking risks. A lot of the items worked well in the rental house as well. All the kids had fun playing with the magnets, moving them back and forth between the board, the fridge, and the 2 (!) dishwashers. 
Overall, JJ did great. He didn't sleep as much as I would have liked on the way down, but he was 50 times better than I expected. We didn't even turn on a movie until about hour 9. So had we not hit any traffic, I don't think he would have needed it at all. The vacation must have worn him out though, he slept a lot more on the way home!

So we survived our first big family trip as parents. It was a lot of fun, but more exhausting than the last time we went 2 years ago. I have another vacation related post to share, but right now I am onto researching tips for flying with a toddler. Its a whole new ballgame for us and both Joe and I are nervous. Anyone have any tips for us? We leave in a little over a month!!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Disney Dreaming

This week, our extended family is (hopefully) enjoying some beach days and seafood nights in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. By the time you are reading this, Joe and I will have already braved the 8 hour car trip with our 20 month old. I have been doing a lot of googling and prep work for some tips on traveling with toddlers (using mainly this post and this one as inspiration) so I will be sure to do a post on how well (or disastrously) it went once we get back. 

Anyway, although I am on vacation right now, that doesn't stop me from dreaming about and planning my next one! I love to travel and we sort of took a hiatus when JJ came so I am so excited over the idea of taking two vacations in one year. Even more so that the next one will be to the Happiest Place on Earth! This October we will be taking JJ on his first visit to Walt Disney World in Florida. It will be his first time on a plane and our first time going to "the world" with a kid. 

Getting back to the point of my post. Joe has a tendency to leave his pocket change all over the house. Usually it ends up on his nightstand or the kitchen counter, but it pops up in the laundry and sometimes on the bathroom sink as well. It drives me crazy, so a long time ago we designated an old pretzel bin as our change collector:

Definitely not cute, but we tucked it away in a closet so it didn't really bother me:

Once we decided (meaning I finally conned Joe into being on board with) taking JJ in October, I was inspired by this pin to jazz up the jar:

source: Wilbur Road

Of course none of the cabinets or closets in my house are that neat or organized, but I thought the "Disney Fund" jar was adorable and could definitely help my tired looking pretzel jug look a little nicer. I took some Disney scrapbook paper I already had and cut a band to fit around that ugly half-removed label. Then I downloaded the waltograph font and printed out the label. I thought Jay's mouse-ears were cute, so I just cut out a couple from construction paper and backed them with some cardstock to give them some stability. 

Much cuter, right? Before we leave, will bring the bucket to the bank and cash it in and have some extra money for food, snacks, and souvenirs. I am considering getting tickets to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party so I might use the cash towards that. 

Anyone have any tips for travelling to Disney with toddlers? I realize its going to be a much different trip than we were used to (no more drinking around the world in Epcot or multiple trips on the Tower of Terror), but I  know being able to see it all through my son's eyes gives it new meaning. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Chicken Pot Pie Cupcakes

This is another one of those pins that's been around for awhile, I am sure you have seen some version of the Mini Chicken Pot Pie:
Source: Sunny Side Up
I tasted these way back in December at Santa on the Firetruck hosted by my brother and sister in law. They were delicious and I figured it was about time I give them a try.

Once again I used a rotisserie chicken to save myself a step in the preparation. 

Mixing up the filling.

The "crust" - just a Pillsbury biscuit smooshed down.

Spoon in some of the filling and bake!
Here they are fresh out of the oven:

The Verdict: Easy and delicious. Joe seemed a little upset there was no "top" crust when he saw me making them, but he was a huge fan. They were really easy to make (much less time consuming than biscuit topped chicken pot pie) so they are great for mid week. 

Things to Consider: I read through some of the comments before I started and decided to cut the spices in half based on some of the recommendations  I am glad I did, they would have definitely been too spicy with them in there. I also added a little bit more vegetables in the mix as well. Although I tried to smoosh the biscuits down as much as I could, they still sort of poofed up so the ratio of filling to bread was a little off. Still tasty though! 

Chicken Pot Pie Cupcakes
from Sunny Side up and adapted from Tablespoon

2 cups of cooked chicken breasts diced
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup frozen mixed veggies
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 tablespoon of  dried thyme (I used 1/4)
1/2 tablespoon of dried basil (I used 1/4)
1 teaspoon onion powder (I used 1/2)
1 teaspoon garlic salt (I used 1/2)
2 (10 oz) cans Pillsbury biscuits

Preheat your oven to 400.
In a large bowl, combine the cooked chicken, cream of chicken soup, frozen veggies, cheese, herbs and spices.
Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin and place the Pillsbury biscuits into each cup, pressing into the bottom and up the sides. (I got 16 cupcakes so I had to use a second tray for the extra 4).
Evenly spoon the pot pie mixture into each biscuit cup. Slide into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Check at the 12 minute mark.
Let rest for about 3 minutes and dig in!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Chicken Parmesan Burgers

If you are in the middle of this ridiculous heat wave like we are in the northeast - stay cool! The air conditioning in the area where I sit at work is broken, and while not unbearable, its pretty uncomfortable. Hopefully the repairman will show today as promised. According to Bill Evans, it should be a stormy break on Saturday (you know I love some local news!). Anyway, onto the real post...

My friend, Mary Claire, started a blog chronicling her dinner adventures with her newlywed husband KK. She been blogging since the beginning of the year, but for some reason I haven't gotten around to trying out any of her recipes until recently. The first one I tried: Chicken Parmesan Burgers

Source: 3D Dinners
They are pretty simple to make so they work well for a weeknight meal. Just mix up the ingredients, pop in the fridge for a bit, then grill them up. Top with some sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese and enjoy!

All the ingredients ready to be mixed.

It was a little wet once everything was mixed, but firmed up well after being in the fridge.

It makes 4 patties, I just didn't want them to stick together so I added a piece of wax paper on top of these before I put the last one in there.
I actually did all the mixing the night before so after work all I would need to do is cook them. Of course mother nature ruining my plans to have Joe grill them outside....

It is hard to tell, but it was pouring.

...and I don't have a nice grill pan, so I had to settle for just cooking them in a regular frying pan.

I served them up with a salad and some penne with more sauce (and cheese!). 

The Verdict: Pretty tasty. They were a little greasy but I think that just comes from frying them the way I did. They were also a little dense so I would probably make them a little thinner next time. We really enjoyed them though so I am sure they will make it into the regular rotation (especially during grilling season - I can't wait to try them that way!).

Things to Consider: I think they worked well making them a day in advance...since they have to chill anyway, whats a few (or maybe 23 more hours in the fridge), right? My patties were really really wet when I first formed them and I was afraid I was missing something, but they really firmed up once they were cold. 

I have another 3D Dinners recipe to type up - and it was a great one! If you follow us on Instagram (@pinstersisters) - you can get a delicious preview from a couple weeks ago.

Chicken Parmesan Burgers:
Adapted from 3D Dinners who adapted from Sweet Tooth Sweet LifeServes 4

Ingredients1lb. ground chicken1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese1/4 cup breadcrumbs1/4 cup marinara sauce1/4 cup chopped onion2 cloves garlic2 tablespoons dried parsley2 teaspoons Italian seasoning1 teaspoon dried basilMozzarella cheeseHamburger bunsButter spread or margarineGarlic powderExtra marinara sauce

Directions1. Combine first nine ingredients (through dried basil) and mix well. Form into four patties, creating a slight dent in the center of the patty; refrigerate about 30 minutes.
2. Grill over medium-high heat, 6-8 minutes on each side. Top cooked chicken burgers with mozzarella cheese.
3. Coat insides of hamburger buns with a little butter and a sprinkle of garlic powder and place on the grill 1-2 minutes (or in the toaster oven), until lightly toasted. Spread marinara sauce on toasted buns and top with cooked chicken burgers.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

4th of July 2013 Recap

It seems like I took a short, unanticipated vacation from the blog. Nothing really happened, I just haven't had time to sit down and type something up. Its been a busy summer! Anyway, here's a quick recap of our 4th of July weekend:

We started off the holiday with a trip to the pool Thursday morning. After an afternoon nap (for JJ) we headed to my parents for dinner and then to the high school for their local fireworks show. JJ did much better than I anticipated considering how late it was and how delayed the actual show was. He seemed to enjoy them, but lost interest after 10 minutes.

Friday Joe had to work so JJ and I just hung out: played, did some coloring, tried to go outside but it was 1000 degrees. After he went to bed, I took the opportunity to make something to bring to Joe's parents' annual 4th of July BBQ the next day. If you remember last year, I made the infamous Flag Cake:

2012's Flag Cake
and while it came out cute, I was looking for something a little easier and less time consuming this time around. I originally wanted to make these bacon ranch deviled eggs but didn't realize I was out of ranch mix until it was late. Plan B: Bacon Cheddar Deviled Eggs:

Source: All Recipes
Joe is a bit of a deviled egg purist, so I made half regular and half "bacon cheddar". There's really not much to post - its sort of like just making egg salad but only using the yolks and then putting it back into the whites. Here is the filling ready to be mixed:

And here is the finished product (the paprika topped ones are "regular" and the bacon topped ones are the Bacon Cheddar):

Anyone know what is supposed to go in that middle spot? Just filling? Some sort of garnish??
As always, the recipe is at the bottom of the post.

I also made some of my chocolate chip cookies (a favorite of my father in law) to bring for dessert. 

Before we ate, we took JJ down to the lake for the first time. While I am not  fan, I prefer cement ponds myself, he loved it. I think he liked the fact that he was in control and could just walk in and out and always have his feet on the ground. 

Back at the house, we dried off, tried to stay cool, and enjoyed the food. The eggs were a hit - but to be honest, they sort of just tasted like a regular deviled egg with some bacon. Next year I will have to try the ranch version - they sound delicious! 

Things to Note: I sort of skipped #1 and just made hard boiled eggs my usual way (put eggs in room temp water just about covering eggs and bring to boil, boil for 10-12 minutes then place in ice-water bath). I also cheated and used precooked bacon. So basically I only followed Step 3. 

Bacon Cheddar Deviled Eggs
from USEREMILY3260 on All Recipes

12 eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 slices bacon
2 tablespoon finely shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon mustard

1. Place eggs in a saucepan, and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Cover, and let eggs stand in hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from hot water, and cool. To cool more quickly, rinse eggs under cold running water.
2. Meanwhile, place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Alternatively, wrap bacon in paper towels and cook in the microwave for about 1 minute per slice. Crumble and set aside.

3. Peel the hard-cooked eggs, and cut in half lengthwise. Remove yolks to a small bowl. Mash egg yolks with mayonnaise, crumbled bacon and cheese. Stir in mustard. Fill egg white halves with the yolk mixture and refrigerate until serving.

I have a bunch of things in my backlog to post about - hopefully I get some more computer time soon. I have tried a bunch of yummy dinner recipes recently - so stay tuned!
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