Monday, November 17, 2014

Grant's Quilt, Finished!

So I had pieced Grant's quilt top together and had it finished when he was just a few months old.  Then it sat and sat in a bag until I finally got it to my friend Kristy to machine quilt it for me.  She returned it me around January of 2014.  She did an amazing job with it.  If you live in the Cheyenne Wells, CO area, you should really check out The Rambling Rose Quilt Shop.  Matt's aunt Sarah helped me to machine sew the binding around the edge of the quilt, and then it sat again in my closet, waiting for me to finish it up.

About a week before Grant's birthday this June, I got a burst of energy and decided to do the hand sewing on the back of the binding to finish up Grant's quilt for his birthday.

Being two, he was not that impressed with the quilt, but I think it will be something he enjoys over the years.

I'm not sure why, but this morning I decided to try to get a picture of Grant--my wiggly, busy boy--sitting on his quilt.  This is the best one I could get!

Kristy embroidered his name on the top of the quilt.  Then there is no question as to which way is up!  I thought this was a terrific idea that she had.

And the embroidered dedication on the back, which quotes 1 Samuel 1:27

"I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him."

Grant has been such a reminder to us of God's grace and faithfulness.  He was the answer to my prayer, and I am so grateful that he is here with us!

Want to see and hear more about Grant's quilt, check out my first post about it.

Grant's Quilt
Friday, November 7, 2014

Candy Corn M&M Cookies

Do any of you remember the cartoon Fat Albert?  "Hey, Hey, Hey. . It's Faaat Albert!"  Probably not too politically correct today.  Anyway, I don't remember much about the cartoon show, but I do remember watching the Halloween special for Fat Albert and eating chocolate peanut butter chip cookies that my mom had made.  I started thinking about that when I was making these cookies.  It's funny how our memories can be tied into food, isn't it?

I am still working on fall-themed cookies for the baby shower that I am helping with for this weekend.  I thought these would be a neat addition, and I was really happy with how they turned out.  My littlest, Grant, obviously thought they looked tasty, because he started asking for one as soon as they came out of the oven!

Here's the recipe (adapted from this recipe):

Candy Corn M&M Cookies (Yield:  approximately 20-24 cookies)

1 16.5 ounce box chocolate cake mix  (I used Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge mix because I like it as "chocolatey" as possible!)
2 eggs
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 bag Candy Corn M&M's

Beat cake mix, eggs, and butter until blended.  Add white chocolate chips and M&M's.  Refrigerate overnight.  Meanwhile, place remaining M&M's in freezer if you are going to do the optional step below.  Drop by two tablespoon-sized balls on parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes.  Let sit on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Optional:  After the cookies have been baking for 8 minutes, remove from oven and press 2-3 M&M's on top.  This is strictly for presentation purposes!  You have to press them in fairly well so that the large M&Ms will stay.  Return cookies to the oven until they are done.

Note:  You can use any flavor cake mix and any flavor chips that you like with this recipe!

Looking for more fall cookie recipes?  Try these:

Candy Apple M&M Cookies
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies by Two Peas and Their Pod  (I increased the size of the cookies to two tablespoons and baked for about 14 minutes.)
Thursday, November 6, 2014

Candy Apple M&M Cookies

I was planning to make some cookies for a fall-themed baby shower this weekend, so when I saw some Candy Apple Flavored M&M's, I knew I wanted to try them out in a cookie.

Here's the recipe (adapted from this recipe):

Candy Apple M&M Cookies (Yield:  approximately 20-24 cookies)

1 16.5 ounce box yellow cake mix
2 eggs
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 bag Candy Apple M&M's

Beat cake mix, eggs, and butter until blended.  Add butterscotch chips and M&M's.  Refrigerate overnight.  Meanwhile, place remaining M&M's in freezer if you are going to do the optional step below.  Drop by two tablespoon-sized balls on parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes.  Let sit on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Optional:  After the cookies have been baking for 8 minutes, remove from oven and press 2-3 M&M's on top.  This is strictly for presentation purposes!  You have to press them in fairly well so that the large M&Ms will stay.  Return cookies to the oven until they are done.

Note:  You can use any flavor cake mix and any flavor chips that you like with this recipe!

Looking for more fall cookie recipes?  Try these:

Candy Corn M&M Cookies
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies by Two Peas and Their Pod  (I increased the size of the cookies to two tablespoons and baked for about 14 minutes.)
Monday, November 3, 2014

Baked Parmesan Chicken

This is one of my family's favorite recipes.  I modified the recipe slightly from my Best of Taste of Home, The First 10 Years cookbook.  When I serve it, my middle daughter, who usually struggles with getting her meat finished, always asks for seconds!

Here's the recipe:

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup almond flour (can use dry bread crumbs if you prefer)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon pepper
12 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup butter, melted

In a shallow pie pan, combine the first seven ingredients and mix well.  Pour butter into another pie pan.  Dip chicken in butter and then into crumb mixture.  Place in greased 15 by 10 inch baking pan.  (You will have to squeeze them in a bit!)  Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until chicken is tender and juices run clear.  (I use a meat thermometer and cook until 165 degree internal temperature.)
Friday, October 17, 2014

Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls

I found this recipe on Pinterest over a year ago.  I have made it many times and have altered it just a bit, so I thought it was time to post my variations.

Though the original recipe says that these are "30 Minute Rolls," it takes me slightly longer than that to have these ready.  That being said, they are fast.  I have often found myself (at 5:00 PM) deciding to make these to go along with supper that evening.  They are one of my kids favorites, and they freeze great, too (if you have any leftovers.)  We have even used them as buns for hamburgers or hot ham and cheese.

Here's the recipe:

Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls

2 1/4 cup warm water
2/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 T. salt
2 eggs, slightly beaten
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour, divided
3 cups whole wheat flour

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Combine water, butter, yeast, and sugar in mixer bowl and allow to proof for 15 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients except for 1/2 cup of all purpose flour.  Knead with dough hook for 2-3 minutes, incorporating additional flour if needed.  (I always add all the flour if not a little more.)

Using hands greased with cooking spray and additional flour, shape dough into 24 balls and place in two greased 9 by 13 inch pans.  Cover and let rise for 12 minutes.  Place in oven and bake for about 12 minutes or until golden brown.  Rub a stick of butter over the top of the rolls for a delicious, buttery glaze.

Note:  Just half the recipe if you don't want to make 24 rolls.  For my family, 12 rolls would not last long!
Monday, October 6, 2014

Powercat Appliqued T-shirts

I was shopping for some new shirts for Maddie the other day, and we weren't finding a whole lot of interesting ones (or ones that had logos/sayings that I was comfortable with!). I finally just picked out a plain gray shirt and told her we would applique something onto it. She requested a powercat, and I was happy to comply. She really liked it, as did her brother Evan. So we made one for him, too! For more details on how to applique on a t-shirt, see this post. Then see this post for help on placing your powercat applique. I fold the t-shirt in half to find the center.  Be sure to use a ball point needle for knits.

I've enjoyed making these with the kids because they are able to trace and cut out their patterns and even iron them in place. Makes for a pretty quick afternoon project!
Sunday, August 3, 2014

Reversible Tote Bag

I have said it before, and I will say it again:  "I am not a great photographer."  I didn't have a lot of time to get a good picture of this, but I didn't want to let it prevent me from sharing this fun project.

I found this pattern on Pinterest, and I thought it looked quick and easy.  However, I like a bag that will stand up on its own.  So, I modified the pattern and added a lining.  And. . . it came out great!  I've ordered some additional fabric to make some more of these--maybe I will get a better picture then.

So, follow the instructions found here, with a few exceptions.

You will need two fabric rectangles for the outside of the bag, and two fabric rectangles for the inside lining of the bag.  Cut them 17.5 by 21 inches.

You will also need two 17.5 by 21 inch pieces of medium weight fusible interfacing.  Fuse these to the two pieces of outer fabric.

Follow the instructions to make your outer bag and lining.

For the handle, I used a 4 inch piece that I cut the entire width of the fabric.  This gives you plenty of length to work with.  Make the handle pieces as instructed, but cut 1.5 inch strips of interfacing and fuse it inside of the handle before sewing each side.  This step is optional, but it adds a bit more body to the handle.  (Sorry, I didn't take a picture here.)

Cut two handle pieces measuring 23 inches long.  (You can adjust this length to your preference, but I found that this length allowed me to put the bag over my shoulder easily.)

Line up your handle on each side of your main bag piece 5 inches from the side and pin.  The handle will be facing downward at this point.

I use my quilter's ruler to place the handles.  Just line up with the side of your bag. Be sure that the handles are not twisted!

Now comes the exciting part.  Pin your handle to the main bag fabric so that it won't get in the way somehow when you are sewing the top of the bag.  Turn both the outer fabric bag and the liner fabric bag inside out and place the liner inside the outer bag.  The right sides will be together.  Line up the side seams of each piece well, and pin all the way around the top edge of the bag.

Sew around the top of the bag using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.  Leave an opening in between the handles on one side.  (Be sure to backstitch several times here so that it won't rip when you turn the bag right side out.)

Now your bag is ready to be born.  Reach into the opening and carefully remove the pins that were holding the handles in place.  Then turn the bag right side out, push the lining down into the outer bag, and press around the top edge of the bag.  As you iron, be careful to turn the fabric under where you left the opening in your fabric.

Lastly, topstitch 1/4 inch around the top edge of the bag.  This will secure the opening and hold the lining in place.

Hooray!  Go buy some groceries or something to tote around!

PS--The prints I used for this bag were Premier Giselle Print in black and Premier Freehand Slub in corn yellow.  They have lots of different fun colors for the giraffe print.  I think my next one will be in hot pink!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Homemade Caramel Sauce

This recipe takes me back.  When I was growing up, it was a special day when Grandma would make chocolate waffles.  We would eat them with vanilla ice cream drizzled with this caramel sauce.

Please note that this makes a very thin sauce.  If you want it thicker, double the cornstarch.

Here's the recipe:

1/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 cup cold water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Melt butter in heavy sauce pan.  Add brown sugar, then cornstarch and water mixture.  Bring slowly to a boil, stirring often.  Remove from heat and add vanilla before serving.  Serve warm.

I let mine cool a bit and then put it in a plastic container and stored in the refrigerator.  The butter will separate upon refrigerating.  Simply warm it up in the microwave before serving.

Serve this over chocolate waffles and/or some homemade vanilla ice cream!

Looking for other ice cream toppings?  Check out this recipe for Super Simple Hot Fudge Sauce.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Maddie's 10th and Grant's 2nd Birthday Party

We were excited to be done with harvest and able to celebrate Maddie's tenth and Grant's second birthday on July sixth (Maddie's actual birthday!)

I say this every year, but I can't believe how quickly time has flown and how much these two have grown!  With Maddie hitting double digits, I am starting to realize anew how important it is to enjoy every moment.

Maddie is into horses, so I wanted to make her a horse-themed cake.  I really like cupcakes because they are easy to serve.  For instructions on how to make this cake, see this post.

Grant loves Elmo (or "Mo-Mo," as he calls him), and I knew if would be easy to make Elmo cupcakes.  I simply used black decorator gel to make the mouths, then piped red stars on with a #16 Wilton tip to make the fur.  The nose is an orange pretzel M & M, and the eyes are candy eyes bought at Walmart .

One note:  I made these ahead of time and froze them.  When they thawed, the black on the eyes bled a little bit.  I used some black decorator gel over the top to cover up the blurred edges.  In the future I would add the eyes later to prevent this problem.

Anna helped Grant blow out his candle.

It took a little bit for Grant to get the hang of opening presents, but his cousin Abby was ready and willing to help!  We gave him his quilt, which I had finally finished the binding on (post to come later hopefully!).  He also received a large Tonka dump truck, wooden alphabet blocks, a Duplo lego zoo set, PJ's, and a wooden stacking puzzle.  He also received some birthday money which we will soon put to good use--I am wanting to put together some bins for him to use to stay occupied during school time!

Maddie received a Samurai sword, art supplies, a play horse stable set, the Jungle Book movie, and birthday money as well!  (She wants to use the money to buy a Samurai sword for Evan because she thinks he would like one, too!)

I couldn't get Grant to look up because he was too busy playing with his new favorite toy--a combine with Donald Duck to drive it!  Happy birthday, my dear boy!  You bring such light and life into this world.  I love your smile and the way you grab my hand to lead me outside when you want to go play.  I am excited to see you grow and change over the next year.   I love you so much!

Love,  Mom

Look at that smile!  Maddie, your heart for God and for others makes me so proud to be your Mom.  I enjoy seeing you work on projects and looking for ways to serve others.  You have a gift for seeing what others need or would like.  You are so generous and kind.  I look forward to seeing what this next year will bring for you.  I love you dearly!  Happy Birthday!

Love,  Mom
Saturday, July 12, 2014

Horse Cupcake Cake

My daughter Maddie just turned 10, and she really likes horses.  So, when I saw a picture of a cake like this on Pinterest, I knew that I wanted to make one for her birthday party.  I couldn't find any tutorials online for how much frosting to make, etc., so I thought I would post how I did it.

It was a pretty easy cake.  Maddie and I baked the cupcakes and had it frosted in an afternoon!

You will need:

26 cupcakes (see my recipe below or use your favorite!)
2 recipes this chocolate frosting
1 recipe this buttercream frosting (you will have extra left over)
Cake board (I use a piece of cardboard covered with aluminum foil)
Wilton 1 M cupcake frosting tip
Frosting bags (Use disposable--you will thank me later at clean up time!)
Wilton size 3 tip or larger

What to do:

1.  Bake your cupcakes.  I used this recipe from pinterest for modifying a white cake mix.  I used a Funfetti cake mix.

To a white cake mix add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 1/3 cup water, 2 tablespoons canola oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 4 large egg whites and 1 cup sour cream.  Bake at 325 degrees approximately 18 minutes.

This made a really moist, dense cake.  I really liked it!

I used bandana-pattern cupcake liners (found at the General Store in Sharon Springs for you local people!)  This recipe yielded 32 cupcakes for me.

2.  Mix your frosting while the cupcakes are baking and cooling.

3.  Arrange your cupcakes on your cake board like so.  Once you get them to your liking, spread a small amount of frosting on the bottom of each cupcake and place it on your cake board.  This step is optional, but I think it helps to keep the cupcakes from shifting as you decorate.  I tried to squish the cupcakes in as much as possible to minimize the amount of space between them.

4.  Using your 1 M tip and the chocolate frosting, pipe a small amount of frosting in the spaces between your cupcakes that will be frosted brown.

5.  Frost all but your four "tail" cupcakes with chocolate frosting using 1 M tip and swirl technique.  (You could also just use a frosting spatula and smooth frost over all of your cupcakes.)

6.  Using the 1 M tip with white buttercream frosting, frost the tail and add the mane.

7.  Add the white for the eye.  (I was lazy and used my 1 M tip for this.  It would have been better to use a size 3 tip so it would have looked smoother.)

8.  Color about 1/4 cup white frosting black.  Using your size 3 tip, add the pupil of the eye, smile, and hooves.

9.  Your are done!  Celebrate how great your cake looks and how little time it took to make!

Note:  I made this ahead of time and popped it in the freezer.  After about 2 hours, I covered the cake with press and seal.  The evening before the birthday party, I took the cake out of the freezer, removed the press and seal, and placed it in the refrigerator to thaw.  It worked perfectly, and it was nice to have the cake made in advance!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Homemade Dark Chocolate

Since my sister-in-law had a baby in December, she has cut out dairy from her diet because he seems to get fussy when she eats it.  This means--gasp!!--she can't have chocolate.  So, of course, I thought I should help her out by making her some homemade, dairy-free dark chocolate. 

Homemade Dark Chocolate (Adapted from this recipe)

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup coconut butter, softened
1/2 cup cocoa
Approximately 2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Hefty shake cinnamon

Melt your coconut oil over low heat in a small skillet while you assemble the rest of your ingredients.  Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl or pitcher.  I just eyeball the amount of honey.  Taste and add more honey if needed.  Don't freak out at the texture--it is much better when it sets up!  Pour into lined mini muffin cups or use a silicon tray.  I like this one from Amazon.

Place in the refrigerator or freezer and allow to harden.  Pop out of the silicon tray.  Store covered in the refrigerator.  It should last for at least a week, I think--it doesn't last that long in my house!
Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Super Easy Chicken & Broccoli Bake

Since starting on a mostly-paleo diet almost two years ago, I must say that I sometimes miss the ease of popping a casserole in the oven.  This easy, one-dish meal has been a go-to recipe for me.  I make it at least twice a month!  I can have it ready and in the oven quite quickly.  Plus, it's healthy and delicious.  Here's the recipe.

Super Easy Chicken and Broccoli Bake (Slightly adapted from this recipe)

8 four ounce boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1-2 heads broccoli
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper, to taste

Place sweet potatoes in a microwave-safe bowl.  Add a small amount of water, cover, and cook on high for five to six minutes or until slightly tender.  Drain.  Place oil and spices in a large bowl and stir to combine.  Place chicken, sweet potatoes, and broccoli in bowl and stir well to coat.  Place chicken in large baking dish (mine is slightly bigger than a 9 by 13) and pour veggies on top.  Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes or until chicken is done.

Megan's tip:  I wash my broccoli ahead of time, cut it, and place it in a ziploc bag with a couple of paper towels.  Then it is dry and ready to go when I need it.
Monday, July 7, 2014

Swim Teacher Gift, Take 2!

Last year, the kids and I made this to give to their swim teacher after they completed their lessons.  Judging by the number of hits that post got, I thought others might be interested to see what we did for their swim teachers this year.

Having just finished two weeks worth of lessons (three hours each morning since I had three in different levels!) we definitely felt like celebrating with some cupcakes.  Since we were finishing up on July 4th, we baked cupcakes in star-spangled cupcake liners.  (Local people, check out the cupcake liners at the General Store in Sharon Springs--I love them!)

I put the cupcakes into clear plastic cups after frosting them with red frosting.  The kids were more than happy to help with 4th of July-themed sprinkles (The sprinkles were also from the General Store, just FYI.)  I wrapped the cups in cellophane because I was out of clear plastic treat bags.  I will be stocking up on those because the cellophane was much harder to work with than the bags would have been.

I found the labels here at Crazy Little Projects.  Maddie cut out the circles, punched a hole, and tied them on with a ribbon.  They were so proud to be able to give their teachers something they had helped make.  Maddie and Evan each passed their level, and Anna did great in hers.  I was really proud of how hard they had worked.  Lyla is so excited to be old enough to take lessons next year--it should be interesting!

Hope you have a blessed day!

Looking for other thank you gift ideas?

Swim Teacher Gift
Mason Jar Mini Pies
Perfect Pumpkin Bread
Etched Cookie Jar
Almond Poppy Seed Bread
French Vanilla Coffee Mix
Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix
Double Fudge Brownie Mix
Spiral Soup Mix
Perfect Pancake Mix

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

French Toast Bake

This is one of my son's favorite breakfasts!  Since is has a caramel sauce on the bottom, he has always called it "Jelly French Toast."  If I ask him what he would like for breakfast, that is usually his request. 

I have been wanting to post this recipe for quite a while.  However, my pictures have not turned out so great.  So this morning I finally got one that we thought was decent.  

For this recipe, you do need to plan ahead since it needs to refrigerate overnight.  It comes together in a flash, though.  It's also a great way to use up your bread that has gotten a bit too stale for sandwiches.  Sometime I hope to make it using some homemade French bread.  (I'll update when I do!)

French Toast Bake (From Recipes and Memories--Sharon Springs Wesleyan Church Cookbook, recipe submitted by Carmen Selzer)

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
12 slices sandwich bread
6 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

In a saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup.  Cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly (here is a great way to involve the kids--Maddie stirred this for me while Evan and I prepared the rest of the ingredients.)  Spray a 9 by 13 inch pan with nonstick spray and pour syrup on the bottom.  Place 6 slices of bread on top.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and top with the remaining slices of bread.  Combine eggs, milk, vanilla and salt if desired.  Pour egg mixture over bread.  Cover and chill at least 8 hours or overnight.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until lightly browned.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Anna's Doll

I suppose it's no secret that I like making things for my girls.  Anna kept saying that she wanted a doll with hair that she could braid.  So,when I stumbled across this cute pattern for a doll on one of my favorite blogs--Crazy Little Projects, I knew I had to make it for her.  

I made the doll with super-long hair so that she could braid it.  My sister-in-law had some leftover yarn that she gave me to use.  It is really soft with sparkles in it.  I knew Anna would love the sparkles.

I made the doll similarly to what the tutorial said.  However, I did not sew the arms in at the same time that I sewed the front and back pieces of the doll together.  I left openings for the arms and sewed them on by hand.  

I used this paint for the doll's face.  I was nervous about painting on the finished doll face and possibly ruining it.  I used disappearing ink to draw on the doll's face and used a toothpick to apply a small amount at a time.  I think it turned out pretty well.  Next time I may draw on the face first before sewing the doll.  

I also made a few pillowcase dresses for her doll (tutorial coming soon.)  She's played with Tara (named after the queen from the movie Epic) quite a bit and has enjoyed changing her outfits multiple times a day.

And, of course, it's fun to accessorize with flowers!
Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Anna's and Lyla's Birthday Party

In the interest of staying sane, we have started combining some of the kids' birthday parties.  So this year, Anna and Lyla had their party together.  We had a great time celebrating Anna's sixth birthday (coming soon in May) and Lyla's fourth birthday (in April.)  Time has sure flown--I can't believe how big my girls are getting.

Anna requested rainbows, and Lyla wanted Hello Kitty again for themes for their cakes.  I decided to make cupcakes.  That way I could decorate half with each girl's theme.  What better way to have a Rainbow Hello Kitty party?

We made rainbow cupcakes by dividing the cake batter and using food coloring to make the cupcakes themselves in a rainbow pattern.  My son Evan and I spent quite a while one morning scooping small amounts of colored batter into cupcake pans.  We used two boxes of 15.4 ounce white cake mix, and we made 28 cupcakes.  I think we could have made 30 so that the cupcakes would not have been quite as big.

I made a recipe and a half of this buttercream frosting.  It uses cream cheese, and I thought it was delicious!  I saved about a half cup of white for the clouds and then colored the remaining frosting half sky blue and half purple to pipe onto the cupcakes.

After piping on blue frosting, I put a small amount of white frosting on for the clouds and then placed rainbow sour rolled belts into the "clouds."

I used this blog post as inspiration for making the Hello Kitty cupcake toppers.  The kids and I had fun making these with modeling chocolate.  It was kind of like working with play dough--although you had to be careful not to work with it for too long or it will melt.  I used one recipe of white chocolate modeling chocolate (recipe found here.)

I found an image of Hello Kitty on the computer and printed it out on card stock and cut it out for a template.  Then I rolled out the white modeling chocolate on my counter and cut around my card stock.   I colored some purple for the bows and a small amount yellow for the noses.  I cut out the two parts of the bow using card stock templates as well.  We used a flower sprinkle to decorate the bow.  Eyes and whiskers were piped on with black gel frosting.

My oldest daughter, Maddie, has really enjoyed sculpting, so I turned her loose on making this special Hello Kitty for the top of one of the cupcakes.  I placed two toothpicks into the base of the Hello Kitty to help keep it secure before placing it on top of the cupcake.

Lyla enjoyed her special cupcake.

Anna with her rainbow cupcake (with rainbow sherbet, too!)

And a second cupcake!

Some of the gift highlights included Polly Pockets, personalized backpacks, and several Frozen-inspired items.  (I think we have watched that movie at least 20 times--we all love it!)

It was a fun day with my girls!  Thanks to all who were able to celebrate with us!  Anna and Lyla, I love you so dearly and pray that this next year will be filled with many blessings!
Monday, April 14, 2014

Cooking Hamburger in the Crockpot

So, I'm always looking for new ways to use my crock pot to make things easier for me.  Usually, if I want to cook hamburger, I will do it in my microwave.  However, I can only cook 2 pounds at a time.  As our family has grown and the kids get older, I have been trying to make large quantities of my recipes and then freeze half for later.  Also, 2 pounds of meat doesn't go as far as it used to!

As I was getting ready to cook 6 pounds of hamburger for a triple batch of chili, I thought, "I wonder if I can do this in my crock pot?"  I did a search to see if any other bloggers had done it, and it turns out they had!

I have done this several times now for tacos, soups, and more.

Here's what I do:

Place meat in crock pot.  (I usually thaw a bit in the microwave, but it can be partly frozen.)  Add 1/2 cup water and cook on high for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.  I have a chopper that I use to break up my meat.  Every now and again, I go by and chop up the meat a little.  (Note:  I haven't tried this yet, but 6 - 7 hours on low should work as well.)

When the meat is done, drain it in a colander in your sink and rinse well with hot water.

I have cooked six pounds in my large oval crock pot and four pounds in my smaller crock pot (pictured above.)

Looking for a spaghetti sauce to put your meat into?

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce

Want tacos tonight?  Combine your meat homemade taco seasoning and some water and put it back in your crock pot on low.

Basalmic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

I started eating a mostly Paleo diet over a year ago.  Ever since, I have had a salad, a somewhat ridiculously big salad, almost every day.  Since it is difficult to find a store bought salad dressing without added sugar, I started making my own salad dressing.  I have tweaked the recipe from the original found here, so I thought it was time to post it!

Basalmic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing (adapted from Paleo Leap Basalmic Vinaigrette Recipe)

3/4 cup basalmic vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground mustard
salt and pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients in a jar or dressing container (I like this one!) and shake well.  I go through mine fairly quickly, so I store it on my counter top.  If you don't eat salad as often as I do, you may want to store it in the fridge.  The olive oil will solidify in the fridge, so let it come to room temperature before serving.

Variation:  substitute a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar for part of the basalmic vinegar--it adds a nice tang!
Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hello Kitty Hooded Towel

I made this hooded towel for Lyla for Christmas.  I got my inspiration from Crazy Little Project's animal hooded towels.  If you haven't seen this blog, you need to check it out!  I have made the Angry Birds Hooded Towel and the Teddy Bear Towel.  She has tons of other tutorials and fun stuff, so be sure to take a look.

Anyway, here is what you will need to make the Hello Kitty Towel:

1 full-sized white towel (Target makes a quick-dry one that I really like!)
1 white hand towel
Black and yellow felt for eyes and nose
Pink felt or ribbon for the bow
Basic sewing equipment

1.  Cut your hand towel in half width-wise.  Fold the finished edge under about 3-4 inches and sew.  See this tutorial for more details.

2.  Adhere Wonder Under fusible webbing to back side of felt and cut out eyes and nose.  Iron onto towel according to package directions.  For the pattern, I simply did a Google search for Hello Kitty images.  I picked out one I liked, enlarged it, and printed it out on card stock.

3.  Draw on whiskers with disappearing ink marker.

4.  Apply stabilizer (I like this one) to the back of the area where you will be sewing, and applique the eyes and nose using a tight zig-zag stitch.  Use black thread with a tight zig zag stitch to make the whiskers.

5.  To make the ears, cut triangles from the remaining half of your hand towel.  Leaving the bottom open, sew the sides together with a zig zag stitch.  (I find a zig zag holds together on the towel fabric better than a straight stitch.  Clip the upper corner and turn the ear right side out.  I used a capped pen to push the corner out.  Tip:  be careful not to push too hard, or the pen with come through your stitching.  (Please don't ask me how I know this!)

6.  Cut slits where you want the ears to be and, on the underside of the hood, use a zig zag stitch to adhere the ears to the hood.  See this tutorial for more pictures.

Not a great picture, but it shows the ear slits!

7.  Fold the hood, right sides together, and zig zag stitch the unfinished edge together.

8.  Keeping the hood inside out, zig zag sew a line half an inch from the point of the hood. Again, see this tutorial for pictures!

9.  Make a bow from felt or ribbon and hand sew in place.
Finished hood!

10.  Make a pleat in your large towel and sew the hood in place as shown in the Hooded Towel Tutorial.

12.  You could applique a name on the back if you like.  See this tutorial for more details.

11.  Enjoy the shouts of joy when your little one sees her hooded towel!

Lyla, my Hello Kitty Fan, was so excited when she unwrapped this.  In fact, she wore it around for several days.  Thanks so much to Crazy Little Projects for the inspiration!

Looking for other hooded towel projects?

Appliqued Hoodie Towel
Powercat Appliqued Hoodie Towel

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tractor and Grain Cart Cake

For Evan's eighth birthday, he wanted a tractor and grain cart cake.  This is what I came up with.  Though I didn't take pictures as I was making it, I think I can describe the steps for it.

You will need:

1 Funfetti (or your favorite) cake mix, prepared and baked as directed in a 9 by 13 pan
2 batches one bowl chocolate cake.  Fill 9 by 13 pan 2/3 - 3/4 full.  You will have a little bit of batter left over.
2 mini donuts--use chocolate covered if you don't want to cover them with modeling chocolate.
4 large donuts.  I could not find large chocolate-covered donuts, so I ended up baking my own.
Candy corn
3 batches Wilton Buttercream frosting (or 9 cups of your favorite cake-decorating frosting.)
Gel food coloring--leaf green, orange, lemon yellow, and black
1 batch semisweet modeling chocolate, colored black
# 3 and #16 decorating tips
Frosting bags and couplers--make it easy on yourself and use disposable!
8 inch 2 by 4 board
6 inch 2 by 6 board
aluminum foil
Cake board
I found it helpful to look at my son's model tractor and grain cart.

First bake your cakes.  Level the tops (my kids love to eat the scraps) and place in freezer.  I put them on wax paper on a cutting board for a few hours and then place in a 2 gallon ziploc bag.  I like to make my cakes a couple of days before.  Then I carve them and put them in the freezer the day before I decorate.  I make the frosting the day before as well.  Also place donuts in freezer if you will be covering them with modeling chocolate.

Here are the approximate amounts of frosting I made.  I hate to run out of frosting in the middle of decorating, so I made plenty!

5 cups leaf green
3/4 cup gray
1/2 cup black
1/4 cup yellow
1/4 cup orange
Remaining frosting white--I ended up having to use some green frosting in between some of the cake layers because I ran out of white; I would make about 4 cups green next time, and then I would have had enough white.

I used the funfetti cake for the tractor.  I trimmed about a half inch around the perimeter of the cake and then cut it into thirds.  Wrap the 8 inch 2 by 4 in foil, and place one third of the cake on top.  Saving 1/4 cup white frosting, add a bit of milk or corn syrup to the white frosting to make it more easily spreadable.  Spread some white frosting over the top of the cake and top with another third.  Cut the remaining third of the cake in half and stack on top of the cake layers to make the cab.  The tutorial here shows this process more clearly.  I put my tractor on top of a board to make it look like the wheels are holding it up.  I put a small scrap of cake on the front of my tractor to represent the "thing" that is there--I will have to ask my husband what it is called!  I recommend putting a few bamboo skewers through the cab to help stabilize the cake.  I did not do this--more on that later!

At this point, I put the tractor cake back into the freezer until the next day.

Next, cut the two chocolate cakes in half width-wise.  Stack three of them together with frosting in between, and plan what you are going to do with the remaining half cake!

I placed the 6 inch 2 by 6 in the middle of the cake and scored around it with a knife to give myself a guide.  Then I carved the angles of the grain cart (I found it easier to do this with the cake upside down).  Once I had a good start, I put the board in the middle and flipped the cake right-side up to finish carving.  I also carved out some cake from the top for the candy corn "grain" to go in.  In order to do this, place some masking tape around a serrated knife 1 inch from the tip.  Using the tape as a guide, cut a rectangle about 1 inch from the side and one inch deep.  Then cut lines every half inch in between your rectangle going both ways--you will have a bunch of one inch squares.  Then scope the cake out with a spoon or a spatula.  It doesn't have to be perfect; just enough to make room for the candy corn.  Be careful around the outside edge, though, because it can get fragile.

Notice that I did run out of white frosting and had to use a bit of green in between my layers.  No biggie!  Then I put the grain cart in the freezer and spent some time cleaning up my super messy counter!  My little Lyla was more than happy to help eat the scraps from the carving!

Okay, now it's time to decorate.  Make sure to take your frosting out of the fridge at least an hour before you plan to frost so that it has time to soften.

Using a #3 tip, I put the black details on the cake first.  The grill and other black areas on the tractor cab are filled in with the #3 tip. I used my finger dipped in cornstarch to smooth it.

Next I piped the yellow stripe on the side of the tractor.  Then I put an orange caution triangle on the back, smoothing it with my finger and cornstarch.

Then I put the windows in using a #16 star tip with gray icing.  I covered the rest of the tractor with green stars.  Lastly, I placed a yellow detail on the top of the cab and the John Deere logo on the grill.  I made the exhaust pipe out of modeling chocolate on a lollipop stick.  See this tutorial for more detail.

The grain cart was similar, with black, white, and orange detail on first.  Then I carved a notch for the auger to go in. I used a marker wrapped in Press N' Seal to make the auger.  I used modeling chocolate to put the spout on the end and then taped toothpicks to the other end of the marker that would go into the cake for extra support.  Then I pushed the end with the toothpicks into the cake.  I covered the marker in green using a #3 tip and cornstarch to smooth.  Then I piped a lot, and I mean a lot, of green stars on the grain cart.  I put white ovals with black "J&M" logos on the front and back of the grain cart and on the auger.  I also made a ladder using modeling chocolate and bamboo skewers.  I adhered this to the cake with frosting.

Then I covered a cake board with foil and place the tractor and grain cart on it.  I used a straw to connect the two and put green frosting over it.

I covered the donuts for the wheels with modeling chocolate.  I intended to carve treads in them, but it didn't work out.  For the tractor wheels, I used yellow and black frosting in the middle and used frosting to adhere them to the board on the bottom of the cake.  I used white and black frosting for the grain cart wheels.  I piped "Happy Birthday Evan" on the cake board.  I prefer to put my letters on the cake board instead of the cake.  Then when I mess up, as I usually do, I simply wipe of the letters and try again!

Then, as you may have noticed, the cab of my tractor started to slide slowly backwards!  I never have been that great at getting my cakes level!  So, the entire cake went into the freezer until a couple of hours before the party the next day.  It ended up working out okay.  I would recommend a few bamboo skewers placed through the cab to help secure it if you plan to make this sometime.

I filled the grain cart with candy corn just before our guests began to arrive.

At any rate, I had a lot of fun making this cake.  I hope this helps you if your son or daughter is requesting a similar cake.  If something is unclear or you have any questions, please leave me a comment!

For more cake decorating ideas and tips, see these posts:

My Tips on Cake Decorating
Maddie's 9th and Grant's 1st Birthday Party
Anna's 5th Birthday

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