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

Friday, April 11, 2014

Evan's 8th Birthday

I think I say something like this every time one of my kids has a birthday, but I can't believe my Evan is eight already!  This little guy with a tender heart has grown so much (both physically and spiritually) in the last year, and I am so blessed to be his mom.

We celebrated Evan's birthday with family on March 23rd.  It seems like we start brainstorming ideas for birthday cakes right after Christmas, and Evan had decided he wanted a tractor and grain cart for his cake.  (He has a lot of confidence in my cake decorating abilities!)  I looked online and found inspiration for the tractor and decided carve a grain cart to go with it.

I didn't take pictures as I was decorating the cake, but I hope to get another post with some details on the cake soon!  Let's just say that this was my first experience with modeling chocolate, and I really had fun with it!

Happy birthday, sweet boy!  May the next year be filled with blessings!  Love, Mom

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