Saturday, September 28, 2013

Quick Tip: Homemade Bread Crumbs

Lately I've been making K "All My Heart Sandwiches" or "Superstar Sandwiches" like this:

I cut the bread slices with a heart or a star cookie cutter before adding the sandwich toppings for a more fun lunch. However, that leaves quite a bit of unused bread so I started collecting the crusts in a bag like this:

When the bag gets full I arrange the bread remnants on a cookie sheet like this:

and bake them in a 300 degree oven for 20 minutes. Then I either crumble the dried bread with my hands or use a rolling pin or a food processor and end up with a delicious bag of homemade bread crumbs like this:

Quick, simple and homemade - the perfect way to use leftover crusts :)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Recipe: Easy Eggplant Parmesan

On Tuesdays in our town is the local Farmers Market. I love walking down there and admiring the fresh produce. It's a small town so it's a small Farmers Market but I always manage to walk away with something. This particular Tuesday it was two beautiful looking eggplants. Aren't eggplants just the most gorgeous purple color? I love them. I wasn't sure what I was going to make with them but I bought them anyway and I'm so glad I did.

Easy Eggplant Parmesan
(I apologize that I don't have a tantalizing photo of the dish but I didn't think to take one before we devoured it. As soon as we make it again I'll take a picture and amend this post.)

Makes 6 servings

- 2 eggplants (peeled and cut into discs)
- sea salt
- 2 egg whites, 1 whole egg, beaten
- bread crumbs (Italian seasoned or add dried basil, oregano and parsley to plain breadcrumbs) *I added about 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese to my bread crumbs as well.
- olive oil
- grated parmesan cheese
- shredded mozzarella (8 oz bag if you're being good, 16 oz if you like cheese; or better yet, shred your own and use as little or as much as you want)
- 1 jar spaghetti sauce (or make fresh if you prefer). We use Mids brand and it's really, really good.
- fresh basil (or dried but fresh tastes better)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees
2. Lay the eggplant slices on a baking sheet and sprinkle them with sea salt. Let them sit for 30 minutes or until you see moisture beading on the top.
3. Rinse the slices and pat them dry.
4. Coat your baking sheet in olive oil.
5. Dip the slices in egg, then the bread crumbs. Place them in a single layer on the baking sheet and cook for 7 minutes per side.
6. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees.
7. In a 9"x13" baking dish spread spaghetti sauce to cover the bottom. Place a layer of eggplant slices in the sauce and then sprinkle with Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Repeat with the remaining slices, ending with the cheese. If you're using dried basil, sprinkle that on now. If you're using fresh, add it after it's been cooked.
8. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

This was SO good. It was the first time I've ever cooked or eaten eggplant and I was delighted with the results. Not only did it taste amazing but it was really easy to make. Plus, seeing as it's baked and not fried, I'm guessing it's fairly healthy. Well, I guess that depends on how much cheese you use but I think it would still be delicious even if you went easy on the cheese. Good luck and happy cooking!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

K's 5th Birthday Party - part 2: Fun and games

Hi and welcome back! Last time I blogged I was showing you pictures from K's 5th birthday party. As you may recall it was a Sugar Rush theme from the Disney movie, Wreck-it Ralph. Tonight I have the second half of the post highlighting all of the fun we had!

Earlier in the summer K was invited to a 5th birthday party for a girl from her preschool and they had rented one of those inflatable bounce house contraptions. The girls loved it and spent the majority of the party in there. After seeing how much fun they had I started doing some research on the cost for renting one for K's party. I came to the conclusion that purchasing one would be a much better deal in the long run. I turned to Amazon to check out reviews and we ended up with this one. It was SO worth the money!

Not only did the kids have an absolute blast in there, I think the adults ended up having more fun. My brother (affectionately known as "Uncle Goofball" for good reason) got in that thing with his daughter C and K from the first moment they got here.

I hadn't gone in there yet because I was afraid I was too heavy for it but when this thing advertised itself as 'commercial grade', they weren't kidding. At one point we had 3 adults and 2 kids in there and it didn't show any sign of losing air or stressed seams. And let me tell you, that is one serious leg workout. My legs were shaking when I got out of it.

The other fun event at the party was the "Bake Your Own Race Kart" station, just like in the movie.

Here are the instructions that I had hanging above the table:

We had a large assortment of confectionery goodies set up for it, plus you could use any other food items provided in the room. My Mom even used shredded cheddar cheese as hair for her driver.

I was VERY impressed with how well all of the different karts turned out. The kids did a fantastic job and even some of the adults got in on it and made truly original karts. Plus, they were fun to eat!

It's not too often that we can get the kids to sit still long enough for pictures so I was very shocked to get this fantastic picture of K and her cousin C opening gifts. I hadn't realized how similar their hair and eye colors are, especially since both my brother and I have very dark hair and green eyes.

K truly had a great birthday and it showed in her every smile. Even though this wasn't theme I was expecting to do for her party this year, I'm so glad I listened to her. She's already been telling me all of the different parties she wants for when she turns 6 and 7 and ...  That's my girl!

(In case you missed the first part of the party blog which covered the invitation, decorations, and food, you can find that here.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

K's 5th Birthday Party - part 1: Invitation, food, decorations

This year our sweet little girl turned 5 and requested a Sugar Rush themed birthday party (from Disney's 'Wreck-It Ralph' movie). For a split second I was disappointed because I had already planned on having a carnival party for her but I recovered quickly knowing that it's her birthday and if this is what she wants then that's what she'll get. I mean, you only turn 5 once and it's a big deal - she's a whole hand now! Honestly, I should have realized that at 5 years old she's going to have her own opinions so perhaps I'll stop planning what *I* want the theme to be and let her have a say in the matter.

For this party I decided to change the venue. It was still at my parents house but I moved the whole party down into the finished, walk-out basement. Since we have that area set up as the playroom already, I figured this would be the perfect place to have a family party. Plus, we bought an inflatable bounce house that was in the backyard and this way the kids (and adults) would have easy access to it. There's a refrigerator and sink down there along with a bathroom and with it being the coolest place in the house (temperature-wise) it made perfect sense during the hottest week of the summer. We only had to make some minor adjustments to the layout of the room and we brought in our futon for additional seating but A and I are loving the new arrangement and hope to keep it that way until we're told otherwise.

I actually went really low-key on this party. After I went completely overboard with the Alice in Wonderland decorations last year, I kept the decorations for this party incredibly minimal and went fairly simple on the food. The goodie bag was the most time consuming part but thankfully my aunt and cousin came early and she and A helped me finish the last of the treats in there.

The invitation this year isn't my favorite. I feel like it's just too busy but K loved it and that's all that really matters. My favorite is still the Toy Story one for her third birthday and I tend to compare all other invitations to that one.

The cake is also incredibly busy. I came up with the idea to make it into the finish line of the race track and thought "It would be so cool to use her toy cars on it crossing the finish line." I didn't realize, however, that they would be so big on a 9" x 13" cake. And I knew K wouldn't want me to leave any of them out. As it was, I had to eliminate one car but at least I got all 4 of her toy racers on it. K loved it and her only request was to put some Skittles on it so I added a few near the candles but they weren't on it yet when I took this picture.

One of my favorite things to look at and eat were the "You're My Hero" cookies we made based on the movie. They turned out looking fantastic and tasted awesome but my gosh, the recipe I used was for drop cookies instead of rolled and I sifted my flour when maybe I shouldn't have... Needless to say it was the stickiest, most pain in the butt dough I have ever tried to work with. I was so close to just scraping the whole homemade part and buying a tube of sugar cookie dough from the store. Thank goodness A and my mom helped because they actually ended up tasting amazing. Here's a side-by-side comparison of ours versus Vanellope's medal from the movie.

Since the theme of the party was about a video game where everything is made out of candy, we had a big candy bar set up in two stations on the table. Below is the area that had the cake and cookies. The candy, cake and cookie stands were all made from candlestick holders and bowls and platters I found at Goodwill. I used clear epoxy to glue them together and they held up wonderfully. I think they were really cute all grouped together and the most expensive one was $2.99 so definitely a good project for the money. You can also see the goodie bags in this picture. A bit later on is a detail photo of what went inside.

My awesome cousin made these beautiful poofs out of paper lanterns and hundreds and hundreds (maybe thousands?) of coffee filters. I still have them hanging in the basement because they're so pretty and I don't want to give them back just yet ;)  They look so frilly and lacey and just, girly. I love them!
For food I ordered 6 extra large pizzas and made a salad bar (to counter act the candy bar) and we had a few different types of chips and dips out around the room for pre-party noshing. Like I said, I went very low-key this time. You can see on the left side of this picture the other part of the candy bar but I'll explain it in further detail tomorrow.

The only other decorations were three tissue paper poms (two were recycled from last years birthday party), the polka dot Happy Birthday banner from my nieces party back in April, and the polka dot pinwheels from her party were out in the yard. Since there isn't a ton of merchandise for The Sugar Rush Racers specifically it was nice to be able to reuse fun, bright colored decorations from previous parties and not buy new stuff.

The goodie bags were one of the few places where I was able to do something specifically based on the Sugar Rush Racers. is a division of Disney so they have a ton of Disney movie related crafts, recipes, games, etc. From their site I made the peppermint barrettes, the Felix / Ralph activity books (Felix is on one side and Ralph is on the flip side), and the Sugar Rush charm bracelet. The stickers came from the Dollar store, the Sugar Rush rings were a purchase from Amazon and the crayons came from Target. The charm bracelets are so neat because they were made using inkjet printable Shrinky Dink paper, and if you don't know what that is, it prints just like normal paper and then you cut out the shapes, lay them on a parchment covered cookie sheet and bake them in your oven for a few minutes until then come out shrunk about half the size and hard like plastic. Very cool! The barrettes are made out of polymer clay and then baked in the oven and covered with a coat of Mod Podge. I made a set of these and the bracelet for each girl (minus E) but I'm still hesitant to let K wear hers. While E seems to be out of the 'putting everything in her mouth' stage already, I'm more concerned with her pulling on the charms and either breaking one of them or the chain, and if one of the clay peppermints came off, they actually do look real enough that I worry she would try and eat it. Maybe she can wear them to school and then take them off when she gets home... at least until E is just a bit older or we become a little less paranoid.

And there you have it. Even though some of the decorations and treat bag items are DIY type of crafts I don't have any tutorials because they are either easy enough to figure out on your own (like the candy dishes) or you can find online (like the charm bracelets.) If you do have any questions though, please don't hesitate to ask me. Tomorrow I'll cover the fun candy game, opening gifts and the bounce house (us cousins had way too much fun in there) and that should wrap it up. Thanks for checking it out!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Make your own Laundry Soap

Quite some time ago I ran across this blog post about making my own laundry soap and I've never looked back since! K has very sensitive skin and over the years we've taken her to the doctor for "contact dermatitis" which is basically a rash caused by something she came in contact with. And, while it never seemed like it was the detergent we were using was causing it, I couldn't rule it out 100%. Now I have to be honest here, this also came about for two other reasons. 1. I love saving money and I've often heard that buying detergent is the the equivalent of the most expensive bottle of water since so much of it is just that, water. But reason number 2 is that I'm a bit of a hippie (or green living fan, if you will). I like knowing that I'm using things that are at their purest and simplest form and that there aren't any crazy chemicals in our stuff if I can avoid it. Plus it's super simple to make and only takes three ingredients.

Borax, bar soap, and washing soda (NOT baking soda)
We've only used Ivory bar soap so far because it's what we had lying around the house but I recently realized that it's made by P&G so I purchased some Dial Basics HypoAllergenic so I'll be using that in our next few loads so hopefully it works out well. Other people have used Fels-Naptha, Zote or Dove bars so just find what you like or have lying around and use that.
The recipe for this soap is very easy to remember - one cup Borax, one cup Washing Soda, one grated bar of soap. You can easily double or even triple the amounts but just keep it a one to one to one ratio.

We use a microplane to grate our soap because it gives you the finest pieces to more uniformly blend with the other ingredients. This last batch I made I tried to take a short cut by grinding the soap in the food processor and I'm guessing that because the Ivory is such a soft soap that's the reason it ended up basically remelting back into a solid at the bottom of the processor. Maybe if we used a harder soap like Fels-Naptha it would have been fine but I guess the old expression about if it ain't broke, don't fix it, applies here. (Update: I just made a batch with the Dial Basics and was able to grind it in the food processor just fine.) Mix your three ingredients and you're done.

The great thing about making your own laundry soap is you only need to use a tablespoon of it per normal size load so it lasts a long time. Plus, each batch does approximately 40+ loads so that comes out to about $.05 a load (way cheaper than store-bought soap).

The only thing I miss with using this laundry soap over a kind I buy in the store is the smell. Your clothes will come out just as clean as the name brand, store bought stuff but there is no scent, just the smell of, well, clean clothes I guess. Also, we use dryer balls instead of dryer sheets so there's no chance of a lingering fake fresh scent on our clothes. And actually, now that I'm used to it, it seems so foreign to me now to have clothes that I washed on our vacation still smelling of Tide (not that I don't love and miss that scent every now and then.)