Lazy Day Casserole

This week has just been plain crazy. The hubs got sick, was in and out of the ER for two days, and is now scheduled for a procedure tomorrow that will leave him incapacitated the rest of the week. In between all the traveling, arranging emergency babysitters, making appointments, filling prescriptions (you get the idea) I’ve still had work to do, and a household to run and feed.

While it does take some time to cook, this wonderful, one-dish recipe is perfect for nights like I’ve had this week. This hearty meal filled the sons up and, without a lot of prep or real work involved on my part, I was able to get laundry done, and everything in order that I had neglected earlier in the day while it cooked.

I don’t think before this week, I had ever really taken time to appreciate the beauty of throwing all of these ingredients into a pan, popping it in the oven, and basically having time to do whatever else I needed to get done, be it chores, read a book, return phone calls. Whatever. And have a healthy, piping hot dinner ready in a little over an hour later. It’s impossible to be in two places at once, and after the start to this week, I just wasn’t capable of any ‘exceeds expectations’ multi-tasking.

While I wasn’t able to have a ‘lazy day’ this week, this recipe was the perfect solution for my dinner-time dilemma. And on those days where I am just being lazy (Shhh! Don’t tell the hubs. He thinks I slave away perfecting gourmet meals all day, everyday) this meal gets my ‘meat & potato’ loving mens’ mouths watering!

So whether you’re trying to throw something together that doesn’t require constant vigilance and hours of actual preparation, or if you’re just trying to enjoy an evening without any extra ‘work’ for Mom, this recipe will make your day.

Lazy Day Casserole

4 Sons 'R' Us: Lazy Day Casserole

Recipe adapted from Kayotic Kitchen

  • 5 -6 Italian Sausages
  • 1 lb potatoes, washed, peeled, and cubed
  • 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and roughly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced (optional)
  •  1 large onion, cut into wedges
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Directions

  1. Put all the prepared vegetables into a large roasting pan, or a 9×13 baking dish.
  2. In a bowl combine the garlic, oil, herbs, broth, and vinegar.
  3. Pour the mixture evenly over the vegetables and season with salt and black pepper.
  4. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 450 degrees for 45 minutes.
  5. Lightly brown the sausages and cut them in half.
  6. After 45 minutes add the sausages to the dish and spoon some of the juices back over the vegetables and the sausage.
  7. Bake, uncovered, for an additional 25 minutes, flipping the sausages after 15 minutes and placing back in the oven for the final 10 minutes. 

4 Sons 'R' Us: Lazy Day Casserole

 

Oh, and please excuse my dirty burners! I’ve been putting their much needed scouring on the back-burner, pun intended. Now that you’re aware of their sad state, I will make sure I move them up on the to-do list!

White Pizza Grilled Cheese

I know I’ve mentioned my families’ love, er obsession, with cheese before. (By the way, is there a support group for that? ‘CA’. Cheese-aholics Anonymous, or something along those lines?)

I’ve also touched on our love of grilled cheese, a holdover from childhood on my part. Let me introduce you to this gem. White Pizza Grilled Cheese!

Cheese lovers, UNITE (behind this recipe)! This is the recipe for you. Don’t hesitate, don’t think, and don’t over-analyze this delicacy.

Find time. Make this. Your family, and especially your cheese-prone taste buds, will thank you profusely.

White Pizza Grilled Cheese

4 Sons 'R' Us: White Pizza Grilled Cheese

  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • fresh, ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 8 oz mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 8 slices white (or wheat) bread
  • butter, softened

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, olive oil, garlic, basil, oregano, salt, and black pepper. Refrigerate for at least an hour (or up to 24 hours) to allow the flavors to develop.
  2. Lay down the bread slices and, using a butter knife, spread the ricotta mixture evenly on each piece. The ricotta mixture should coat the insides of both pieces of bread.
  3. Lay the mozzarella slices evenly on every other piece of bread (one side of each sandwich). Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and close the sandwiches by place both cheesy insides together.
  4. Butter both sides of the ‘outside’ of the sandwich generously.
  5. In a large frying pan over medium-low heat, cook the sandwiches, flipping often, until they’re golden-brown on the outside and the cheese is melted inside, about 10 minutes.
  6. Serve.

DIY Pinwheel Headbands

While watching my friend’s daughters one day, I decided we needed something crafty. It was my attempt to keep them from going stir crazy, in between our daily 30 minute reading time and a trip to the pool, while we waited for the littlest son to wake up from his afternoon nap. I had recently seen this idea, and knew I had most of the supplies on hand, and that it would take up just the amount of time I needed to fill. The actual headbands I found at the craft store in the jewelry making section. These simple headbands were an immediate hit with the girls. Even my boys wanted to get involved in making them and were surprised, and even impressed, at how something so simple could be turned into something so ‘professional’ looking. Next time you’re feeling ‘crafty’, create your own easy and trendy pinwheel headband. They’re so simple, you can even make a spare to share, or several, quickly.

DIY Pinwheel Headbands

4 Sons 'R' Us: DIY Pinwheel Headbands

  • 2 different colors of felt, preferably coordinating and 1 sheet of each
  • 3 buttons
  • headband
  • scissors
  • ruler
  • hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Cut out 2.5 x 2.5-inch squares of felt, 2 squares for each pinwheel.
  2. Starting at each corner, cut a slit toward the center of the square, measuring approximately 1.5-inches long. This should leave at least a half inch of the center of the square uncut.
  3. Now there are 4 “triangles” within each square.
  4. Place two of the coordinating squares together, one a top the other. Secure with a dot of glue in between each.
  5. Begin by folding over one corner of a triangle toward the center of the square. Place a small dot of hot glue in the center of the square to hold down the edge of the triangle. Continue around, gluing down every-other triangle corner to form a pinwheel shape. Continue for the second layer.

  6. Next, glue a button over the center of the pinwheel where all the triangle corners come together. Finally, put a little dab of glue on the headband and place the pinwheels!

Son # 2 ‘pouting’ that he didn’t get a headband too! I couldn’t help but laugh, I love my little comedians.

4 Sons 'R' Us

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

Sometimes, I think my kids must find me a real drag. I mean, they love carbohydrates sooooo much. Why should they be forced to suffer through a salad? If they were meant to eat leaves, they would have been born cows… right? No.

I’m kidding. Just a little. Maybe. Really they don’t complain. Much.

However, this mean, green Mama came equipped with a wonderful little sensor. I can feel the resistance building. When I feel an attack of the ‘anti-leaf’ campaign approaching, I immediately resort to subterfuge. I find a way to get those greens in. I get behind their defenses and hit them where it hurts. Right in the taste buds. This recipe is a beautiful pairing of pasta and salad that they can’t resist. The secret ingredient? Bacon! They see the greens, they know they’re good for them. They know they should at least try to resist, but their surrender is inevitable. This dish is just too tasty. Support your own troops with this delicious pasta salad. Pack a punch that they won’t soon forget. Who said your greens had to taste ‘green’ anyway?!

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

4 Sons 'R' Us: Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

  •  1 cup dry pasta; cooked according to package directions
  • 8 pieces bacon; cooked crisp and crumbled
  • 1 tbsp bacon grease*
  • 1 cup cooked chicken, diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan
  • 1/2 head of lettuce (or whole if small), chopped**
  • 1 cup croutons (optional)
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup casesar dressing (or more to taste)

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. Cook bacon, reserve 1-2 tbsp of the drippings/grease.
  3. Transfer cooled pasta to a bowl and toss with the bacon drippings* until evenly combined.
  4. Add in all other ingredients and stir thoroughly until evenly combined.
  5. Add in more dressing if necessary, to taste, and again toss everything to evenly coat.
  6. Serve immediately.**

*Don’t skip the bacon drippnigs! I know it might be tempting, but the flavor just isn’t nearly as robust without it. Also, it helps prevent the pasta from sticking together if you want to let it chill or transport.

**If not serving immediately, DO NOT add in the lettuce until you are ready to serve. If you add in the lettuce and don’t serve immediately the lettuce will be wilted and soggy.

Caprese Grilled Cheese

Cheese. Cheeeeeeeese. Glorious cheese. Let’s take a moment to reflect on that. A moment of silence for cheese.

Our family loves cheese. In all it’s types, colors, flavors. In all it’s cheesy glory. We might even have a mild case of cheese addiction. Ok, we do, and ‘mild’ is probably an understatement. But, can there really be such a thing as too much cheese? Definitely not.

That being said, we all love a good, crisp, slightly crunchy grilled cheese with an ooey, gooey melty center. You know that part where you cut it in two, or in quarters, and pull out strings of cheese that could stretch forever when you try to take that first bite? Yeah, that’s my favorite part. My kids’, too.

As I’ve grown, you know into a ‘responsible adult’, there are some things from my childhood I’ve never been able to let go of. Despite all the changes of adulthood & parenthood, my love for a grilled cheese has not abated or been diminished. Luckily for me, my kids have inherited that same affinity. However, in an effort to appear grown up when I devour one, I’ve tried very hard to create and make ‘grown up’ grilled cheese sandwiches. I couldn’t leave them behind, but I did have to make sure they, at least some of the time, appeared to evolve with me.

Caprese Grilled Cheese is one of my favorite ‘grown-up’ versions to date. Everything I love about the original, but heartier. The butter, parmesan crust creates the perfect ‘crunch’ when bitten into. This sandwich offers everything a grilled cheese purist would expect, but has the power to convert all new fans with it’s fancy, shmancy new style. What’s the fun in being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes too? Here’s the perfect cheesy compromise. Eat like an adult, enjoy it like a kid.

The recipe below is for 2 sandwiches, but it easily doubles, or even triples. So don’t let that hold you back!

Caprese Grilled Cheese

4 Sons 'R' Us: Caprese Grilled Cheese

  • 4 thick slices of french bread
  • 2-3 tomatoes, sliced
  • 6 oz. mozzarella, sliced or shredded
  • 8-10 fresh, large basil leaves
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • balsamic vinegar, optional

Directions

  1. Heat a large skillet to medium heat.
  2. Spread butter on one side of all four slices of bread. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the butter.
  3. Put all four pieces of bread, buttered side down into the skillet.
  4. Lay, or spread, mozzarella on all pieces of bread.
  5. Cover with a lid to keep the heat in and melt the cheese.
  6. Once the cheese is melted, lay the basil and sliced tomatoes on top of the cheese.
  7. If using vinegar, drizzle a tiny bit ( I use 1/2 tbsp) over top of the tomatoes now.
  8. Assemble the sandwiches by putting the tops on.
  9. Enjoy!

4 Sons 'R' Us: Caprese Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Copy-Cat Wendy’s Frosty

I scream. You scream. We all scream for Ice Cream! Well, in this case, for Frostys!

My guys all go absolutely ga-ga for the cold, creamy concoction. Just mention it around them and their eyes glaze over. The excitement is just too much for them to handle. It overrides all higher functioning brain activity. They’re like little ice cream zombies at that point. Instead of watching them aimlessly shuffle around, waiting for their dessert but not knowing what to do, or how to function until they get it, I get them involved in the process.

All ice-cream induced zombie-ism aside, we don’t use an actual ice cream ‘machine’. Instead I prefer using our ice cream ‘ball’. You can find them here. Amazon carries them in a variety of colors and sizes. I use the quart sized one to make enough for our entire family at once.

This is what my boys do for fun on a Friday night. I enjoy it because it gets them working together: laughing, joking, and playing. At the end of their teamwork? A sweet treat to share and enjoy. You’ve gotta love the little things in life.

Speaking of it being a Friday night, did I mention that I’m really not trying to drag all four kids out into a fast food line? Or even a grocery store check out line? Friday is for peace & quiet. For Mommy. I think I’ve earned a little time to relax by Friday night. Making  our own Frostys at home helps buy some extra little moments for me, and the zombies still get dessert. It’s a win-win, right?!

Copy-Cat Wendy’s Frosty

4 Sons 'R' Us: Copy-Cat Wendy's Frosty

  • 1/2 gallon chocolate milk
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tub of cool whip, 8 oz

Directions

  1. In a blender combine all ingredients.
  2. Pour into ice cream maker, and follow the machine’s instructions.
  3. Enjoy!

The 5 Minute, No Sew, Bottom Bunk-Bed Fort

I often hear the saying ‘Boys And Their Toys’, but after having four of my own, I feel like it should really be ‘Boys And Their Forts’. It seems boys, or at least all four of mine, are biologically programmed to build forts. Almost like clock work, their first fort seemed to signify their ‘christening’ into Toddler-dom. After that, the building never stopped. Without fail, anytime I step foot into one of their bedrooms I find sheets strung up, taped up, tacked up. Up! Bins have been used as room dividers, with blankets for doors, and pillows inside serving as child-sized divans for lounging and comfort.

While I love the little kingdoms they create for themselves in their world of blankets and imagination, sometimes we just don’t have time for all the construction, and eventual clean-up, that that kind of creativity requires. When that happens, I go from being the beautiful ‘Mom Princess’, as the littlest son has dubbed me, to the mean old ogre storming the gates. I hate ruining harmless fun. Then I really feel like a giant grouchy, green ogre.

Stumbling upon Laura’s idea for an easy, DIY Bunk Bed Fort was a Godsend. It’s fast, easy, and there’s not a single thing to cut or sew! You can literally throw it up in 5 minutes. There’s not even a mess to clean up afterwards, and it’s always ready and waiting to play. Perfect for any ‘Mom Princess’ or ‘Queen of the Castle’, whether you’re raising young lords or little ladies, who wants to keep letting the good times roll, even when you’re running out of time.

The 5 Minute, No Sew, Bottom Bunk-Bed Fort

4 Sons 'R' Us: The 5 Minute No Sew Bottom Bunk Bed Fort

  • flat sheet, twin sized
  • 12-14 curtain rings with clips
  • tension rod

Directions

  1. Slide your curtain rings onto the tension rod.
  2. Mount the tension rod to the bunk bed.
  3. Fold your twin-sized, flat sheet in half, lengthwise.
  4. Attach the clips on the fold, spacing them as evenly as possible so the whole sheet is evenly held up.
  5. You’re ready for playtime!

Look how it works.  The curtain can be all tucked away when not in use, but just slide it closed for your very own Bottom Bunk-Bed Fort. The sheet easily un-clips for washing, and the tension rod is equally easy to remove whenever desired.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Bottom Bunk Bed Fort

Delicious Dill Dip

Over the years, I’ve come to find that, in the summer, there’s nothing better for a light lunch or snack than some garden-fresh veggies. This Delicious Dill Dip is the perfect refreshing compliment for them. Even better, I like the sneaky little way it has of getting my kids to eat every last nutritious bite of good-for-them ‘green-stuff.’ I’m not sure who is more surprised, myself or my boys, when we discover a veggie plate can be emptied, and left without even a stray crumb of broccoli, quite that quickly. Never ceases to amaze us. However, even if you’re on the fence about how tasty raw, fresh veggies actually might be, could be… they do make the perfect edible spoon to get dip from bowl to mouth. Technically, you don’t even have to eat the veggies, but it might be more ‘socially acceptable’ than just digging into said dip with a spoon. And it’s that good. You’ll consider it. I’ve just got to make sure I keep that tid-bit under-wraps. You know, in the interest of trying to teach good-manners, and all those other sorts of life-lessons Moms must met out.

Delicious Dill Dip

4 Sons 'R' Us: Delicious Dill Dip

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp dried dill weed
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well.
  2. Chill for at least one hour before serving.
  3. Serve with fresh veggies, slices of crusty bread, crackers, or pretzels.