{Crockpot} Perfect Baked Potatoes

It may come as a surprise in 2013 when everyone has gadgets and gizmos, whose-its and what’s-its galore for everything, but we don’t use, own, and probably couldn’t even operate a microwave. While I love a hearty baked potato, I’ve never had good luck making them in the oven. They’re either overdone, or more often than not, underdone and then I’m left checking them every 10 minutes until they’re cooked through. Meanwhile, with burns on my fingers and a growling stomach, everyone else has already finished eating every other scrap of their dinner. Hopefully, by this time the potatoes would finally be done. When a friend mentioned making them in the crockpot, I believe I said, ‘No Way!’

Yes, way! Every single time, my baked potatoes come out perfect. Hence, the name. There’s no longer any guess work involved and I can easily plan ahead, get them going, and set to be finished and edible when I’m ready to serve dinner. Added bonus: 1. I save money since I no longer need to heat up the oven. The general rule of thumb is that 8 hours in the crockpot only uses half the heat of 1 hour in the oven. 2. This same technique works great for sweet potatoes too! Loaded sweet potatoes have now become a new fall favorite of mine.

{Crockpot} Perfect Baked Potatoes

4 Sons 'R' Us: {Crockpot} Perfect Baked Potatoes

  • russet, yukon gold, or sweet potatoes (you don’t want to fill your crock pot more than 3/4 of the way full to prevent under/over cooking between the potatoes on top and the ones on the bottom)
  • olive oil (optional)
  • salt & black pepper, to taste (optional)
  • aluminum foil

Directions

  1. Wash and scrub your potatoes thoroughly. Remove any eyes or bad spots if necessary. Let the skins dry before proceeding (only takes a few minutes).
  2. Prick each potato with a fork 6-8 times per potato. Do NOT skip this step! The holes allow steam to escape as they cook. Exploded baked potato isn’t fun to eat or clean up.
  3. Drizzle a little olive oil onto each potato. Using your hands, rub into the skin all over the potato. Repeat for each potato. You can omit this step, but I like the extra crunchy skins the olive oil creates.
  4. Salt and pepper, to taste, the skins of the potatoes.
  5. Wrap each potato individually in aluminum foil, sealing them up tightly.
  6. Place the wrapped potatoes in the slow cooker, foil seam side up. There’s no need to grease the crock pot or add any liquids. Cook them ‘dry’.
  7. Cook them on low for 8 hours, or until tender when pressed with fingers. Slow cooker times may vary a little.
  8. Remove the potatoes. Remove the foil. Cut a slit in the top along the center of each potato to open them up, and serve with topping of your choice.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Crockpot Baked Potatoes4 Sons 'R' Us: Crockpot Baked Potatoes 2

Green Bean Fries

My kids always count on fries with their burgers. I mean it’s like a burger staple for them. Serve them a burger without a side of fries and they’d probably look at me like I had just sprouted a second head, or antennae. They’re actually really good sports because burger night, which only falls once a month (maybe twice a month on a leap year) is the only night they get fries with dinner. Despite knowing that it was in fact burger night, I forgot to check to make sure I had potatoes. I also had a gaggle of kids at our house that day and no way to get to the store. What I did have? Several pounds of fresh green beans! Green bean fries came to my rescue. These were so good that it actually took me several minutes to convince my husband that I hadn’t gotten them carry-out from a restaurant or from the frozen food section of the grocery store. Every son raved about them. I mean a vegetable turned french fry? It was awe-inspiring. I’ve got to admit the way their jaws dropped and the awe-struck looks on their faces…it was pretty magical. Next time though I think I will try baking them instead of frying.

Green Bean Fries

Green Bean Fries

recipe from Six Sisters’ Stuff

  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Heat a few cups of vegetable oil in a deep pot or fryer over medium-high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, pour chicken broth into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the green beans and let boil for 5 minutes.  Remove beans from broth with a slotted spoon and set in a bowl of cold water.
  3. After beans are cooled down, pat dry with a paper towel.
  4. Whisk the egg and milk together in a shallow bowl.
  5. In another shallow bowl, combine flour, breadcrumbs, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
  6. Dip the beans into the egg mixture, followed by the flour mixture and place in hot oil, a few beans at a time.  Cook for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Serve with ranch dressing or other dipping sauces. Add a few drops of wasabi to ranch dressing and mix thoroughly for a wasabi-ranch dipping sauce

Caramel Apple Blondies

I know, I know. Another apple post this week, but I just couldn’t help myself. I might need an apple intervention. However, as luck would have it I am almost through my bushel.

I really try not to overload the kids on sugary snacks, even for dessert. But again, I just couldn’t help myself. I reasoned that on a crisp, fall day nothing could taste better than some ooey, gooey blondies. Especially when they just scream fall. I also couldn’t wait until dessert to have the sons try them. So to celebrate hump day (I can’t every say that without hearing my kids, echoing that extremely annoying commercial) and good attitudes so far and to fortify them to finish the week out that way, we had them for an afternoon snack. Shh, don’t tell anyone. I don’t want the mommy-verse frowning upon me.

We enjoyed these with a cold glass of milk, but warmed up and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream they are to die for. We were in Fall Heaven!

Caramel Apple Blondies

4 Sons 'R' Us: Caramel Apple Blondies

 

recipe adapted from Six Sisters’ Stuff

  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup apple, finely chopped
  • 1 cup Kraft caramel baking bits

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13 pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Add the brown sugar to the melted butter and stir until combined. Add the vanilla and the eggs to the brown sugar mixture.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the brown sugar mixture and stir until all combined. Fold in the apple and caramel baking bits.
  4. Scrape the batter into the baking pan and smooth the top using a knife or spatula.
  5. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the blondies comes out clean.
  6. Let the blondies cool completely and then cut into large squares.

Caramel Apple Snickers Salad

A delicious, seasonal dessert salad- Caramel Apple Snickers Salad features crisp apples, diced candies and marshmallows tossed in a sweet, creamy whipped dressing. Topped with a drizzle of smooth caramel, it’s an easy treat that doesn’t skimp on Fall flavor and is perfect for a crowd, even potlucks or parties.

Caramel Apple Snickers Salad

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Monster Munch

I love making spooky treats for the boys to enjoy and get them in the ‘mood’ for Halloween. When I came across this recipe for Monster Munch I made it immediately. It was a huge hit and has already become a new tradition. It made the perfect snack to enjoy while watching a Halloween movie marathon, including two of my personal favorites: Hocus Pocus & ParaNorman. Sweet & spooky, this Monster Munch is a Halloween must have.

P.S. Check out the cute little cardboard cartons I found to serve the monster munch in! Wilton makes and sells them in a four pack and they were just too adorable not to buy. Not pictured, but also included, was a mummy and a skeleton. They were on sale in the Halloween section of Kroger for $1! In hind sight I probably should have snagged a couple of packs. That settles it, back to Kroger I go!

Monster Munch

4 Sons 'R' Us: Monster Munch

recipe from A Pumpkin and a Princess

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/2 cup Wilton orange candy melts
  • 1/2 cup Wilton black candy melts
  • 1/2 cups candy corn M&M’s
  • 1/2 cup candy corn
  • edible monster eyes

Directions

  1. Cover a 9X13 baking sheet with waxed paper. Make popcorn and lay a single layer on covered baking sheet.
  2. Melt the candy melts in separate bowls over a double boiler or in the microwave. Stir frequently until completely melted.
  3. Pour the candy melts into disposable piping bags or thick ziploc bags. Use a napkin or towel to hold the bag if it’s too hot. Snip off the tip of the bags. Drizzle black candy melts evenly onto popcorn.
  4. Add the candy, except the edible eyes, spreading evenly over the drizzled popcorn. Drizzle the orange candy melts over the candy. Gently place eyes where you want them to go. Allow to cool then break apart and enjoy!

4 Sons 'R' Us: Monster Munch

Dessert Kabobs

Every year the football team the boys play for hosts a homecoming game. The entire association goes out of it’s way to make the night memorable for the kids. There’s moon-bounces. There’s cotton candy and giant popcorn machines. All the Moms are decked out in team colors, and proudly sporting their players’ number and pictures on pins for the whole world to see. There’s even a parade. All the Dads get together and they bring their big trucks. The bigger the better. The trucks are covered in excessive amounts of crepe paper, streamers and posters. You could probably see the team colors from space at that point, but just in case there was any uncertainty the posters clarify which team they represent and which age group. All the kids climb up into the backs of the trucks and are ferried around the field, on the track, several times. The team gets to watch as all the younger kids (and parents too) scramble to catch the candy they’re tossing out, and every Mom takes at least 1,385 pictures of the entire event. The whole night everyone is feeling pretty special. It’s definitely a huge confidence boosting event for the kids. It’s pretty awesome stuff. Best of all,  the proceeds from everything gets funneled back into the association to pay for new equipment, uniforms, field maintenance, etc.

Every year there’s also the biggest bale sale I’ve ever seen. The parents of every player either make or buy something to be sold to help earn money towards whatever the goal is. At the end of the night the players are allowed to ransack the table and enjoy as many sweat treats as they’re allowed. This is my contribution, Dessert Kabobs.

Dessert Kabobs

Dessert Kabobs

  • wooden skewers
  • large marshmallows
  • fresh blueberries
  • fresh strawberries
  • 1 box brownie mix, cooked according to package directions, cooled, and cute into bite sized squares

Directions

  1. It’s super simple. Alternate threading fruit, marshmallows, and brownies onto your skewers until you’ve achieved the desired look and amount.
  2. Serve as is, or wrap in cellophane if packaging for an event.

Who Loves Apples? We love apples! Our Annual Orchard Trip

October typically means two things for our family, lots of Halloween candy and apples. Every October we make an annual trip, and this past weekend we loaded all the kids up in the car and headed off to Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville. It was an absolutely beautiful weekend. Perfect time to enjoy the breath taking views and sit back and just enjoy some quality family time. Something about my boys’ smiles as fresh apple juices run down their chins and those sweet, sticky fingers just melts my heart. I love seeing them so care-free as they run through the rows and rows of trees with reckless abandon in search of the most perfect of apples to claim as their own. I savor the whole day. The beautiful scenery, the smells, the sounds, and of course the sweet taste of biting into my own freshly picked, crisp apple. By the end of the day everybody had a tote full of fall ‘treasures’. After a picnic lunch, and of course sampling and loading  up on our favorite apple-y treats, we headed home. Before I move on, I’ve just got to say that there’s nothing quite like an apple cider slushy, fresh, hot apple cider doughnuts, or homemade sweet/spicy apple salsa. If you haven’t tried it, add it to your bucket list!

Of course, once we get home and unload our two bushels of apples that’s when I get busy. I’ve got apples coming out of my ears, but I’m not complaining. My house is gently perfumed by the sweet scents of Crispin, Jonah Gold, and Golden Delicious. It doesn’t get any better than when you walk in the door after a long day and feel like you’re walking back into the apple orchard. Bonus: The kids have an apple a day for quite some time, and I get to make some of our favorite fall treats, and try out some new apple-inspired dishes and desserts. That being said…you can expect quite a few apple-based recipes in the next few weeks.

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My primary pickers in action. I’ve learned that some of the best bonding occurs when savoring that sweet, crispy morsel in your mouth.

Always plenty to do & see at the orchard. Stumbling onto the old truck was pretty cool and the boys couldn’t believe we’d never found it before.

truckpicking

See you again next year, Carter Mountain!

apple

If you’re thinking about visiting Carter Mountain and want to make a full day of it, there’s plenty to do in the immediate vicinity for both a family oriented day or for an adult get away. Check out historic Michies Tavern next door to the mountain, or Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. There are also several fantastic local vineyards to tour. Skyline Drive is just a hop, skip, and a jump away with its breath-taking scenic views and trails. The changing leaves make it almost irresistible side-trip!

The Mummy Pumpkin

Son # 4 lovingly referred to this as his ‘Mommy’ pumpkin. I, of course, was tickled pink. It took some practice, but this year he’s having no trouble pronouncing the word ‘mummy’. I’m thinking to celebrate we will be seeing multiple Mommy, err Mummy, themed crafts this October.

When I found this easy, fun pumpkin craft on Martha Stewart’s website I knew we had to do it. I love carving pumpkins with the older boys (I spend a shameless amount of time scouring the web for the lates and greatest pumpkin template for them to choose from), but I wanted something different to do with the youngest son. Let’s save carving, you know pumpkin guts, tools, knives and all that, for at least a few more years. Please? That and if he needs a quick sensory lesson he can always stick his hand in his brothers’ pumpkins. Which he did…repeatedly.

While my version may not be as pristine, or authentic looking as Martha’s, it did the trick. I used what I had on hand in the house so it was budget friendly, and it was a quick craft to fit in before nap time.

The Mummy Pumpkin

4 Sons 'R' Us: The Mummy Pumpkin

  • roll of gauze
  • googly eyes
  • black cardstock
  • glue gun

Directions

  1. Starting at any point on the pumpkin glue a starting edge to the pumpkin.
  2. From their wrap the gauze around the pumpkin, continuing until you feel like it’s sufficiently covered.
  3. When satisfied with the ‘look’, cut the gauze and hot glue down the end piece.
  4. Glue two googly eyes on.
  5. Cut a mouth out of the black cardstock and glue on.
  6. Voila, you now have a pumpkin mummy.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal Bars

Cinnamon Toast Crunch is one of our favorite cereals. I even remember how cool it was when I was a kid and they came in bar form for breakfast or snacks on the go. One weekday morning after pouring everyone’s bowls, I had an epiphany. Why not make my own cereal bars?! I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. The boys LOVED these. This recipe alone probably won me the coveted ‘Mom of the Year’ award. Include them in lunches for an extra special treat, but be careful because you just might start a cafeteria riot as all the kids vie for a taste.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal Bars

4 Sons 'R' Us: Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal Bars

  • 4 1/2 cups cinnamon toast crunch cereal
  • 4 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

Directions

  1. Spray a 9×13 or 9×9 pan with cooking spray.
  2. In a large pot melt better over low heat. Add marshmallows and cook over medium-low heat until marshmallows are completely melted.
  3. Once marshmallows are melted, remove pot from heat and add cereal to the pot, stirring to coat.
  4. Press into the prepared pan and let cool completely. When set, cut into bars and serve.

Bacon Cheddar Beer Bread

Fall is finally here in Virginia and I’m loving it. The windows are open and the air conditioning is off, baby! It’s so nice out, that I don’t even care that I haven’t yet put the screens back in the windows. You know, I’m just enjoying the moment, living life on the wild side.

With fall temps here and the official start of fall right around the corner, I’ve already begun pulling out the coordinating recipes. Beer Bread is one of my favorite things for Fall. I know I coudl make it all year round, but something about the yeasty taste or beer or a good lager just aren’t as appealing in the Summer months. This year I decided we’d try playing with the recipe and see if we could make our bread even better. This is what I lovingly refer to as Beer Bread 2.0, and let me tell you it is simply divine!

For those of you who aren’t confident in the kitchen, who don’t consider yourselves ‘bakers’, or are simply overwhelmed at the thought of attempting homemade bread… Do NOT be afraid! Beer Bread is your friend. It’s fool proof. You can’t mess it up.

Now I give you ‘Bacon Cheddar Beer Bread’. The name says it all.

Bacon Cheddar Beer Bread

4 Sons 'R' Us: Bacon Cheddar Beer Bread

recipe adapted from The Slow Roasted Italian

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar, divided
  • 1 12 oz bottle, or can, of unflavored beer/lager
  • 6-8 slices bacon, cooked crisp and roughly chopped, divided (or 1/2 cup REAL bacon bits)
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir with a whisk to combine ingredients. Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients.
  2. Add beer, half the bacon and half of the cheddar cheese. Stir until combined.
  3. Pour the batter/dough into a greased loaf pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of melted butter.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven.
  5. Sprinkle the remaining bacon over top and drizzle with the remaining butter. Bake for an additional 25 minutes or until browned.
  6. Remove and allow to cool in pan for about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool completely on a wire rack.