This convenient, creamy Crockpot Chicken And Pesto Soup features fresh veggies, chunks of juicy chicken, chewy barley, pesto, and Parmesan in a dish that leaves you savoring each and every bite.
Sensory play is a wonderful opportunity for young children to explore the world around them using their five senses while also honing their fine motor skills. My boys have always been very touch and texture oriented, and sensory bags have been a wonderful way to encourage them. Below are two examples of some of the sensory bags I’ve made for them to play with. It’s so neat to watch their little fingers as the discover how the different items in the bag feel, and watch their little fingers work to move them around. I always find myself wondering what they’re thinking and what conclusions they could be drawing during play as they become engrossed in the activity. Sensory bags are a wonderful quiet time activity. Perfect for tummy time, or anytime I need to get a little one to sit still, but still need to keep them engaged. The possibilities on themes is endless. Get creative, play with it, and see what kind of sensory bags you can come up with. Or just copy these.
Simple Sensory Bags
- quart size, ziplock freezer bag
- aloe vera gel
- frog figures, I found an 8 pack at the dollar store
- assorted buttons
- 4-6 decorative glass beads
- quart size, ziplock freezer bag
- hair gel
- princess party favors (any type as long as there’s no sharp edges to puncture the bag)
- assorted buttons
- 4-6 decorative glass beads
- duck tape
- Squirt gel into bag until desired fullness is reached. Remember the bag sill has to zip and the edges be duck-taped without being so full it will pop when played with, about 1 1/4 cup of gel should be sufficient.
- Add in trinkets of your choosing.
- Compress bag gently to remove any trapped air and seal tightly.
- Duck tape all outer edges of the bag to make sturdier and guard against leaks.
- Use as a tummy time mat or lap activity and let the little ones explore and enjoy.
Last month I found an entire box of boxes of vanilla pudding marked down to pennies at the grocery store. I purchased it knowing I would find multiple uses for it later. Plus, I realized it would have been almost mean not to take it off their hands since they were practically giving it away. One day, my 3 year old was begging me to ‘paint’, but I was out of actual finger paint with no intentions of going to the store that day. I remembered someone telling me about making a safe edible finger paint from Greek yogurt and food coloring, and thought why not? Instead of Greek yogurt, the pudding served as the paint base. This recipe and activity was a success; kid tested and baby approved! It dried just like normal paint. It almost resembles a water color painting. It’s great for kids of all ages, even age appropriate infants since it’s perfectly safe to consume, yummy even, when they stick their hands in their mouth. What toddler wouldn’t be amazed to have the activity also be the snack?
Easy Edible Finger Paint
- 1 package vanilla instant pudding
- food coloring
- Prepare pudding according to the package directions.
- If you’re trying for several different colors, separate the pudding into several bowls or containers.
- Add in drops of food coloring until desired color is reached.
- Paint on white paper.
- Let artwork dry. Voila!
Do you ever balk at the prices of those processed loaves of cheese? Do you buy them anyway, because sometimes a recipe (or a grilled cheese) demands their melty goodness and no substitute will do? This happens to me every time I purchase that cheese. Even worse, every time in the back of my mind is a nagging reminder of all the preservatives and other things in them that I should try to avoid feeding my family. So, finally I decided that somebody, somewhere, in an effort to be more frugal or in an effort to avoid all the chemicals, must have found a way to replicate this ooey, gooey cheese and would have shared their victorious recipe. After perusing Pinterest and the web for what seemed like forever, I finally found what appeared to be a winner. My boys had asked to have BLT Mac N Cheese this week and were afraid with my new REAL cheese that it wouldn’t live up to their high standards. They couldn’t have been more shocked themselves to discover this cheese made it even better. This recipe knocked the ball out of the park! It was spot on everything I was looking for and then some. It’s real food you can make at home quickly, with ingredients you can easily find (and pronounce), without sacrificing any of that heavenly meltiness. National Grilled Cheese Day (April 12th) just passed, but I will definitely be celebrating next year with the help of my own homemade cheese.
‘Velveeta’ Style American Cheese
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin
- 12 oz Colby Jack cheese, very finely shredded (think TINY grater holes)
- 1 tbsp nonfat milk powder
- generous 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp 2% milk
- Line a small 4×5 loaf pan (I only had a full size pan handy) with plastic wrap, letting the excess hang over the sides.
- In a small bowl, combine the water and gelatin. Stir. Let sit for 5 minutes.
- Combine cheese, milk powder, salt, and tartar in the bowl of a food processor, pulsing a few times to combine.
- Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.
- When milk begins to simmer, remove from heat, transfer hot milk to a measuring cup (to make pouring easier) and slowly add milk into the food processor feed tube.
- As you slowly add the milk, pulse the food processor.
- Add prepared gelatin.
- Turn the food processor on, and continue to stir until the mixture becomes perfectly smooth. Scrap the sides if needed and whir again.
- Working quickly, transfer the mixture into the prepared mold, pressing the mixture down into the pan with a spatula to help eliminate any air bubbles.
- Smooth surface of cheese, and cover with the overlapping plastic.
- Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or overnight. (If pressed for time, a little over an hour and a half in the freezer will work too!)
- Slice, cube, or melt as needed and use as you would Velveeta or individually wrapped processed American cheese.
Cinnamon honey butter is a delicious way to turn an ordinary piece of bread into a sure-to-please treat. It tastes just like what you’d find at many restaurants My boys love some spread over a warm piece of toast for breakfast. They consider it a delicious dessert when it’s accompanying a slice of fresh baked bread. For snack, I’ve given them a dollop to dip their apple slices in. Have I mentioned that in addition to being delicious, it’s very versatile? Go on and give it a try today. It’s sure to add a little pizzazz to your day, and what day couldn’t use a little extra oomph?
Cinnamon Honey Butter
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Store together all ingredients until evenly combined.
- Serve on a moist roll or a warm piece of toast.
Are you wondering what you’re going to do with the abundance of leftovers after Easter dinner Sunday? Ham sandwiches or biscuits can only go so far. Dice that ham up and save it! This soup is delicious and is a perfect way to make use of those saved leftovers. I loved that it gave us the chicken cordon bleu taste we were craving, in a cheaper and easier form. I served it with some oatmeal pull-apart rolls, and every one of my guys had two bowls. There were no leftovers!
Chicken Cordon Bleu Soup
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp garlic, minced
- 1 onion, about 1 cup diced
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 1/2 cups skim milk
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 5 medium russet potatoes,washed, peeled, and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 cup shredded swiss cheese
- 1 cup shredded chicken, cooked
- 1 cup ham, diced
- Place washed, peeled, and cubed potatoes into a large pot and add the chicken broth. Cover.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are fork tender.
- In a separate pot, or pan, melt butter. Add onions and saute until soft.
- Add garlic, and saute 1-2 minutes.
- Add flour to the pan and whisk together with the onions and garlic. Let the mixture cook about 1 minute.
- Slowly add the milk, a 1/2 cup at a time, whisking constantly. The only lumps you should see should be the onions.
- Continue adding milk and whisking constantly until all the milk has been evenly incorporated.
- Bring the roux to a simmer and let it heat until thickened, about 5 minutes, whisking often.
- Add the thickened roux to the potatoes and chicken broth in the large pot.
- Using a potato masher, mash potatoes in the pot until there’s minimal chunks.
- Turn the heat to low, and add the chicken and ham.
- Add salt and pepper to soup to taste.
- When heated through, add the swiss and stir until melted and evenly incorporated.
With Easter coming up, there have been some fantastic prices on Hams. I love having a deep freezer at times like this since it allows me plenty of space to stock up with. I found Smithfield hams for $1/lb and bought three. After cooking them, I slice all the meat off the bone and dice it, storing it in meal sized portions in the freezer. I typically get enough ham for about 20 meals, including using the ham bone. It never ceases to amaze me how many things I can either make, or drastically improve, using ham. Just think of the possibilities! I found this meal on quick & easy recipes, and opted to use the real ham I had frozen instead of some cooked and crumbled bacon. I figured my boys would appreciate the extra protein. While the prep time is relatively quick, the cook time is not and you will need to plan accordingly. That being said, this is delicious, almost like smothered french fries and it tastes just like a baked potato. My boys like ketchup on their ketchup, and opted to drown their potatoes in it, but my husband and I love it with just a dollop of sour cream for that authentic baked potato feel.
Loaded Baked Potato And Chicken Casserole
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 8-10 medium potatoes, skin on and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp ground pepper
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 6 tbsp hot sauce
- 2 cups Mexican blend cheese, or 1 cup shredded monterey jack and 1 cup shredded cheddar mixed together
- 1 cup cooked, diced ham
- 1 cup diced green onions
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
- In a large bowl mix together olive oil, hot sauce, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.
- Add the cubed potatoes and stir to evenly coat.
- Add the potatoes to a greased 9×13 baking dish, leaving behind any extra hot sauce mix in the bowl.
- Bake the potatoes for 45-50 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until cooked through and crispy on the outside.
- Add the diced chicken to bowl and stir to evenly coat all the chicken, allowing chicken to marinate as the potatoes bake.
- Remove cooked potatoes from the oven and add the marinated chicken.
- Lower oven temperature to 400 degrees.
- In a separate bowl mix together all topping ingredients.
- Top the raw, marinated chicken and potatoes with the topping ingredients.
- Bake 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the topping is melted and bubbly.
- Serve with extra hot sauce, ketchup, ranch dressing, or sour cream as desired.
I haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact reason, but there’s something about foods in miniature that my boys just love. It’s like they just exude ‘fun’. Anything mini I put in front of them gets eaten with gusto, and gets raved about afterwards, even when it’s larger counterparts don’t. They like fun finger foods, and I love easy. Pigs in a blanket are a match made in heaven for us. Typically, my boys request these for parties, but I also will make them for special snack supper nights. They love eating them for lunch as well, since I use homemade crescent dough and usually have enough leftover to make crescents to go with dinner too.
Pigs In A Blanket
- 1 package lil smokies
- 2 cans crescent rolls, or 1 batch homemade crescent rolls
Homemade Crescent Dough
- 2 (1/4 oz) packets active dry yeast
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup shortening, or butter
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
Making Crescent Dough
- Dissolve yeast in warm water.
- Stir in sugar, salt, eggs, shortening, and 2 cups of flour. Beat until smooth.
- Mix in remaining flour until smooth. Scrape dough from the sides of the bowl.
- Knead dough, then cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1-1/2 hours).
- Punch down dough and divide in half.
- Roll each half into a 12-inch circle and spread with butter.
- At this point you can cut the dough into 16 wedges, or tear strips to wrap the sausages with. Strips are a little easier to work with for the tiny weiners.
- Use your crescents, either homemade or canned, and wrap your sausages.
- Place your ‘pigs in blankets’ with the point, or end, down onto a greased baking sheet.
- If using homemade dough, cover and let rise about 45 minutes. Canned crescents need no rise time.
- For canned crescents bake according to package directions, for homemade, bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
- Let cool slightly and serve.
If you’re just interested in making the homemade crescent rolls. Cut the dough into 16 wedges, as suggested above. Roll your wedges up, and place them point down onto a greased baking sheet. Let them rise for about 45 minutes, then bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.
In my effort to cut costs everywhere I can, and to be as all natural as possible on our families budget, I decided to stop buying store bought dish detergent and see if I could replicate it for minimal cost and still get great results. This at home, all natural version is only 3 ingredients, which I keep on hand and only takes a few minutes to whip up. Using equal parts of the two main ingredients, I can make as much or as little as I need. My favorite part, each load only costs pennies! My dishes even seem to be cleaner than when I previously used a store bought detergent. A cheap way to achieve sparkling results? Yes, please!
Homemade Dishwasher Detergent
- washing soda
- lemon flavored kool aid packet (optional)
- Mix equal parts borax and washing soda together. Make sure it’s equal parts.
- If using, add in kool aid packet.
- Stir until all ingredients are evenly combined.
- Transfer detergent into a storage container.
- Use 2 tbsp per load.
The kool aid packet is just for scent purposes, and without it the detergent will still clean just as well.
I couldn’t ask for, and haven’t found, an easier all-natural recipe for dish detergent and for only pennies per load!
*For best results, rinse dishes thoroughly before loading them into the dishwasher. This isn’t an issue for me since my husband is a stickler about rinsing dishes pre-wash. Also, to avoid an streaks try using a rinse aid. If needed, I use plain white distilled vinegar as an all natural rinse aid.
Are you struggling to find that perfect gift for someone special? Or the perfect gift for that special occasion? Do you just dislike spending all that money on a greeting card that is just going to be discarded or thrown in s drawer and forgotten? Instead of a boring printed card quip, give a ‘card’ that won’t be forgotten. A card, that is more than a card, that with some simple creativity can be tuned to any holiday or special occasion. My husband has a raging sweet tooth, so anything involving sugar instantly means that much more to him. My sister was graduating high school and I wanted to give her a ‘card’ with a special touch, because I didn’t just want to give her money. These were the resulting ‘cards’ they received with my messages for them. Candy-grams are an awesome way to put your own thoughts into words, some spelled out in sugar, with a personal touch and a little flair. Whatever the occasion and the message, they will certainly leave a lasting impression and memory!
Father’s Day Candy-Gram
“Dad, we were going to give you a ‘whopp’ ing ‘100 Grand’ for Father’s Day, but the money slipped right through our ‘butterfinger’s. We didn’t have an ‘extra’ ‘whatchamacallit’ to sell and it wasn’t ‘payday’. We didn’t think a pet ‘kitkat’, a trip to New ‘York’, or an ‘orbit’ around the ‘milkyway’ would be appropriate. We do want to wish you ‘mounds’ of ‘joy’ both ‘now and later’ as you eat this card. We hope it doesn’t make you ‘rolo’ver and get sick. If it does we promise not to ‘snicker’. Love, your favorite ‘airheads’ (include children’s names).”
“We (or I) thought it would be ‘sweet’ to make you a card. I still remember when we were little; we were like the ‘3 musketeers’. I still can’t believe just yesterday you were in your ‘cap’ and gown and ‘skor’ed a diploma. You’ve come a long ‘way’. You should be filled with ‘mounds’ of ‘joy’ that you’re no ‘dumdum’ and are filled with ‘extra’ good stuff that’ll take you far in life– ‘now and later’. You’re an ‘awesome’ individual and as a sister worth more than ‘100 grand’. I am so proud of you I could just ‘kiss’ you!!!!”