Cheeseburger and Taters Casserole

I don’t know why, but I’ve been on a ‘cheeseburger’ kick lately. Soup, macaroni, now a casserole. I just crave that meaty, cheesy combo, and for whatever reason recently I’ve been going to new, experimental lengths to get my fix. This is what evolved from a lunch for the boys on a day they were home from school that was incredibly cold, when I had pulled hamburger meat out for, you guessed it, hamburgers for lunch and then realized I had no buns or sandwich bread. It was the perfect comfort food to warm us all up and put a smile on everyone’s face. There were no leftovers.

Cheeseburger and Taters Casserole

4 Sons 'R' Us: Cheeseburger and Taters Casserole

  • 1 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 can of refrigerated crescent rolls, or 1 batch of homemade crescent rolls
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 2 cups shredded mexican blend cheese, divided
  • 1 2 lb pkg tater tots, frozen
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 3-4 tbsp mustard
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Brown ground beef until cooked through. Drain.
  2. Return to skillet, add in onions and saute 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add in ketchup, mustard, and 1 cup of cheese. Stirring until heated through. Remove from heat. Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Grease a 9×13 baking dish, or coat with non stick spray.
  5. Lay crescent rolls out flat to cover the bottom of the dish like a crust. Press seams together so there aren’t any gaps.
  6. Spread hamburger mixture evenly over the crescent rolls.
  7. Top evenly with tater tots.
  8. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until tater tots are done.
  9. Remove from oven and sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese over the top of the casserole.
  10. Return to oven cooking 5 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
  11. Let the casserole cool for 5 minutes before serving.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Cheeseburger and Taters Casserole

Enjoy!

Crockpot (or not) Pumpkin Bread

Saturday morning we woke up to snow falling. I love snow, and so do my kids, but snow seems to make them a little bit frantic, and crazy. Sadly, even after four kids, I am still not a morning person, but there’s something about snow falling while sipping my piping hot cup of coffee that can make even the most chaotic morning  just a little bit magical. Still, there was something missing, and my coffee seemed…lonely. So I decided to use my last can of pumpkin and make some pumpkin bread, the perfect accompaniment to any snowy morning, and another pot of coffee. The kids went out to play in the snow, which wasn’t even sticking, and I waited for our bread to finish baking, soaking up every stolen minute of peace and quiet. Right about the time the troops clomped in feeling frozen the bread was ready to eat. This pumpkin bread is easy and delicious, and sure to get all the kids around the table ooh-ing and aah-ing. It’s so good, that they won’t even want to talk between bites of deliciousness and sips of milk. For a treat I threw in some chocolate chips, around 1/4 cup, and even threw a few on top for a ‘garnish’ because I find chocolate so aesthetically pleasing. I was going for magical in the midst of chaos, remember? Morning, noon, night, what day couldn’t use a little magic in it! Make some ‘magic’ of your own today.

Crockpot (or not) Pumpkin Bread

4 Sons 'R' Us: Crockpot (or not) Pumpkin Bread

  •  1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar*
  • 2 eggs (beaten)
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • chocolate chips (optional)

*To make your own easy brown sugar, add 1 tbsp molasses to 1 cup of sugar and mix together thoroughly. Just like store-bought brown sugar, extras can be stored in a ziplock bag and put in the pantry, cabinet, etc. for future recipes.

Directions

  1. In a stand mixer, blend oil and sugars together.
  2. Stir in the beaten eggs and canned pumpkin.
  3. Gradually add the remaining dry ingredients, mixing until evenly incorporated.
  4. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan.

Crockpot Cooking

  1. Add 2 cups of water to your crockpot, and then sit the loaf pan inside the crockpot.
  2. Cover the top of the crockpot with 8-10 paper towels. This is important as it traps the moisture and condensation so the bread doesn’t become ‘mushy’.
  3. Place the lid on the crockpot, keeping the paper towels securely in place.
  4. Bake on high 2 1/2-3 hours.

Oven-Baked

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Bake pumpkin bread 50-60 minutes in the oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Buttermilk-Blueberry Breakfast Cake

I’m always on the lookout for easy breakfasts I can prepare ahead of time and have ready for my kids to eat on the go on busy morning. I had been eyeing this breakfast ‘cake’ recipe from Alexandra’s Kitchen for awhile and decided to give it a try last month. The result was wonderful! Moist, crumbly, and full of flavor it was a real treat for the everyone. The recipe takes minimal time to prepare, which is a blessing on nights I’m scrambling at the last minute before bed to throw something together for the morning. My whole family, even the picky eaters, love this, whether we’re sitting down at the table for a relaxing breakfast, or grabbing a piece to go, hurrying to school or practice.

Buttermilk-Blueberry Breakfast Cake

4 Sons 'R' Us: Blueberry Breakfast Cake

  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened
  • 2 tsp lemon zest*
  • 3/4 cup & 2 tbsp sugar (7/8 cup) + 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour, set aside 1/4 cup of this
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups frozen blueberries, thawed and drained
  •  1/2 cup buttermilk**

*If you’re using fresh lemons for your zest, go ahead and zest the whole lemon. Any extra, or leftover zest, not used in the recipe can easily be stored in a ziplock bag and frozen for later use.

**To make your own buttermilk, add 1 tbsp white vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes before using. The recipe can be halved or doubled depending on the quantity needed. Just keep the ratios between the milk the the acidic ingredient equal. Lemon juice can also be used in place of vinegar.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter with lemon zest and 7/8 cup of sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Meanwhile, toss the blueberries with 1/4 cup flour, then whisk together the remaining flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the batter a little at a time, alternating with the buttermilk.
  4. Fold in the blueberries.
  5. Grease an 8×8 baking pan with butter, or coat with non-stick cooking spray.
  6. Pour and spread batter evenly into the pan. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Let cool and serve.

Triple Chocolate Quick Bread

With my food guzzlers, I’m always on the lookout for a quick addition to my menu that can help top off their tanks. I love a good dessert that I don’t feel terrible about giving my family that helps keep them full until morning. This gem is one of my go-to favorites. It’s like a special edition chocolate muffin, with a hint of apples. They love a nice, warm slice of my chocolate ‘bread’ before bed with a cold glass of milk. It makes them feel all warm and fuzzy. I may, or may not, have also been talked into making this for them for a special breakfast as it contains both eggs and applesauce.  Even better, this from scratch dessert, or breakfast, or snack, is easy and takes hardly any time to whip up. Did I mention it’s versatility? So find yourself a reason to give it a try, you won’t be disappointed in the results.

Triple Chocolate Quick Bread

4 Sons 'R' Us: Triple Chocolate Quick Bread

  •  1 & 1/2 cups  semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 & 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 & 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt

GLAZE:

  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp half and half
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a pot on the stove top over low heat, melt 1 cup of chocolate chips; set aside to cool.
  2. In a stand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs and cooled chocolate, mix until evenly combined.
  4. Add applesauce and vanilla; set aside.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until evenly combined.
  6. Add flour mix to the batter and mix until evenly combined.
  7. Lightly mix in the remaining chocolate chips just until incorporated into batter.
  8. Divide batter evenly between two* greased loaf pans.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean
  10. Cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

For Glaze:

  1. In a small pot over low heat, melt chocolate chips and butter, stirring until evenly combined.
  2. Stir in half and half.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt.
  4. Drizzle over warm loaves, or pipe onto loaves using a ziplock bag.
  5. Let the chocolate cool and serve.

* If you’d prefer to make one full sized loaf, simply add all the batter to one full size loaf pan. Baking time will take a little over an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Typically the chocolate piping is spread between two loaves so there’s not nearly as much piled on, but the ‘breakfast’ bread I was coerced into making I left glaze free. I didn’t want too much chocolate on my mom-conscience before sending them off for school. All that chocolate on their dessert though was a real treat.

Fuss-Free Finger Painting

Have you ever had one of those moments where you have a litany of tasks that need your immediate attention, but you also have a toddler clinging to your leg and you know that if you turn your back they will immediately morph into a little ball of destruction? My 3 year old would happily entertain himself, but that always results in a gigantic mess that I then have to clean up. It’s moments like those when dinner is waiting to be cooked and homework needs checking that I have to get creative to keep the 3 year old entertained without my constant supervision. Being 3, he is full of artistic ‘flair’. Give him some paints, a coloring book and crayons, you name it, and he’s happy and pumping out masterpieces. However, I know I can’t trust him alone since his creativity has a tendency to run wild. For example, he sees newly painted white walls as fresh canvas eagerly awaiting his decoration. While he could very well be a budding artiste, a future Picasso perhaps, he and I have varying tastes on what composes harmonious home decor.

It was one of these times, with my son begging to ‘paint’ and dinner bubbling away on the stove, that I grabbed a large ziplock bag and some of his tubes of finger paint, and a genius idea was born: fuss-free finger painting! He got to ‘paint’ and none of Mommy’s things got painted on. He loved it, especially since he could magically erase his doodle and begin again. Since then, we do this all the time and have used it to practice making shapes, letters, numbers, you name it. It’s saved my sanity many a time and allowed me to be productive while keeping my son safely, and cleanly, entertained. For a busy mom, fuss-free finger painting is the way to go!

Fuss-Free Finger Painting

4 Sons 'R' Us: Fuss-Free Finger Painting

  • 1 gallon ziplock bag
  • 1 piece of blank white paper
  • 2-3 different colors of finger paints
  • masking tape

Directions

  1.  Squirt several dollops of different colored finger paints into your ziplock bag.
  2. Seal bag securely.
  3. Lay your sealed bag over top of a blank sheet of white paper onto a flat surface such as a kitchen table or desk.
  4. Tape the top and bottom of the ziplock bag to your designated work surface to secure in place.
  5. Sit your child down and let them ‘paint’.
  6. When they’re done simply detach and throw your paint-filled bag away, or save it to use again later.

No mess, and no stress!

Cake Decorating Frosting

I do not like bakery cakes or their frosting. (Gasp) Shocking, I know, but I grew up never eating store bought cake, not even sampling bakery cakes, or pre-made frosting.  Now that I have, I know I wasn’t missing anything. The few times I attempted to use store-bought frosting for decorating cakes, the results were disastrous. It’s not stiff enough to hold it’s shape, and the addition of any food coloring makes it runny. With four boys who request custom cakes for their birthdays, this obviously, was just not going to work. That, and I couldn’t stomach paying outrageous amounts of money to a bakery when I was sure that with a little practice, trial, and error I could duplicate their designs. My Grandma and Mom, made beautiful cakes that always tasted just as good, if not better, than they looked and the frosting was always rich and creamy. So when I made the decision to give my boys the same kind of catered cake experiences I had grown up with, I just knew I had to have my Mom’s recipe to make it happen. The recipe is simple and easy to whip up. It’s even easier to adjust for stiffness so you can customize and create a simple or elaborate cake or cupcake design that will hold firmly in place, but still taste smooth and sugary when cut.

Cake Decorating Frosting

  •  3-4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup of shortening
  • 4-5 tbsp milk, or half and half for a richer frosting
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract, optional (I omit)

Directions

  1.  In a stand mixer, add all ingredients.
  2. Mix on low speed until evenly combined. Do not whip!
  3. If the frosting is still chunky add milk, 1 tbsp at a time until it’s mixed smooth.
  4. Alternately, if the frosting is too runny, add more confectioners sugar until mixed to desired stiffness.
  5. Frost!

If you’re not interested in a white cake, add a couple of drops of food coloring until your desired color is reached, and then frost. If chocolate frosting is your fancy add cocoa powder, 1 tbsp at a time, until it tastes chocolate-y enough for you.

A few other points about working with this type of frosting. If your frosting is too stiff, and you’re trying to frost any parts of a cake that have been cut or aren’t browned by the outside of the baking pan, it will pull up pieces of cake and make a mess. Also, don’t wipe! For a neat look that won’t ruin the cake, gently wipe frosting back and forth until frosted. To achieve a smooth, finished look, smooth over with a HOT knife. Dip the knife in hot water to keep it hot and free of any icing clumps. Otherwise, get your bake-on and frost. There will be mistakes made along the way, but the results are well worth it! Practice makes perfect, and nothing beats your child’s smile when they see you’ve managed to create something from their imagination, or yours, just for them. Just for fun, and hopefully some inspiration, here are a few of the various cakes I’ve made for my boys.

Basketball Cake 076 003 001 002 010  DSC03637060