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!

Buckeye Brownies

Thick fudgey chocolate brownies are topped with a whipped peanut butter spread and then sealed with a rich chocolate ganache. The classic combination of peanut butter & chocolate, but added to brownies? Well that stroke of genius made these Buckeye Brownies both a thing to behold, to cherish, and to enjoy- whatever the occasion.

Buckeye Brownies stacked two high, with a forkful removed showing the layers of brownie peanut butter & chocolate ganache

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Birthday Balloon Wreath

Growing up my Mom tried really hard to make memories and create traditions for myself and my sisters. We always had something to look forward to. No matter what the holiday, we had something special to coincide. Looking back now, it always added to our anticipation and made events seem more special, even the little ones, and sometimes almost magical. Mom also loved flags. She had lots of flags, a flag for everything. We would even compete for the honorable duty of ‘changing the flag.’ Perhaps the only occasions without their own designated banner were birthdays. I will never forget the year I woke up to discover a special flag had been hung, while I slept, with a birthday cake on it. Let me tell you, when you’re under 6 and there’s a banner waving to the world announcing your birthday, you feel like royalty. Every year after that, for every birthday, we woke up to our flag flying high. I wanted to do something similar for my boys, but I didn’t inherit my mother’s love for flags, so that was out for me. However, I do love wreaths! I had seen several balloon wreaths for sale and decided that would be the perfect announcement to grace our front door announcing my own children’s special days. The boys loved it!  I loved it! It was simple, affordable, and could easily be adapted by coordinating colors for any theme or other event.

Birthday Balloon Wreath

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  • 1 12″ Straw Wreath, left in plastic wrap (but you could use a larger frame if you desired, or smaller for table centerpieces)
  • Floral pins
  • balloons (whatever colors and sizes)
  • wreath hanger

Directions

  1. Warning: Do not unwrap your straw wreath! It will make a gigantic mess and you’ll feel like you woke up in a hay field.
  2. Take one balloon and one floral pin.
  3. Starting at any point on the wreath, pin the balloons into the wreath using the floral pins.
  4. Pinning the balloons to the wreath at their middle helps ensure a more uniform look.
  5. Continue pinning balloons around the wreath, alternating colors until you’ve achieved your desired result.
  6. Display on your front door.

Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Dip

We absolutely adore a good dip recipe, whether we’re entertaining guests or just entertaining ourselves at home. This creamy spinach and artichoke dip is a copycat of our favorite restaurant version. It’s quick & easy to throw together, but chock full of flavor- and pairs well with a variety of crispy dipping options. Doesn’t hurt that it helps get me excited about eating more spinach either!

creamy spinach and artichoke dip in a white bowl surrounded by thinly sliced baguette bread

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Cheapskate Chicken: Every piece has a purpose

Every time I turn around, it seems like groceries get more expensive and I’m getting less ‘bang’ for my buck at checkout. I have a set grocery budget that must feed six people and I only shop once a month. I’m always trying to maximize the amount I can purchase within that and spread the love to all my families’ meals. I love finding ingredients that can cheaply be used to make multiple things, especially things that are key ingredients in multiple recipes. It makes me feel all giddy. Call it an obsession of mine. I know, I’m weird, and I’m totally OK with that.

One thing in particular I know has drastically gone up at the stores is meat, and I use A LOT of meats. Chicken, especially, has seen a price hike and I haven’t seen great sale prices in quite some time. I’ve always preferred boneless, skinless breasts, simply because I am also lazy, and try to find shortcuts in the kitchen so that making dinner from scratch every night isn’t always an entire evening affair. I do have kids I have to attend to after all.  In seeking out cheaper alternatives, on a whim, I decided to buy a $3.00 pack of two bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts about a year ago. I kept them in the freezer for some time since the prospect of de-boning was rather daunting. Finally, I decided to try cooking them like I would a whole chicken, in the crockpot, and the results were life changing! Or at least revolutionary in my kitchen. Enter: Cheapskate Chicken!  Now, from only one $3.00 package of chicken, with minimal (and I mean bare-minimum) prep, and just a handful of other kitchen staples, I get enough chicken for 3 meals that will feed all 6 of us, am able to make about a gallon and a half of chicken stock/broth, two packages of carrots, celery, and onions infused with flavor and ready to throw in your homemade soups, and even have meat to add in with our dog’s dry food for 2 weeks at a time. Interested yet?! I’ve never encountered a simpler multi-step process. Here goes.

Cheapskate Chicken

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  • one package bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
  • salt
  • pepper
  • whatever other dry seasonings you prefer

Directions

  1. Rinse, and pat dry, both chicken breasts
  2. Place them into the crockpot, skin side up
  3. Liberally salt and pepper the tops of the chicken breasts
  4. Add whatever other dry seasonings you’d like to add a hint of flavor to the meat. I prefer Montreal Chicken seasoning from McCormick. Occasionally, I will add in some minced garlic.
  5. Cover, and cook on high for about 4 hours, on low about 6 hours, or until meat is cooked through
  6. For easier removal from the crockpot (it’s so tender it has a tendency to just fall off the bone) turn your crockpot off and let the breasts cool before taking them out.

Don’t worry about your chicken burning or sticking to the bottom since you haven’t added any liquid. As the chicken cooks, the moisture it expels will collect on the bottom of your crockpot and prevent it. Not to mention the ‘dry’ cooking leaves the skin incredibly crisp and delicious. My kids always argue over who gets to eat the skin when it’s done!

Step 2: Pickin’ your chicken

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  1. Remove both breasts from your crock pot and place them on a clean surface, cutting board, plate, whatever you prefer.
  2. Pull all the meat you can find off your chicken, making sure to remove any bones that may come away with it. Place any bones in a bowl, along with the skin if you haven’t gobbled it up already like I do.
  3. Any meat you don’t want, whether it’s dark, fatty, whatever, either add to the bowl with your bones, or if you have a furry friend, place it in a zip lock bag to save for him/her, again being careful to remove any bones.
  4. Once you’ve picked your chicken clean, package up the meat you’ve kept, either in tupperware for the refrigerator or in freezer bags for the freezer in meal-size portions.
  5. If the chicken isn’t shredded enough for you, give it one quick spin in the food processor, or until your desired texture is reached.

Step 3: Homemade Chicken Stock

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Your crockpot is really going to get a workout today. You’re all ready to use it again! For this step you will need a few additional ingredients which I’ve listed below.

  •  chicken bones, skin, fat
  • 3 cups of baby carrots
  • 3 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • water

Directions

  1. Throw your discarded chicken bones, fat, and skin back in your crockpot.
  2. Add in the prepared vegetables.
  3. Salt and pepper to taste, and add in any other spices you think your stock might need.
  4. Pour enough water over the vegetables to fill your crockpot about 1/2 inch from the top.
  5. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.
  6. When cool, pour the contents of the crockpot into a strainer that has been placed inside of a large stew pot. Preferably, one that can rest on the edge of the pot so it’s sits up out of the liquid that separates from the solids.
  7. After draining, remove the strainer from over the pot and pick out all pieces of bones, skin, and fat and discard them.
  8. Package up the veggies to freeze to use as sides for meals, vegetables for soups, stews, and other recipes. Their juicy flavor is incredible, and will enhance any meal.
  9. Add enough water to fill the stock-pot until the desired consistency is reached. Thicker, darker broth is considered ‘stock’ and is typically a little more potent, the more watered-down is broth. Both are good and you will never want to buy the store-bought versions again.
  10. Refrigerate or freeze your broth and use as needed.

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I typically keep some broth in the fridge and freeze the rest. I save any old plastic containers, such as yogurt, sour cream, ricotta cheese, etc, with their lids since plastic containers can be re-used, and also allow for the expansion of the liquid when it freezes without breaking, shattering, or cracking.

If you prefer a leaner broth, let the entire stockpot full of broth cool in the refrigerator before packaging until the fat has congealed, or hardened. Using a spoon, skim any fat off the top of the broth. Then package.

Now, sit back and give yourself a pat on the back. Your family will think you’ve slaved away in the kitchen all day and all night, and sing your praises, but (SHHH!) you, your crockpot, and your pocket book will know the satisfying truth.

Lasagna Soup

While I love a traditional lasagna, I don’t always have time for that. Luckily, this lasagna soup is there to save the day. A mixture of ground beef & sausage in a soup pot with lasagna noodles, and all the traditional seasonings- it tastes just like lasagna. Served with a hunk of crusty bread, it’s the real deal.

two bowls of lasagna soup, one with a spoon full, on a blue background with fresh parsley pictured

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Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Sheet Pan Supper

An easy family meal that cooks all on one pan, this easy Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Sheet Pan Supper features roasted chicken with rosemary Parmesan potatoes, caramelized onion wedges, and seasoned baby spinach leaves. It’s so yummy, the kids will willingly eat their greens!

Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Sheet Pan Supper shows spinach, chopped chicken, and roasted potatoes cooked on a single pan and topped with shredded Parmesan cheese

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