Oven Baked Hot Dogs

For the best chili cheese dogs around, all you need is this easy Oven Baked Hot Dogs recipe. Loaded with chili, chopped onion, and melted cheddar, they’re crispy on the outside but soft and savory dogs tucked into fluffy buns. Lunch, dinner, pot lucks, even on Game Day- these are perfect for almost any occasion.

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The First Day of School

I’m thinking next year, I’m going to host a big brunch, with mimosas of course, so that all my fellow SAHM’s and myself can raise a glass and a toast to the fact that we all managed to retain our sanity throughout another entire summer, and of course that all children are still happy and healthy. While I love my boys, I’m always happy to see that first day of Summer Vacation, and I’m just as happy to see it go. Does it take anyone else an entire school year to recover?

First Day of School

No, I didn’t lose a son. Son # 1 was struggling to get out the door this morning and missed the group photo ops. It seems somebody was a little to used to secretly reading half the night, and didn’t realize how early 7am would come. The days of sleeping in until noon are over. At least until next Summer, or the weekend. Here are the bright eyed and bushy-tailed ones, ready to go. I found these free, printable grade signs, which I LOVE from Designs by Nicolina.

Now, let me introduce you to my latest idea. The Homework Caddy.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Homework Caddy

In an effort to cut down on wasted time, misplaced assignments and supplies, and mismanaged time all 3 big boys will be doing homework at our very large, and accommodating kitchen table this year. The homework caddy will be on-hand each day, smack dab in the middle of the table with all the supplies each boy could possibly need to complete their assignments. Best of all? There will be no reason, or excuse, for any of our homework supplies to be ‘walking off’ this year. Here’s to hoping this also prevents the over-used, ‘But Moooooom, I can’t do my homework because I don’t have…’.

Inside the caddy, which I found at Jo-Ann’s craft store, are 3 pint-sized Mason jars containing markers, sharpened pencils, and colored pencils. There’s plenty of loose-leaf tucked in the back, and even a pad of construction paper. Pens have been included and tucked away in the bottom is a pair of scissors, manual pencil sharpener, and two glue sticks. Did I manage to forget anything?

Make homework time just a little bit easier this year by making your own homework caddy today.

Oh, and fellow parents? We made it! Happy 1st Day of School 2013.

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

I could not live without coffee. The morning that I awoke to discover the creamer was all gone, was a nightmare of epic proportions. I was in a daze, wondering who had sabotaged my morning routine. I mean, it must have been sabotage, because there was no way I would have forgotten to add creamer to the grocery list!

I had milk. I had sugar. I had vanilla.  I tried it, and it just wasn’t cutting it. I just had to have the smooth, creamy start to my day.

As Plato pointed out so long ago, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In a moment of inspiration I ran to my computer and immediately began Google-ing a homemade creamer recipe. Every recipe I found called for condensed milk. Crap! I was out of that too! I was saved by the bell when another search pointed out it was relatively easy to make that at home too.

Two hours later, I had fresh, homemade condensed milk and was finally on my way to enjoying my first cup of coffee.

Since then, I keep this in the fridge for creamer, and also for smoothies and baking. It works just as well as it’s store-bought counterparts, and with less than half the sugar. Store your own homemade condensed milk in an air tight refrigerator and it can be used up until the expiration date on the milk used to make it.

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

4 Sons 'R' Us: Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

recipe from Just As Delish

  • 1 liter of whole, or 2 %, milk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter, optional, to thicken the milk

Directions

  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, bring the milk and the sugar to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer very gently for about 2 hours until the volume is reduced by half. The milk should be barely simmering and never boiling at any point.
  3. Use a timer, and stir every 15 minutes to keep the ‘skin’ from developing on top.
  4. After 2 hours, stir in the butter.
  5. Remove the pot from heat, and allow to cool. The milk will thicken as it cools.

When refrigerated, the homemade version has thicker consistency than the commercial one. You can add a few drops of water and whisk it lightly if desired to get a thinner mixture.

1, 2, 3 … Lollipop Tree

I love my sisters completely, but years into adulthood, I still have vague recollections of us disagreeing, and possibly fighting, throughout our childhood. I’m still convinced I’m imagining most of the excessive bickering though. We couldn’t have possible argued all the time. Right?!

Now that I have four boys, the oldest three of who are extremely close in age, I am plagued by bickering, tattle-tailing, ‘he-said/’she-said’ disputes, etc. Just bickering, over everything. Over anything. Sometimes…even over nothing. I love my boys to death, but I just can’t deal with constant, and needless conflict. I’ve had to get creative to not simply ‘cope’ with this sibling issue, but to combat it head-on. While my husband and I are no strangers to ‘consequences’ I do like to try an incentive or reward-based program first. The lollipop tree was something I had stumbled upon on Pinterest, as a party decoration, but I had other things in mind for this adorable little ‘plant’.

Our lollipop tree is used as a reward system for acts of kindness. Every time we witness an unprompted act of generosity, helpfulness, compassion…you name it. The kids get a lollipop. While I hoped this practice would work when I began it, I have to admit I was more than a little skeptical. However, after almost a year in action, I can definitely see the successes. Of course, being realistic, it hasn’t weeded out all the bickering and combativeness, but it has gone a long way to serve as a permanent, visual reminder to think about their actions, and even the consequences that may result from them.

1, 2, 3 … Lollipop Tree

4 Sons 'R' Us: 1,2,3...Lollipop Tree

  • small plant pot of your color, size, and choice
  • a Styrofoam ball that fits into the opening of your pot, and is snugly supported by it
  • an economy size bag of Dum-Dum lollipops

Directions

  1. Place the styrofoam ball on top of the plant pot.
  2. Start sticking your Dum-Dum lollipops into the styrofoam ball, keeping the lollipops close together.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Lollipop Tree

3. Continue sticking the lollipops in until you’ve filled up the entire part of the ball that is showing outside the plant pot.

lollipop tree

You’re done! How easy was that?!

And, I have to add that if I did have a daughter or an opportunity to plan a girl’s birthday party, this would be the perfect table decoration for any Candyland, or candy ‘themed’ party!

Summer Car Crayons

I can’t get a single thing by my youngest. At four, hell hath no fury like him discovering me throwing anything away, ever. I have to smuggle out crayons like a Mexican drug lord. While I really hate throwing things away that I can re-purpose, I can’t stand to see his tiny little hands cramped up, struggling to make the tiny broken bits of crayons create the perfect little pictures he has in mind. So yes, me, the meanest Mommy in the world, takes them away. Contrary to his belief I don’t actually throw them in the garbage though. I have accumulated quite a stock-pile in my craft bins. When I saw heard about this idea, I just knew that this was the reason I had held onto them. Now, using nothing more than the summer heat as a power source, we now have a whole new batch of fun crayons to create with. At his age, he thought it was magical as we periodically checked on the melting crayons and how they ‘transformed’ from something old and broken into something brand spankin’ new.

For my older boys, I used this as a teaching point and science experiment to help explain how truly hot the inside of a car gets on a typical summer day. When we did this it was only about 85 degrees out, and pretty comfortable outside. However, our car was sitting in direct sunlight and I think they finally saw why their are always ads on tv and the radio about not leaving your children or pets in the car. While comfortable outside, they watched as our car was transformed into a virtual oven.

Before this experiment, especially with the oldest two sons, I would face a chorus of complaints, and ‘but why‘s’ when they had to come into stores with me while I was out running my errands. Since the car crayons, not a single issue. Instead of spending time wasting my breath lecturing them on the potential ‘dangers’ (the eye rolls suggest they typically think I’m just being an over-protective mother), it was so much easier to simply show them.

Summer Car Crayons

4 Sons 'R' Us: Summer Car Crayons

  • old crayons, papers removed and broken into pieces
  • silicone baking mold, or silicone ice tray
  • your car
  • a hot summer day

4 Sons 'R' Us: Summer Car Crayons

 

  1. Add a variety of broken crayon bits into the molds. You can combine similar colors, or a mix and see what combinations you end up with.
  2. Place mold on a cookie sheet for stability and sit on the dash board of your vehicle.
  3. It will take about 2 hours for the crayons to melt all the way. Periodically, come out to check on them and view their progress.
  4. When fully melted, use pot holders to carry the cookie tray back inside.
  5. You can leave them to cool on their own, or place in the refrigerator to help speed up the cooling process.
  6. When completely cool, pop out your new crayons and get coloring.

{One Pot Wonder} Cheeseburger Casserole

I love a one pot meal. This recipe is so easy, quick to prepare, and the same great cheeseburger flavors we crave. I can’t stress this enough… it did in fact taste just like a cheeseburger! Less mess, less clean-up, but some very satisfied customers. Sprinkling on some of our favorite traditional cheeseburger toppings rounded out the truly authentic taste. While the rest of us opted for tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and pickles, I did have to draw the line for the oldest son at mayonnaise. What is it about teenage boys and mayonnaise? He puts it on everything. Eventually I caved at steak sauce, as long as it remained only on his plate. But, I digress. This meal really is outstanding. Shake things up, and step outside of the box, the next night you’re craving burgers by giving this a try!

{One Pot Wonder} Cheeseburger Casserole

4 Sons 'R' Us: {One Pot Wonder} Cheeseburger Casserole

recipe adapted from Number 2 Pencil

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 lb rotini pasta
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • freshly diced tomato
  • green onions, thinly sliced
  • pickles
  • shredded lettuce

Directions

  1. In a dutch oven, or large pot, add olive oil. Over medium heat, saute onions until softened.
  2. Increase heat to high and add ground beef. Brown ground beef. Drain.
  3. Return beef to pot and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add canned tomatoes, sauce, broth, water, pasta, ketchup, and mustard to the pot. Stir to evenly combine.
  5. Bring pot to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, or until the pasta is tender.
  6. Once pasta is cooked, remove the pot from heat and stir in one cup of cheddar cheese.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese over top the pasta and re-cover with lid until the cheese is melted.
  8. Serve. Add your choice of the traditional cheeseburger toppings to your serving and enjoy.

Sugar Crumb Crispies

Do you know those nights when you feel like dinner should definitely be followed by a dessert? I have nights like that at least twice a week. One of those nights, I’ve usually planned something, everything is all ready, and I actually look (and feel) like I have it completely together in the kitchen. The other nights, I’m usually grasping a sugary ‘straws’, scrambling to come up with something in the last 30 minutes before dinner is done and ready to be plated. Enter: Sugar Crumb Crispies. From start to finish these little dessert ‘chips’ are ready to serve in 20 minutes. Perfect for the last minute ‘I have plenty of time until dinner’s ready and want to make something else’ nights. Also, perfect for the busy mom who totally flaked and told the kids there would be dessert, and then forgot because she didn’t write it on the menu board. A-hem. We won’t name names. Or point fingers.

Sugar Crumb Crispies

4 Sons 'R' Us: Sugar Crumb Crispies

recipe adapted from Chef-In-Training

  • 1/4 cup cold butter (1/2 a stick)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 can, or 1 batch of homemade, crescent rolls

GLAZE

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp milk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut in the butter into the sugars, cinnamon, salt, and flour to form crumbs.
  3. On an ungreased cookie sheet, spread the crescent dough into 8 triangles.
  4. Sprinkle the ‘crumbs’ on top.
  5. Bake for 8-12 minutes.
  6. After the cooked triangles have completely cooled, cut into smaller triangles.
  7. Blend together all the glaze ingredients and drizzle over the Sugar Crumb Crispies.

Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Lorax’ Themed Birthday Party

With four boys, you’d think that would mean A LOT of birthday parties. I used to have visions of perfectly planned out, whimsical themed parties. As the kids grew, they pretty much let me know I’d lost a marble or two. I’m lucky if the older boys let me comb their hair on their big day. All totally normal I’m told, but I still don’t have to like it. Do I?

That being said, I’m taking full advantage of the youngest son’s obsessive love of things and getting in as many themed birthday’s as I can before I’m stuck with just super heroes, and then nothing but cake, ice cream, pizza, and presents.

Since he first got it for Christmas, the youngest son has been in love with The ‘War-ax’. I had flirted with the idea of Toy Story, but as I watch his love of this famous Seuss’ character continue to thrive, logically I knew nothing else would do. That being said, while I enjoy having a ‘theme’ especially one so close to his little heart, I do have four kids and there’s only so much I can do. While I wish I had the time, and energy, and let’s be honest… motivation to throw the super elaborate parties some of my friends do where everything is planned out, coordinated, and theme-centric (virtually down to the tp in the bathroom), I just can’t.

Son # 4 walked in, took one look at the few simple treats in store for him, and his face literally lit up. Now, if only I could keep him thinking I’m that cool forever.

Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Lorax’ Themed Birthday Party

'The Lorax' Themed Birthday Party

The Lorax face was made using a pumpkin template that I traced onto construction paper. The pumpkin template can be found here. Orange Hawaiian Punch made his ‘body’.  I did have to explain that punch, in this instance, is something you drink and not something you do. The ‘UNLESS’ quote printable can be gotten from A Little Delightful. The I speak for the trees picture was made using lollipop sticks, a sharpie, sparkly pom poms, and a glue gun.

Since my son absolutely loves The Lorax movie, and it’s adorable cast of characters, I knew I wanted to have some themed goodies to snack on. We opted for Teddy Grahams ( as Barbaloots), Goldfish (representing the Humming Fish), Marshmallows (their most favorite treat), and yellow and orange Reese’s Pieces to represent The Lorax himself.

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Also, to note, when setting out snacks at a party, vases, bowls, glasses and jars all make cute serving dishes.

Of course, the youngest son had to have a ‘War-ax’ cake. Again I used the cut out pumpkin template to ‘trace’ the basic outline with a tooth pick. The eyes were made using life savers, smarties, and miniature chocolate chips. We also made him his very own Truffula tree forest.

Lorax Party

Lorax Party 2

'The Lorax' Themed Birthday Party 3

Again, these cupcakes were made using lollipop sticks that I had ‘sharpi-ed’ Truffula bark onto. Tufts of cotton candy made the ‘wooly’ bits. While I had seen these cupcakes in several party posts, there was on lesson they all failed to mention that I had to learn the hard way. Cotton candy melts, especially in a moist atmosphere. These were what the cupcakes looked like about an hour after being tufted.

Lorax Party 3

Pretty depressing, right? I felt a brief wave of panic when I checked on them before I went to bed the night before the party and originally discovered their sorry state. However, I was easily able to re-do the sticks and waited until just before I was ready to serve cake to re-tuft, and they stayed perfectly fluffy up until the moment they were greedily gobbled up.

So, son # 4 thought he was pretty much the luckiest little boy in the whole world when he saw his special cake and cupcakes. I know this because he told me so himself the next morning when he borrowed one of my rings and proposed to me.

Lorax Party 4

Chicken And Stuffing Stuffed Shells

There are many variations of stuffed shells, our family loves this easy recipe for Chicken And Stuffing Stuffed Shells. It’s quick & easy using boxed stuffing mix, chopped rotisserie chicken, and everyone’s favorite- pasta- smothered in a creamy sauce. It’s guaranteed to get the whole family gathered around the table for a filling meal.

Chicken And Stuffing Stuffed Shells

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Thai Chicken Coconut Soup

This is one of my new favorite summer soups! It has the perfect blend of light creaminess with the curry flavor I crave, without being too spicy. I am not a fan of coconut, but this is one of the rare instances where there’s an exception to that rule. The vague hint of coconut isn’t at all overpowering. This is my kind of ‘Thai’! While this may not appeal to an authentic Thai food enthusiast, it was everything I was looking for. This soup is perfect for someone who loves a good creamy chicken and rice soup and an Asian flair.

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup

4 Sons 'R' Us: Thai Chicken Coconut Soup

recipe adapted from Foodtastic Mom

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp prepared Thai curry paste, green or red depending on preference
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 red pepper, seeded and diced
  • 8 oz button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups chicken breast, cooked and shredded
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot, or dutch oven, melt the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the curry paste, stirring to combine evenly.
  2. Add all the vegetables and salt and saute for 8-10 minutes.
  3. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.
  4.  Add stock, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered for 30 minutes to allow rice to fully cook.
  5. Add the cooked chicken, coconut milk, lime juice, sugar and cilantro. Stir well and allow to heat through.
  6. Remove soup from heat, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary with more salt or sugar.
  7. Serve soup sprinkled with more fresh cilantro and a drizzle of Sirarcha sauce, if desired.