Thursday, March 29, 2012

Marble Mania

Years ago my oldest son received a sand/water table for his birthday.  We have had many hours of fun with it, but this year I have decided to make it just a water table.  Sometimes the sand can get a bit messy.  Besides, what kid doesn't love to play in the water? 

To make it extra special, I bought Magic Marbles to play with in the table.  What are Magic Marbles??  Well, they are a neat little product than start very small, and when water is added, they "magically" turn into a gel marble.  Gel crystals that are the same concept have been used for years in the florist industry.  If you ever had a lucky bamboo plant stuck in a gel substance, it's the same type of product.

What I like about these marbles are they are fun way to teach science, predicting skills, and just plain fun.  They last a long time, can just be rinsed in water if they get too dirty, and when you are done playing add them to your soil to keep the plants hydrated.

I bought mine from QVC from the Roberta's product line.  I received five tubes in various colors for under $20.00.  Each tube will make five quarts of marbles.  So it will easily last the whole summer.  Here's a few pictures of them.

for reference I placed the grain along side of a M&M

after 4 hours in water, you have a gel marble

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dijon Chicken with Risotto

I haven't published a main dish recipe in quite a while.  I made Dijon chicken yesterday for my husband, put it in the fridge, and he was able to heat it up when he came home from work.

I think it's super important to have family dinners together.  However, Jay is missing from the equation on most nights because of his job.  Spring is a very busy time of year for him, and I'm lucky if I get a phone call from him before I go to bed.  So I have been trying to prepare meals that will reheat easily, and meals that I can stretch for a couple of dinners. 

Also being on a budget, using chicken thighs was a great cost saving idea.  Typically chicken thighs are lower in cost than chicken breasts.  I happened to find a great deal on organic boneless skinless at BJ's.  They were even pre-packaged into four individual pouches ready for the freezer.  I kept out one package (containing four large chicken thighs), and froze the other three packages for a later date.  Besides being cost friendly, chicken thighs are dark meat and stay a bit moister when re-heating.

I paired this with a creamy Parmesan risotto.  Now don't be afraid of cooking risotto.  It's quite simple, just takes a bit of time, about thirty minutes.  Another key to cooking risotto, is having your chicken or vegetable stock warm.  This way when you add it to the rice it doesn't bring down the cooking temperature.  The recipe I use for risotto is on the back of the rice container.  To put my own little spin on it, I added a handful of frozen peas and Parmesan cheese.  Can you say yummy?!

I urge you to give this dish a try.  It's simple, can be prepared ahead of time, budget friendly, and it's great for entertaining.  Serve along side of a green salad and your guests will be impressed.

Dijon Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken thighs, sprinkled with salt and pepper
1 c. chicken stock
juice of one lemon
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
salt & pepper to taste

In a large skillet, drizzle in about a tablespoon of canola oil over medium heat.  Add your chicken thighs, and cook on the first side about 8 to 10 minutes.  You want to get a good sear and brown the meat well.  Flip and cook on the other side about another 4 to 6 minutes or until thighs are cooked through. 

If you are not sure if the chicken is cooked through by poking it, take a small knife and cut a slit in the middle.  No one is going to know you cut it open once you pour the sauce on.  I also think your guests would rather a have small slit in their chicken, than having under cooked meat.

Remove chicken from the skillet and allow to rest on a plate.  Add the flour and butter to the hot skillet.  Stir with a whisk and let the flour cook about a minute.  Add the chicken stock, whisking to make a pan sauce.  Add the mustard, lemon juice, and salt & pepper to taste.  Pour over your chicken.

Creamy Parmesan & Pea Risotto

1 c. uncooked arborio rice
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. diced onion
3 c. chicken stock, warmed
1/2 c. frozen peas
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

In a deep skillet, saute onion with oil and butter for 3 minutes over medium heat.  Add rice and cook another 2 minutes.  Add one cup of chicken stock, stirring, until absorbed.  Repeat this process with the remaining chicken stock.  Don't rush this, you want to let the rice cook and become creamy.  Taste your rice to check if it is tender.  If it's not tender after adding all the stock, add about another 1/2 cup of stock until tender.  Remove from heat, add frozen peas, and Parmesan cheese.  Stir with a wooden spoon vigorously until super creamy.

Like I said before, this meal is super simple but takes a bit of time.  I prepared my risotto first, as it took about 30 minutes.  Also, I left the sauce off the chicken until I reheated it, so it wouldn't make my rice soggy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fashion In Bloom

I love fashion.  I don't always have the confidence to pull off the latest trends, but I watch all the fashion programs on T.V.  I really like "girlie" fashion, meaning pretty delicate silhouettes, floral prints, and pearls.  Oh I love pearls!

This season floral is trending big.  I was able to pick up two really pretty floral Toile cardigans for the season.  I also freshened up my wardrobe with two new jersey tiered skirts.  However, my biggest splurge was some new scarves.  It wasn't that much of a splurge because I got them on sale (there goes my girl math).  I was able to get three scarves for under $40, and they are from one of my most favorite designers, Isaac Mizrahi.

I believe you can freshen up an outfit just by adding a scarf.  I wear them all winter, and I change up the fabric for spring and summer.  Here are the new scarves I purchased:

Aren't they pretty?  I have worn two of them already and received compliments.  So look through your wardrobe, and instead of breaking the bank for the new season, purchase a few accessories :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Spring!

It is the first day of spring!!!  I love the changing of the seasons.  By the time I am tired of one season, the next one is normally right around the corner.  Now, I have to say we were really lucky this winter (I'm still waiting for the blizzard to hit, and in New York State, it's still possible;). 

I thought I would re-post two links.  The first is for a strategy to clean your house.  I know a lot of people are ready to tear into the house for "spring cleaning".  Sometimes over ambition, tends to lead to burn out.  So here's how I clean my house on a regular basis, and it holds true for spring cleaning as well.
House Cleaning Schedule

The second item is my tip for ridding your house of spiders.  Tis the season where they are waking up, making a nice new home in the corners of your house.  This is an all natural spider spray that you have the ingredients for right in your kitchen.
Spider Spray

Happy Spring and Happy Spring Cleaning!!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Make Your Own Uncrustables!

I'm in the mood for a silly mindless post.  Our community has been turned upside the last few days.  On Friday, the school superintendant announced the merging of the elementaries.  Which in laymans terms means closing of my son's school.

This wasn't a surprise, but is still uspetting.  It's kind of like mourning the loss of a loved one who had a terminal illness.  While you know what the final outcome is going to be, the reality is still devastating.  What makes it more upsetting is, we have many many unanswered questions.  There is no set plan in place for splitting the children into the remaining schools.  The staff are unaware of what grade and which school they will be teaching in next year. 

I guess if we knew how to prepare for the next step, it could be easier to cope.  So, onto something completely silly.  When I was at the grocery store about a week ago, I was standing in line to check out browsing at the P.O.P. (point of purchase) items.  For those who never worked in retail, these are items strategically placed at the checkouts to make additional sales.  Typically they are low cost items, but everytime they get you to buy one, the store's sales just increased. 

Being a retail veteran, and being married to a retail manager of a $30 million store, I feel I am above these gimmicks.  Who am I kidding, I fell for it!!  I love a new kitchen gadget and this one was only $1.99.  See, low cost + kitchen gadget junkie=$$$$.

So what item did I fall for.  Here it is:

This fun little gadget cuts the crust off the sandwich and seals it, making it your version of an uncrustable.  You can fill it with, peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and honey (Adam's new favorite), make it into grilled cheese, or fill it with pizza sauce and cheese and make mini calzones.

Here's how it works.  You make a typical peanut butter and jelly sandwich, filling only the middle of the bread. (All the instructions are on the back of the card.)

Put the top slice of bread on.  Fit the sandwich cutter over the slice, and press down on the outer white portion.  Remove the crust, and then press on the inner blue portion to seal the seams. 

TA DA!!!!

How about for another time saver, make a bunch of these, put them in baggies, and throw them in the freezer.  You can use your favorite jam or jelly, you're not stuck with just grape or strawberry like the ones in the freezer department. 

So the next time you are at the checkout, look at the P.O.P. items, and you may just find a fun little treasure :)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Winner Is: Cinnamon Swirl Cupcake

This was the first cupcake featured in Cupcake Spotlight, so it does feel right that it is the winner.

2 c. cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 c. whole milk
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. cinnamon

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon; set aside.  In a large bowl cream together butter, sugar, and eggs.  Add milk and vanilla.  Slowly add the dry ingredients. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a muffin pan with paper cups.  Fill each cup about 2/3 full.  Bake for 18 to 21 minutes.  Test with a toothpick, if it comes out clean, it's done.  Allow to cool.


8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. butter, softened
2 c. powder sugar
1 tsp.vanilla
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Combine all the ingredients, until smooth and fluffy.

Caramel Drizzle

1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 tbsp. milk
1 c. powder sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt

Melt butter until light brown and add sugar. Stir until dissolved and just comes to a bubble.  Remove from heat, add milk, powder sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Whisk until smooth.  Allow to cool a bit, drizzle over frosted cupcakes.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

All Tied Up

I found a baby pillow pet to match the monkey print
I've been plugging away on a bunch of different projects.  The past few days I have been making fleece tied blankets. 

These blankets have been around at least ten years.  So it's nothing new, but I still love them.  Both of my boys were gifted blankets from my dear friend when they were babies.  They still have them on their beds.  In fact my youngest, insists on sleeping with his even during 90 degree summer temperatures. 

The blankets can be tailored to match any decor.  I have made them for children, Jay's parents, even his soon to be 89 year old grandmother.  I have one on our couch that is two solid colors to match our decor (this one is extra long, so two people can snuggle up under it).

So while making one of the blankets, my oldest son told me to post it on the blog.  I thought, no it's been out there for so long everyone knows how to make these.  Then I was thinking, maybe not everyone knows.  These are so simple to make, in fact my friend who gave me the instructions, literally did so over the phone.

So I took a few pictures so you can follow along.  Here's how to make a no-sew fleece tied blanket.

  • Purchase 2 kinds of fleece, 2 yards each. I used a pattern, and pulled out a coordinating color for the solid backing.
  • Lay out the fleece putting the wrong sides together.  Trim any uneven edges.

rainbow print backed in the purple

  • Cut out a 4 inch square from each corner.  This allows you to turn the corner when tying the blanket.

  • Cut 1" x 4" strips. I only cut one side of the blanket at at time.  This way I can put the project away and the strips don't get askew.  You can use a rotary cutter or scissors.  I just "eyeball" the cuts.

  • Begin tying each strip together, print and solid, in a simple knot.

  • Work your way around all four sides. 

The beauty about these blankets: machine wash and tumble dry!!!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Happy 200th Post!!!!

Today is my 200th post on My Little Blogspot.  I have enjoyed the last year and a half sharing recipes, tips, and ideas. 

Seeing I never put the Cupcake Spotlight recipes in the index, I decided to post one of them.  I will let my followers vote and decide which one will be featured.  What better way to celebrate than with cupcakes??

cinnamon cupcake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting and caramel drizzle

flowers in bloom

applesauce cupcakes

pumpkin cupcakes with orange cream cheese frosting and candied orange peel

black forest cupcakes

vanilla snowball cupcakes with vanilla mascarpone frosting

chocolate oreo cupcakes

rainbow cupcakes with marshmallow frosting

banana cake with caramel buttercream

carrot cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting

chocolate chip cookie cups with buttercream

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Blast From The Past

Last March I posted rainbow cupcakes in Cupcake Spotlight.  Then in June I showed how to make a rainbow birthday cake for my son's magic party.

Seeing all the rainbow ideas out there right now for St. Patrick's Day, I figured a little blast from the past was in order.  The link below with show how to do the birthday cake and it can be scaled down to cupcake size too!

Rainbow Birthday Cake

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bake Pop Pan Tutorial

Snow Day!!! Some people cringe at the thought of enough snow for a snow day, while others relish in it.  Me, I am sometimes confused as to why we get a snow day declared in our area.  I grew up in Buffalo and 3 feet of snow doesn't constitute a snow day, while 3 inches here in Oneonta can.  Oh well. 

Today was a snow day, and it was a blessing in disguise.  My little guy's asthma is acting up and I was going to keep him home from school.  I was not looking forward to the argument (he really likes pre-k), then when a snow day was called, my prayers were answered.  He can stay in his pj's all day and mommy is not the bad guy (or girl) who said he couldn't go to school :)

Normally on a snow day, I would take the kids sledding or play outside.  However, with my little one not feeling great we stayed inside.  As a blogger, I see this as an opportunity to get some blog material accomplished.  So today was cake pop day using the Bake Pop Pan.  When I was done, my older son acted as my delivery boy and spread the cake pop joy to our neighbors.

Step 1:  I used a boxed cake mix that included pudding (like Pillsbury's).  The manufacturer suggests this or add pudding to another brand.  Also they suggest to add an extra egg, and substitute the water in the instructions for milk, cutting the amount by half.  This makes a more dense cake, that will hold together on the stick better.

Step 2:  Fill the bottom portion of the pan up to the fill line.  Add the top of the top, secure with clips, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes.

Step 3:  Let the cake pops cool for a few minutes in the pan, remove the lid, and move to a cooling rack.  If the cake bakes up through the top holes, don't worry, just cut off with a sharp knife before removing the lid.

Step 4:  After the cake has cooled, melt a small amount of chocolate, about 1/8 cup.  You can use a double boiler or a microwave on short 30 second increments. Stirring in between. (I prefer a double boiler.) 

Step 5:  Dip lollipop sticks into the chocolate and insert them into the bottom of the cake pop, about 1/2 inch.

Step 6:  Allow the chocolate to setup, this helps the cake to stay on the stick.  Meanwhile, melt about 2 cups of chocolate, until smooth.  Put into a deep cup or bowl (I used a coffee mug) that the pops can be dipped in.

Step 7:  Dip each pop into the chocolate.  Allow the excess to drip off, lightly tap or swirl the pop to help the process. 

Step 8:  Insert pops into a piece of foam. I used a floral block covered in foil, for easy cleanup.  Top with sprinkles.

Step 9:  Allow chocolate to harden.  I put them in the fridge for a few minutes, to stop the chocolate from running down the stick.  Then allow to sit at room temperature to harden the rest of the way.  Wrap with a lollipop bag and curling ribbon.

Another idea:  If you don't want to make them into cake pops, just coat the balls in chocolate.  Allow to harden on parchment paper.  They fit perfectly into mini muffin wrappers.