Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pictures With Santa

When I heard about Fotofly Santa I just knew I had to take Ella to get her pictures taken. Fotofly dresses up Mom or Dad as Santa (complete with a big belly) so the kids feel more comfortable and then they take pictures of 'Santa' from the neck down. Genius! Since Ella knew she was standing next to Dad she was smiling and happy and we got some really cute pictures. 

Ella and Santa (aka Dad)

Ella reaching in for her present

Also, since we are on the Christmas topic I will show you a couple of our trees (even though pictures do not do them justice). Besides a traditional tree this year, I did a hunting and fishing tree for my husband complete with shotgun shell and duck call lights. It turned out so fun and he loves it. The decorations for his tree are from Cabela's and Sportsman's Warehouse.


Duck Hunting

Also, I put a little tree in Ella's room and decorated it with pink, glitter, lights, and candy. She loves having her tree lit at night.

Ella's tree and decorations are from Target.

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas! XOXO

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sausage, Tomato, and Penne Casserole

This dish is one of my family's favorites. It is easy to make, very flavorful and delicious, and freezes well if you want to make it into a freezer meal. I broke up the ingredients below so that it would make it easier if you are making it into a freezer meal kit (see instructions below the recipe). I made a freezer kit version of this tonight and dinner was on the table in about 10 minutes.


8 ounces uncooked penne pasta

8 ounces mild Italian sausage
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 medium white onion, sliced vertically
2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 can diced Italian tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons Italian tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil)
1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
2. While pasta cooks, remove sausage from casings (if applicable). Heat oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute 2 minutes until tender. Add sausage and cook 7-8 minutes until browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in canned tomatoes and next 6 ingredients. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Preheat broiler.
4. Drain pasta and add it into the pan with the sausage mixture; toss evenly to coat. Transfer mixture to a 11x7-inch casserole pan coated with baking spray. Sprinkle with cheese. Broil 2 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Serves 6


To make it into a freezer meal kit:
1. Put uncooked Penne into a quart-sized freezer bag.
2. Cook the onion, garlic, and sausage (as directed in step 2 above). When cool, put this mixture in a quart-sized freezer bag.
3. Mix canned tomatoes and next 6 ingredients in a quart-sized freezer bag.
4. Put cheese in a quart-sized freezer bag.
5. Put all 4 freezer bags into one gallon-sized bag. Label the outside with the name of the dish, the date, and write the following directions:

  1. Thaw freezer meal completely.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  3. While pasta cooks, add sausage mixture into a large non-stick pan and cook 1-2 minutes on medium-high heat. Stir in tomato mixture. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Preheat broiler.
  5. Drain pasta and add it into the pan with the sausage mixture; toss evenly to coat. Transfer mixture to a 11x7-inch casserole pan coated with baking spray. Sprinkle with cheese. Broil 2 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Christmas Bucket List

As you probably know, a bucket list is a list of things you want to accomplish before you "kick the bucket." On Pinterest I have found several Winter/Christmas bucket lists that you can use to plan all the fun things you want to do during the holiday season and then keep it going year after year. Here are some fun examples and my Christmas bucket list:

Bucket List from littlepumpkingrace.com 

 Bucket List from makoodle.com

Bucket List from etsy.com 

Activities Advent from kimmccrary.blogspot.com

My Christmas Bucket List

  • See The Nutcracker
  • Look at Christmas lights - Zoo Lights, Temple Square, Thanksgiving Point, and some of the Best Decorated Homes (listed in the paper)
  • Decorate Cookies
  • Drink Peppermint Hot Cocoa
  • Kiss under the Mistletoe
  • Build a Snowman
  • Order the Holiday Assortment from Georgetown Cupcake 
  • Visit the Festival of Trees
  • Build a House (from chocolate, graham crackers, or gingerbread)
  • Watch the original Grinch on TV

Now I just need to make it a festive list like the ones above and hang it on the calendar each December. And I am sure this list will grow as Ella gets older - we will definitely have to add sledding, write a letter to Santa, bake cookies for Santa, and more.

Don't you think it's a fun way to see all the things you get to do as a family during the holidays (above and beyond decking the halls and sending Christmas cards)?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Favorite Organic and All-Natural Foods

In an effort to cut preservatives, pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones out of my diet, I have been a little more careful with the foods I select at the grocery store. I have always bought some all-natural foods, but since having a baby I have become so much more aware of what I am feeding my family. I have been trying to prove to my husband over the ten years we have been married that healthy less-processed food doesn't mean it has to taste like cardboard. All of these foods, organic and all-natural, I am about to share with all of you are amazingly tasty and they aren't full of pesticides, preservatives, or growth hormones (which my husband jokes is what makes food taste good). 

Organic foods are produced using methods that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, do not contain genetically modified organisms, and are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives. 

The day Ella was able to have cows milk I was in search of a milk that was rBST free (rBST is a growth hormone) and found this milk at Sunflower Farmer's Market. It's Shamrock Farms Organic Milk and my family loves it. It is seriously the most delicious milk we have ever had. Quick note: milk doesn't have to be organic to be rBST free, just check the bottle to make sure it doesn't have this hormone (it will say "rBST free"). Some farmer's give their cows this hormone to make them produce more milk which is then passed through the milk onto us. I don't know about you, but I don't need any extra growth hormones.

One of the main reasons I wanted to post about my favorite organic foods is because of this bread - Dave's Killer Bread. It ROCKS! It's organic, it's delicious, and it has 21 whole grains. Dave's motto is "Just say no to bread on drugs!" It has no preservatives, no animal byproducts, and no GMO's (genetically modified organisms). I found this amazingly delicious bread at Costco.

Some of my other favorite organic staples are organic eggs from Costco (I make sure the are free range chicken eggs), Organic Girl Good Clean Greens (click here for one of my recipes), organic whole wheat pasta, and organic steel cut oats. I try and buy organic produce as much as possible too.

"Natural Foods" are often foods that are minimally processed and do not contain any hormones, antibiotics, sweeteners, food colors, or flavorings that were not originally in the food.

A lot of foods I buy are all-natural. I like the fact that they don't have yucky additives. Don't get me wrong, not all of my family's favorite things come all-natural, but everything is okay in moderation (i.e. cupcakes and other delicious items). 

One of my favorite all-natural food makers is Alexia All Natural Gourmet Foods. They make yummy appetizers, artisan breads, fries, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and vegetable sides. I have had almost everything they make (except I am dying to try the new Waffle Cut Parmesan Lemon fries) and I love it all. All of their products are so flavorful and delicious. Alexia products can be found at most grocery stores. Here are two of my family's favorites: 
Sweet Potato Puffs (think Sweet Potato Tater Tots - Ella especially loves these)

I LOVE anything Kashi and when I need a sweet treat I go for these - Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Soft-Baked Cookies. All-natural, whole grain, dark chocolate, and they are so delish! These can be found at most grocery stores.

Kettle Baked Potato Chips. All I have to say besides they are all-natural and baked - they are my favorite chips EVER!

Other all-natural foods I love are Seapoint Farms Edamame, Gardenburgers, and three others that I blogged about in the past, Diana's Banana Babies, Dave's Gourmet Pasta Sauces, and Dorot Frozen Fresh Herbs.

AND last, but not least I have to mention my three favorite all-natural restaurants that even have organic ingredients in their kitchens; Blue Lemon, Chipotle, and Jamba Juice. I love Blue Lemon and die for their Black Bean Ravioli. I eat at Chipotle at least once a week and even my baby is addicted to their brown rice and black beans. And Jamba Juice has amazingly delicious organic steel cut oatmeal and a new hot cider drink (the Chillbuster) with organic mulling spices. So good!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cooks Herb Wreath

Dear Santa, I have added one more thing to my Christmas wish list. 

Isn't it pretty? Not only is it a pretty wreath, but it's functional. It's a Cooks Herb Wreath sold exclusively by Williams-Sonoma. It is made of culinary herbs - bay leaf, purple oregano, rosemary, and sage. The wreath is handmade by a family-owned farm in California where their herbs are grown without the use of herbicides and pesticides. The herbs are shipped fresh and you can use them in your recipes, even as they dry, for up to a year.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Easy Holiday Centerpiece

A centerpiece is a very important part of any holiday table. To make a really easy, really pretty centerpiece for your table you just need a bag of fresh cranberries, a vase, and some fresh flowers. 

I found this bunch of glittered spider mums at Costco.

Fill your vase with cranberries almost to the top.

Then fill the vase with water until the cranberries are covered.

Cut the stems on the flowers so they are about three inches long and remove any leaves.

Stick the flowers in between the cranberries and just keep adding them until it is exactly the way you like it. I liked the glitter on the spider mums because it made the water glittery too (you can't really tell in the pictures). This arrangement lasts for days and looks so pretty. Be prepared for a lot of compliments - everyone loves this arrangement.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Genius Kitchen Tips

I always find the best ideas and tips on Pinterest. Here are three kitchen tips I found and tried and absolutely LOVED. 

The first one is baking potatoes in the slow cooker. I know, right? You just have to wash and dry the potatoes, wrap them in tin foil, and cook them on low for 8 hours. I tried this out the other day and it made dinner so easy. All I had to do was put some ingredients like salsa, cheese, broccoli, etc. on the table and we had a potato bar that literally took 10 minutes to prepare.

The next tip is absolutely genius! Cooking bacon in the oven! This frees up room to cook other things on the stove and the best part is, no grease splatter! One site suggested lining your baking sheet in parchment paper and another suggested tin foil. I personally liked the tin foil because you just wrap it up and toss it - no mess. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, lay bacon strips flat (don't overlap), and bake until crisp 15-18 minutes. Lay bacon on paper towel to drain. 

This tip saved me the last time I made pasta. To prevent a pot from boiling over just lay a wooden spoon across the top. Not a single bubble will go over the side. Love it!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Inexpensive Christmas Gift Ideas

It is the first of December and the holiday season has already begun. It's time to start, if you haven't already, planning gift ideas for co-workers, neighbors, friends, as well as everyone else on your Christmas list. I thought I would get started early this year and so far I have put together two small gift ideas that both cost less than $5.

The first gift was one I gave to my coworkers. It is a collapsable berry colander by Progressive (I have one of these and I love it and use it all the time). 

I printed a note that says "Have a 'Berry' Merry Christmas." I cut it out, added some festive paper and tied it all together with ribbon. The berry colanders only cost $3.99 each at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Another gift idea I made was inspired by Pinterest. I found so many creative ideas on how to make a Magic Santa Key. These will go to all our neighbors with younger kids.

I found my 'Magic Keys' at Rodworks for $2.99 each. They are actually Christmas ornaments but they have a 'magical' look about them. I printed the poem below along with santa clipart on velum, cut out a piece of metallic silver paper to fit behind it, and tied it all together with shimmery white ribbon.

Santa’s Magic Key
It’s the night before Christmas and we’re
excited as can be. We’re leaving this out
for you… it’s a very special key.
You can shimmy down the chimney or
tiptoe through the door. Just use this key
we left for you to find cookies, milk, & more!

Now my neighbors kids will have no doubt in their minds Christmas Eve that Santa will be able to get in.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top Five: New Favorite Finds

I love getting recommendations from friends about their favorite products and I love telling friends about mine. I get way excited about new fun products and want to share them with everyone. I thought it would be fun to share a "top five" list once in a while of all of my favorite things. So to start it off, I am giving you a list of my Top Five New Favorite Finds: 

I love this sauce! It is actually not really new to me, I found it last year. But just recently Costco started carrying it again and I bought five 2-packs. I really can't get enough. It is so good with whole wheat spaghetti. It has only 100 calories per 1/2 cup. You can find it at Harmons ($8.99 each) along with their other amazing pasta sauces (I also love the Organic Red Heirloom) or at Costco ($7.99 for a 2-pack). 

This was recently on Shauna Lake's Favorite Things (evening anchor on Channel 2 News). She said that her skin has never looked better. My skin is always so dry in the winter so I thought I would give it a try. I have never loved a moisturizer so much in my life. It is such a light lotion and yet in just a few days my skin looks better and the dryness is gone. AmLactin Moisturizing Body Lotion contains an alpha-hydroxy acid that gently exfoliates and intensely hydrates dry skin. I found it at Walgreens ($25.99, pricey but worth every penny). 

Meet my new favorite water cup by OneVessel drinkware. It is completely BPA free plastic (which means it doesn't have cancer causing crap in it) and it has a lid and straw. Every single morning I fill Ella's sippy cup with a straw and my oneVessel cup with ice water. We both love ice water and we both love straws. I found mine at Nordstrom Cafe ($10.99).

I love this app! You can find locations and directions to a Starbucks near you, pay for your order, manage and reload your Starbucks Card, and look up nutrition information. Yesterday I had a Caramel Apple Spice and a Peppermint Brownie Cake Pop and I really shouldn't have looked at the nutrition information. Who knew Cider had so many calories? Could it have been the caramel and whipped cream? Perhaps. I got this iPhone app at the App Store (Free). 

Chocolate covered frozen bananas remind me of being a kid in Disneyland. I loved the frozen bananas  (even if I did have to pick off every single nut). Diana's Bananas Banana Babies are so amazingly delicious. They are a half of banana dipped in creamy milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or milk chocolate and spanish peanuts. They are all-natural, healthy, and only 130 calories each. Personally, I think they are so much better than ice cream on a stick. I found them at Target ($4.99 for 5 banana babies).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Freezing Fresh Herbs

Nothing flavors food better than fresh herbs. I love them and add them to as many dishes as I can. However, fresh herbs are not always an option. Dried herbs are sometimes the only option and I do love them too. Just remember that if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of fresh herbs, you generally would third that and only add one teaspoon of dried herbs. Always make sure your dried herbs are fresh. If there isn't an expiration date on the bottle than give your herbs and spices the "sniff test." In most cases they have a strong scent. If the scent is weak or not there, it's time to buy new. 

My favorite option when I can't add fresh herbs is frozen herbs. This weekend I finally got out and cut down my rosemary. Fresh rosemary smells so amazing. 

First I picked the leaves off of the stems, washed them thoroughly, and dried them.

Next, I used kitchen shears and cut all the leaves into smaller pieces. 

Then I put them in these awesome trays by AeroGarden that I found on Amazon. They are shaped like leaves and hold one teaspoon and one tablespoon of herbs (ice cube trays are also a good option). Put the herbs in, pack tightly, and add water so the herbs are covered and will freeze together. 

Voila! You have frozen herbs that you can drop into any recipe. 

Don't they look great? I got a couple of trays of rosemary done to use through the winter.

My basil and cilantro didn't do very well this year, so luckily Dorot makes freshly frozen garlic and herbs that come in crushed garlic, chopped basil, chopped parsley, chopped cilantro, crushed ginger, chopped dill, and chopped chili. Each package has 20 separate cubes that are one teaspoon each. Dorot has made it so easy. I absolutely love these! I found them at Sunflower Farmers Market and Harmons.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

4 Days Of Eating, Shopping, And Fun!

Some of my favorite days of the year are coming and I couldn't be more excited. One of them being Thanksgiving, of course - spending time with family, eating way more than our pants will allow, and reflecting on all the things we are truly thankful for. On Thanksgiving morning while my Mom and I are in the kitchen tripping over a toddler and cooking up side dishes to take to our family gathering, my husband will be at a turkey shoot with my brothers. Then he will head home so we can go to my aunt and uncles house where he will be frying up one of our Thanksgiving turkeys (my aunt is cooking a traditional turkey as well). If you have never had deep-fried turkey, you are missing out. 364 days of the year I would tell you to kill your deep-fryer and bury it in the backyard, but if you are frying a turkey for Thanksgiving, I say go for it. It is the most juicy, delicious turkey with such amazing flavor. 

After dinner, the girls will strategize a Black Friday game plan while the guys lounge around. We will go through the ads, plan who will grab which deals, and where to meet if we all get separated or trampled. We will most likely hit Target at midnight, then the mall, and not stop until we are either too tired to go on or completely out of cash. I love Black Friday! 

A few years ago I learned all about Small Business Saturday. I just love the idea! Each year on the Saturday following Black Friday, you stay out of the big box stores and shop local and support the small businesses in your area. We are planning on eating and shopping at only small local businesses that day. I am also planning on getting half of my Christmas gifts at local boutiques and stores this year.

Then on Sunday we are going to put up our tree, watch Christmas movies, and drink hot chocolate. That gets us in the Christmas spirit early every year.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches

I absolutely love my slow cooker. We cook everything in it from soups and stews, roasts, ribs, chicken, and desserts to name a few. Over the years I have collected some really great slow cooker recipes that are easy to make, delicious, and healthy. One of my family's favorite recipes is for slow cooker French Dip sandwiches. They are very flavorful, super easy to make, and also fairly healthy (don't tell my husband). Everyone I have shared this recipe with has loved it too. 

Easy and Delicious Slow Cooker French Dips
2-3 lb. Rump Roast
1 can Beef Consomme'
1 can Beef Broth
1 can French Onion Soup
Sliced Cheese (optional)

The great thing about this recipe is the roast can go straight from the freezer to the slow cooker (no thawing required - love that). The three cans of soup will be your Au Jus - pour the cans of Beef Consomme and Beef Broth over the roast, then pour the French Onion Soup over (I like to pour this can last so that all the onions from the soup are on top of the roast to give it even more flavor). I usually like to have the fat on the roast on the top as well since so much flavor comes from that - but this roast wouldn't stand up because it was frozen.

 Slow cook on low for 7-8 hours until the roast is cooked through.

When the roast is done, remove the fat and slice. I like to take the Au Jus and put it in a fat separator (above). It has a strainer on top to catch all of the onions and the fat floats to the top and you pour the mixture from the bottom. Pour the Au Jus into small bowls. Next, just put meat on the buns and that's it. I like the Brat Buns from the Wal-Mart Bakery. They are perfect for French Dips and they are a good size.

My husband likes cheddar or provolone cheese on his, so I put the meat on the bread and then put the cheese on top and stick it under the broiler open-faced for a minute or two until the cheese is melted and the bread is slightly toasted. Enjoy!