Friday, August 31, 2012

Muddy Buddies - Puppy Chow

We are expert Rice Krispie square makers around these parts.  The girls love to help make them, and we love dying the marshmallows different hues to make a fun and colorful treat.  We were looking for a totally new and different snack to make the other day, when we came across a recipe for Muddy Buddies.  Also known as "Puppy Chow" or "Monkey Munch".  Apparently animals everywhere love this stuff!  We happened to have a whole unopened box of Rice Chex up in the pantry and I thought let's DO this.

Muddy Buddies - The snack crack of the new millennium
You only need a few ingredients to make these yummy treats:

9  cups Chex cereal
1  cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

First, measure 9 cups of Chex cereal into a big bowl (lightly sprayed with cooking spray) and set aside.

Chex totally reminds me of my childhood

In a small (microwave safe) bowl, pour 1 C chocolate chips, 1/4 C of butter, and 1/2 C of peanut butter.

Be sure to make your pile of peanut butter as unattractive and unappetizing as possible....
The girls had fun measuring all these cups, half cup, quarter cups themselves and pouring them into the bowls.  Next you want to put the bowl in the microwave and cook for 1 minute.  Stir and do another :30 seconds at a time, stirring in between until completely melted together.

Mmmm.. melted chocolate and peanut butter

Add the vanilla at this time and stir until combined.  After that you want to immediately pour the chocolate mixture over your bowl of waiting cereal.

Next the recipe says to "pour mixture in a 2-gallon plastic zip lock bag"... Well hello there Chex executives, but my biggest bag is 1-gallon, who has a 2-gallon plastic bag?  Do they even make those?  Instead, I thought let's put it into the container we are going to store it in, and shake it with the lid on!  I'm sure I'll be nominated for some kind of mom genius of the year award for that one.  Once in the container, dump in 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, put on the lid, and shake your money maker (while shaking the muddy buddies).  Hubby wants to add, don't shake it too hard, rather slowly rotate it around till everything was covered in powdered sugar, you don't want broken muddy muddies.

Deliciousness is about to happen... I can feel it.

From this point on, my girls started calling these "Snow Buddies"... because the powered sugar coats everything and makes them white.  Okay, rather a grey/brown/white, but who's keeping track?  Pour your mixture out onto some sheets of wax paper to cool.

You have to sneak one to taste, it's the law
By this time, your whole house smells like you just made peanut butter cookies. It's awesome.  After they were cooled and dried out a bit, we put them right back into the container with matching lid and they were ready to store.  We of course, chowed down on them first.  They have a great flavor of that delectable chocolate peanut butter taste, plus an added bonus of crunch.  Sort of like if Reese's Peanut butter cups and powdered donuts had a baby with a rice krispie treats.  

Muddy Buddies as far as the eye can see...
I must warn you... these are hard to stop eating once you start.  That's why I want to rename them "snack crack".  Another few ideas are: You can package them up in baggies for school treats, preschool snacks, after school snacks, and these would even be great in a cute package for teacher gifts or Christmas gifts for neighbors.  Make a batch for your next movie night.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Maple/Honey Glazed Salmon

You can't really live in the Northwest without being around delicious seafood all the time.  You can barely walk down the street without being accosted by a rainbow trout or be the victim of a wayward salmon jumping into your car every now and again (okay, kidding, but sometimes it feels like it).  My mom makes the very best salmon in the known universe. It's simple but fabulous: lemons, onions, and some special seasonings.  I will post her recipe on here one day very soon.  I decided to google around yesterday and try and find a marinated or glazed version of salmon, mostly because I was reminiscing about this dreamy teriyaki salmon dish I once had on a cruise ship that was the bomb diggity, and I wanted to try and recreate it at home.  After a bit of searching on the interwebs, this is what I found:

Gorgeous glazed salmon served with teriyaki noodles
This recipe was entitled "The Worlds Best (and easiest) Salmon recipe".  I just love when those two words are used together in any context, "best" and "easiest".  What made me want to try this was the many 5-star reviews. After reading all the great comments as well I knew I wanted to try it too.  Hey, did I mention the marinade is only 3 ingredients?  That's right.  Soy sauce, maple syrup (or honey) and minced garlic.  All you need after that is about 12 oz of salmon, a ziplock bag, and an oven or a BBQ.

Three ingredients for a delicious glazed salmon.  Yum!
First, put your salmon in a zip lock bag.  Add 1/2 cup of maple syrup or honey to the bag.  (Note: they do not mean pancake syrup, but real maple syrup).  I used 1/2 cup of honey and 1/2 cup of soy sauce.  Also throw in 2-3 cloves of finely minced garlic.  I just used a big spoonful of my pre-chopped garlic.
  1/2 cup of honey (or maple syrup)                                                           1/2 cup of soy sauce
Next, squish the mixture around and make sure it covers the salmon on both sides.

The 3-ingredient marinade has already added a nice color to the salmon
After that, you want to lay it on a plate and let it marinate in your refrigerator for an hour.  Set a timer for 30 minutes and flip the whole thing over so both sides sit in the marinade for 30 minutes (for a total of 60 minutes).  I read somewhere that if you marinade it more that 60 minutes, the salt in the soy sauce will start to "cook" the salmon.  So remember, just marinade an hour.  

Next the recipe says to pour the marinade and the salmon in to a 9x13 pan and cook in a 350º for 15 minutes or more covered in foil.  I do not like cooking fish in the house because, let's face it, the smell can linger a bit too long.  Instead, we wanted to use our outside BBQ.  Get a small sheet pan and make a little tin foil "boat" to fit inside the pan.  This will hold in the marinade and make it so there is one less pan to clean later.

The tin foil "boat" doesn't have to be perfect, the pan will help it keep it's shape.

Now pour the marinade and the salmon into the pan

Doesn't this look awesome?

Then I handed this lovely piece of fish over to my hubby for the official BBQ duties.  You can put the foil boat directly on the grill if it is sturdy enough, or my hubby ended up just putting the pan on the grill.  We essentially baked the salmon in the BBQ.  If you tried to grill it the regular way, the sweet glaze would burn.  Hubby turned the BBQ to medium low (he had a thermometer in there that read 350º) and cooked it for a little over 15 minutes, until the thickest part of the fish flakes easily with a fork.  When he brought it back in, it looked like this:

honey soy garlic glazed salmon.  My favorite part is the thin parts that soak up the most glaze
And this...

holy buckets yum!

and it smelled like this....

A picture for those of you who like thicker slices of salmon

OH that's right, I have not perfected my blog's "smell-o-vision" button yet, but I sure do wish it worked right now.  We served this with some warm, easy to make teriyaki noodles and some "crud-ites" as my hubby calls them (or crudites, the fancy French term for raw veggies and ranch dip)

This seriously made a great dinner!

Of course the real test to any dinner is... will the KIDS eat it?  Well I can say that my kids (who unfortunately will not even touch my mom's fabulous salmon) gobbled this down.  I was shocked actually.  All three.  Eating the same thing... at once.  Wow. Cleaned their plate.  The oldest asked for more.  If I ever get rich enough to have real maple syrup lying around, I will try this marinade using that, but the honey we used worked out really great.  Try this one out yourself and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Baby Rattles- Turtle & Ladybug (crochet pattern)

The best thing about knowing how to crochet is when you come across an easy free pattern, have a myriad of scrap yarn lying about, and have someone expecting a baby that you can make a gift for.  Like they used to say on the "A" team, "I love it when a plan comes together"!  Up until now I had never thought to make a baby rattle out of crochet, but the adorable turtle in the picture that was designed by Kristie over at KristiesKids beckoned me to make one. Immediately.  Oh, and did I mention there was a baby ladybug pattern too?

The cutest homemade baby rattles you ever done seen!
You have to thank Kristie for the design and the free pattern, which can be found here.  The first adorable creature I decided to try  was the turtle.  All you need is a tiny bit of yarn in two colors, and a plastic cat toy with a bell inside of it (found in the pet section of most stores).  Remember you don't want ones with catnip, just plain plastic with bell. Sometimes the plastic ball is lumpy, try to find smooth ones ;)  Just look how cute he is!

Little soft turtle rattle - who jingles softly when you shake him
When you make this little guy, you have to finish off and change colors every row.  At first I was worried, because that is a lot of loose ends to tie off, but I realized it would all be inside the body that was being stuffed, nothing to tie off at all!  Matter of fact by the end I had this cup shape with tons of strings hanging out and it looked like just like a jelly fish.  Once I started to stuff the body, all the dangling strings went in and became apart of the stuffing.  Besides the adorable ruffle around the bottom.  I love the little tiny feet sticking out.

I flipped the turtle onto it's back so you could see its cute and tiny little knobby legs
And if that wasn't cute enough... I fell in LOVE with the tiny little wispy tail

Cute and tiny tail poking out from under the "shell"

Then when I scrolled down on Kristie's page, I noticed she had a ladybug rattle pattern as well, which was similar to the turtle (sans legs and ruffle) and she had added antennae.

Cute little lady bug with tiny little spots
The little dots are hand sewn on using an invisible stitch or a blind stitch (so you don't see any stitches)  I can show you that on a future blog if you want.  Also I noticed in Kristie's picture her lady bug had a line down it's back to show the to halves of the "shell", but she didn't say how to do it.  I just threaded a needle with the same yarn color as the head, secured it at the neck and did some small stitches down the back of the lady bug.

lady got back
This pattern was a great find because I happened to be making a lady bug blanket and I thought they would go together perfectly.

I just sent these off to the expectant mom and she received these in the mail yesterday so hooray, now I can post about it :).  If you have never done any amigurimi this would be a great beginner project to try.  Amigurumi is the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting little stuffed animals for cuteness purposes alone.  Also if this makes you want to LEARN crochet, everything I picked up was online by a lady named Teresa on youtube.  She has fabulous step by step videos on how to crochet, teaching every stitch.  Search for her courses under the title "crochet geek".  She has beginning courses and intermediate.  I highly recommend her.  So that's it, just a tiny bit of yarn, a cute little pattern by Kristie and you've got yourself some adorable handmade baby gifts.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Plastic Bag Parachutes

Psst, wanna keep your kids busy giggling and running up and down the stairs for an hour?  Well have I got the DIY kiddie craft for you.  I have to proudly say that I had nothing to do with this project. They crafted and designed their parachutes all by themselves, and by the time I came around the corner giggling and dropping had already ensued.  This is why it is key to have a little bin of fun crafts supplies always on hand that they can get to (pipe cleaners, Popsicle craft sticks, crayons, yarn, cotton balls, googly eyeballs, etc) where they can create something fun when the mood strikes them.  We did try this project with my oldest a few years back with a much trickier version of a parachute, but she remembered on her own and taught her little sisters in the process (chip off the old block, I tell you - this crafty mommy couldn't be any prouder)  Behold, the recycled plastic bag parachute:

My oldest proudly displaying her parachute
There are only a few things you need for this project.  A recycled plastic bag, some colorful pipe cleaners, and a toy of the child's choosing.  Now if you Google there are tons of very complicated plastic bag parachutes out there, cutting them into octagons, using straws and making support beams - but this one is easy and the kids can totally do it themselves.  Get your plastic bag and find your favorite color of pipe cleaners and secure one part of the pipe cleaner to the bag handles.

Be sure to leave enough pipe cleaner at the end to attach to your toy
Now to attach your toy.  It has to be something pretty light, but other than that the kids can pick what they want

This little doll worked nicely, the arms helped keep the pipe cleaner from slipping
My middle child is so hilarious, when I saw her parachute up close, this is what I found:

A precariously balanced horse is ready for flying lessons
Why not take your mini horses for a spin?  Secretly I wanted to maybe secure this better, maybe one pipe cleaner around each set of legs, but hey she was already having a blast so I let it go.  Next find the highest spot in your house to prepare for launch. For us it was the stairs, but you could find a porch railing outside, or the top of your big toy in the back yard

Houston, we are ready for launch sequence...
Then let um fly!

They really do float down!
Be advised, your cats might look at you funny when you play this game:

Hemi wonders, what the heck are these small humans up too??
 A few action shots:

Floating                                                           Soaring                                            Catching Air
Besides filling your house with giggles, the best part is that they ran up and down the stairs for almost an hour playing with these things!  So secretly it can be an awesome energy burning work out to boot!  This would be a great way to fill up a rainy afternoon when they can't go outside to play.  My girls just loved this!  You could also make targets and see if you could hit them, or do some physics experiments to see if heavier objects fall faster.  What's not to love about kid ingenuity and fun!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Frozen Banana Yogurt Pops

The other day we were flipping through the Dole 5 a day kid's mini cookbook and we came across something the girls wanted to try right away!  It looked like a Popsicle dessert on a stick, only it was made with fruit and yogurt (and a tiny bit of sprinkles). Hooray!

Fun and delicious - A frozen banana yogurt pop
First we assembled our ingredients:  Some yogurt, bananas, wooden Popsicle sticks, sprinkles, a cookie sheet and some wax paper.  You will also need enough freezer space for the entire pan to chill for a few hours.

First, grab a child and a reasonably dull butter knife and let them peel and then slice the banana in half

My four year old and her fine slicing abilities
Next (grown ups might want to do this part) hold the half of banana in one hand and firmly but gently push a wooden Popsicle stick into the center of the banana.   You want it in the pretty far and at the same time, not punch through any of the sides.  The directions at this point say to pour yogurt on a plate and roll the banana around.  Hello, have you seen a banana?  It's weird and curvy in spots.  I thought rolling would be messy, not efficient, and would waste yogurt.  I thought dipping would be a better route.  

A new container of yogurt works great, as it's all the way up to the top
The only trouble with dipping this way is that the banana might slip off the stick from the weight of the yogurt.  So if you dip be sure to have an adult (or your free hand) hold onto the base of the banana as it goes it and guide it back out.  That way you won't have to go fishing for banana chunks at the bottom of the yogurt container.  Once dipped, you can hold it over the plate and add some fun colored sprinkles.

This was their favorite part, well, right next to eating these of course!

Have a cookie sheet lined with wax paper ready and place the banana dip pops on them while other people take their turn at dipping.

My middle child only likes vanilla yogurt, so that's why we had two different flavors.  Made it very pretty though.

Once you have completed all your treats, it's time to pop them in the freezer for a few hours!

I thought the yogurt would slide off before we could get them in the freezer, but it surprisingly stayed in place
After a few hours they are ready to go.  We decided to eat these in the back yard.

A sweet treat the kids will actually ask for!

These were fun, healthy, and pretty easy to make.  I have to say the girls had so much fun they have already been eying my newly bought bananas and asked if we can make these again. Like NOW.

My little budding chefs love making things in the kitchen!
This little treat is a win win for everyone.  Kids get to make their own snack.  It's sweet, and fun, and moms can rest easy because it's made from bananas and yogurt... well and a bit of sprinkles... but hey what is life without a few SPRINKLES!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Baked Zucchini Fries

We have this little raised rock garden in the back yard.  It's what I'd like to call small, but mighty.  This year has probably been the best for produce so far, and if there is one vegetable out there that loves growing for us more than any other, it has got to be zucchini, hands down.

I'm not the only one zucchini grows well for.  There are rumors and legends about people in rural areas locking their cars at the store and in church parking lots throughout the month of August, not to deter crime, but to avoid coming back to find sacks of giant zucchinis in their back seat!!  We've tried many a zucchini muffin and fritter recipe last year, but the best thing I've found to do with them, is make a big golden crispy plate of baked zucchini fries!  That's right people I said baked!  No deep fryer needed, you can make this in your oven later tonight!  It might even be... wait for it... Healthy! 

Don't pay $11.00 at a restaurant for this tasty crowd-pleasing appetizer, whip a batch up at home!
First, assemble your ingredients:  (Printable recipe found here)

The original recipe for these zucchini fries is found by the gals over at our best bites, here
1 lb of zucchini
Italian style Panko bread crumbs
Grated Parmesean cheese (not the shredded kind)
2 eggs
1/4 cup flour
cooking spray & a cookie sheet lined with foil
salt and pepper to taste or seasoning salt
*Preheat your oven to 425º before prepping the zucchini

Take the zucchini and cut off the ends.  Peel with a vegetable peeler.  Note: there are those of you that like to leave the skin on, which is fine. If that is the case wash the outside well and continue on.  I however, knew that a striking dark "green" color on the outside might make the kids not want to eat it, so I'm making these look as pale and "french fry-ee" as possible.

Amazing action shot of a zucchini being peeled.
Now that you have your zucchini all good and (optionally) naked, chop it in half

Now if your zucchini is small, you can cut the whole things into planks (to be shown in a second). But if you have a giant baseball bat sized zucchini that hid under the leaves until the very last minute and then jumped out and surprised the bajezus out of you when spotted it, well then you might want to do what I did.  The center of the big'uns (as I like to call them) have a soft, spongy texture and are full of seeds. I decided to cut planks around the center, leaving a square core (much like I cut apples matter of fact)

Once you get your planks in order you can cut them in half again (as I did here) to make finger length fries.  

Does the term, finger-length fries creep you out a little  like it does me? Okay.  Good.

Next start slicing the planks into even fry shapes.  You can go at your own discretion here but it should be noted that the thinner the fry shape, the less like zucchini it will taste.  The thicker the fry, the more zucchini flavor will come through.  We decided to make ours a little on the thin side.

Turn all of your planks into a nice pile of fries, and try to get them all the same relative thickness if you can

Next you want to get a zip top 1 gallon sized plastic bag and put the 1/4 cup of flour in it and drop all the zucchini fries in there.  Seal the top and shake everything around until they are all coated with flour

shake shake shake... shake shake shake... shake your zucchini... shake your zucchini....
Now comes the exciting part... the dipping assembly line!  One one plate put a mixture of the Italian seasoned Panko bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese.

The original recipe calls for exact amounts of these, but it's more casual then that, just pour a pile of each and mix
Get a shallow pie pan and crack/mix two eggs for the "wash" part of the dip process.  Set it all up in a line so you have your bag of fries, then your egg wash, then your breadcrumb/Parmesan mixture, and at the end the pan lined with foil and doused with cooking spray.

Henry Ford would be so proud of your assembly line...
Now.. we DIP!  Drop a fry in the egg wash and flip around until all sides are covered.  Right after that, put it into the crumb/cheese mixture and roll around until the coating sticks to the egg wash.  Be sure to only pull out SOME of your crumb mixture at a time. The egg covered fry is sticky and will make your crumbs lumpy after a while.  Just pull a small pile of crumbs over to work with and add more as needed.

During this process your dippin' hand will start to get all goopy (I do all the messy work with one hand, leaving the other one dry to answer the phone, pat children on the head, etc).  Soon you your fingers will look very monster-esque with coating dripping off of them like zombie hands.  I keep a paper towel near by to wipe off the excess and keep on dipping.  Place all finished fries on the foil-lined pan.  

These look good enough to eat right now... but I promise baking will make them SO worth the wait

Now you are ready to throw them in your oven that has been preheating at 425º. Bake the fries for 12 minutes on one side, pull them out, sprinkle a bit of seasoning salt or salt and pepper then turn them all over.  Cook another 12 minutes on the other side and they are done!  Test one when they come out to see if they need any more seasoning, then pile them on a plate near you!

Serve with a side of ranch dip or heat up some spaghetti sauce or marinara for dipping
These turned out really really good. The insides were creamy and tender, the outsides were crispy and crunchy. They were so good that two thirds of my children ate them, nay devoured them... and even declared them delicious!  Half of us enjoyed dipping them in ranch dressing, the other half dipped in some warmed up marinara sauce.

So if you don't have a garden, you might want to start leaving your car doors unlocked in hopes that the overabundant zucchini fairy will visit you soon!
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