Friday, March 15, 2013

Easy Taco Bake

A few years back, almost as a joke, I made Thursdays unofficially "Taco Salad Night". It stemmed from the fact that the little deli next to where I worked offered a taco salad special only on Thursdays, and I'd splurge and buy lunch on that day instead eating my normal packed lunch. Now, years later, when Thursday dinner prep rolls around it seems my thoughts automatically turn to Mexican.  What's that joke about Mexican food?  It's the same six ingredients just arranged in different fashions?  I've had this next recipe pinned in my "recipes to try" folder on Pinterest for a while now.  My first attempt making it was last night (Thursday of course), so I thought I'd share my results with you.  The original recipe came from Brandie over at her blog The Country Cook. I only changed two small things.  She made fresh taco meat for the meal (I used left overs) and she used a jar of queso/salsa and I made my own.

Easy Taco Bake - A Pinterest recipe test that turned into a winner

You will need:

1 lb of cooked taco meat
8 oz Velveeta cheese
1/2 - 3/4 cup of your favorite salsa
3 large flour tortillas (8 in)
1 bag Mexican cheese blend
8 inch round pan or 8 inch spring form pan

The original recipe says to use a jar of salsa con queso, which you can do if you want.  Sometimes that can be too spicy for my small fry (and I was too tired to run to the store) so I thought I'd make my own.  Just take 8oz of Velveeta cheese cubed and put in a large sauce pot on medium heat.

I had some Velveeta left over from my Mexican Cheese Soup recipe, so it was perfect
Once it starts melting, add 1/2 cup (or more) of your family's favorite salsa to the pot.

Adding your own salsa helps control your family's heat level of how spicy this dish gets
Stir that around until everything starts to get smooth and creamy

taco-y, creamy, cheesy goodness

After that I just dumped in my left over taco meat.  By the way anytime now that I cook regular tacos I will always add in an extra pound of meat and then save/freeze the extras for soups or new recipes such as this.  Saves time in the long run.

Mmmmmm meaty

A few more stirs and now you have the main filling for the taco bake

Not super pretty, but we'll be covering it up with lots of melted cheese

The next step is to get a spring form or bottom release 8-inch round pan.  You can also use a regular 8 inch round pan, or I have even heard of people doubling the recipe and making a big 9x13 pan.  It's up to you. Next we are going to make some layers.  Spray the bottom of the pan with non-stick cooking spray and add one 8 inch tortilla

My 8-year-old was very excited to help me with these layers.
 After that place 1/3 of the cheesy meat mixture on top

 Now you want to sprinkle some Mexican blend cheeses on top of that

Repeat the process two more times until the layers come up to the top of the pan.  Finished with the last sprinkle of cheese

A tower of meat and cheese

Next toss it into the oven and bake at 350ยบ for 15-20 minutes until everything is melty and gooey.

Let it sit a few minutes and then you can cut pie slices right from the pan.  Because I made it in the bottom release pan I could set the whole taco bake out on the cutting board for easier slicing.

You can see the three layers nicely here
 I was actually surprised when I cut into this.  I thought for sure it would squish into a sloppy mess.  It did end up slicing into nice straight wedges with no problem, and I think letting it rest a few minutes really helped with that aspect.

Can you smell it?
My husband really ended up liking this dinner quite a bit and gave his thumbs up for it to be moved into regular rotation.  Hooray.  This would make 6-8 servings, depending on slices.  It made six very large hearty slices.  We served ours with a side of Mexican rice, olives, salad, and chips and salsa.

So here is another tested Pinterest recipe that actually turned out great and we will now make it again and add it to our dinner rotation now and then.  Oh, and the funny thing about this was it was March 14th yesterday, or 3.14, aka "Pi Day".  I had been planning on making a pie for dessert to celebrate (for my nerdy hubby) and I realized only after that fact that I had also made dinner a "pie" of sorts as well.  A taco pie.  Pies for everyone!!  A round of pies for my friends!  Speaking of pie... this is what we had for dessert:

Razzleberry pie with homemade vanilla ice cream!  The perfect way to celebrate Pi day (3.14)
It was tasty wedges of pie as far as the eye could see last night.  Thanks for letting me share.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cupcake Race Game

We are always on the look out for new and fun games we can play as a family.  I especially love games that, once the girls learn them, they can play as a group by themselves without any adult assistance. We have just found such a game and it has immediately become an instant hit.  As soon as I saw that it had to do with colorful cupcakes and "baking" I knew we must have it. Introducing: The Cupcake Race by Endless Games.

A cupcake board game - how fun!
With a houseful of mini bakers I knew they would love this as much as I would.  Cupcakes, frosting, sprinkles - we love these things in real life and now we can play the game version.  The goal of this game is to travel around the board collecting cupcake wrappers, cake, frosting toppers and colorful tiny sprinkles.  The first person to the party in the middle gets to top their cupcake with a bright red cherry and is declared the winner.  The nice thing is, once the first person crosses the finish line, the others can keep playing until they receive their cherry too.  A win win.  Here's a shot of the very colorful board.

Cupcake Race game is for 2-4 players.  Each person picks a party hat as their game piece.

When you open the box it comes with all of your "baking" supplies:  Brightly colored cupcake wrappers (they are plastic not paper), four flavors of cake, four flavors of frosting, and four bright red cherry toppers.

My girls LOVE to mix and match flavors
It also comes with a bag of 48 mini plastic sprinkles.

These are very tiny - so this game is for preschool aged (4+ and up)
Now all you have to do is gather some willing game players

This was our very first time to play.  Look at those smiles!
To set up the board, you just want to put all of the supplies in each corner.  As you travel around the board you will stop in each corner and pick up the pieces you need.  You actually can collect sprinkles along the way if you land on a +1 or +2.  There are a few lose a turn and move back spaces as well, so try and avoid those.

The girls love setting up all the supplies almost as much as playing the game

To make the first move, the youngest player goes first.  The spinner is attached in the actual game board, so I love the extra bonus that there is not a chance of it getting lost somewhere or being separated from the game.  Not only do you use the number to count out your spaces, you also used the colors to help pick the color of your chosen sprinkles.  When you land on a +2 for example, you get to spin the spinner twice.  Whatever color it lands on is the sprinkle colors you get.

Love that this is attached within the board itself

So we played a very rousing first game.  My middle child things that it's even better if your mini ponies watch while you play

Luckily the ponies have color coordinated with the game board

We had a blast trying to get to the finish line.  Here's a shot of our completed cupcakes:

So fun and colorful.
How cute.  The most fun I'd say is when you are at the final stopping point trying to collect all your sprinkles so you can move on to the party.  You must stay on that spot and spin until you have all 12 sprinkles.  In the instructions there is a way to make it "harder" for older kids by having them get one sprinkle of each color before they can move on.  Or the younger kids can just put whatever random sprinkles they earn and then move on.  My girls loved placing the sprinkles where they wanted them to complete their "design".

I guess the best sign that it is a good game, is when the girls start teaching it to friends, family, and neighbors. Yesterday they took it outside and taught our neighbor kids how to play. They also took it over to Grandma's house last weekend. 

They almost look good enough to eat!
By the way, we are not getting paid or anything to review this game, we just loved The Cupcake Race so much I wanted to blog about it.  I found it online at toys-r-us (It's usually around $16.99), but it was out of stock in the local stores.  We went on a quest after that to find it.  It was not at Walmart, or Target, but we eventually found it at Fred Meyer.  It was perfect because Fred Meyer was having a 20% off board games sale, so i go the whole thing for around $15 including tax.  

Also I now have major props for this company, want to know why?

Well I knew that with those tiny little sprinkles it was only going to be a matter of time before one of them got lost.  Since you need exactly 12 sprinkles and it comes with exactly 48, a lost sprinkle could make the game not work.  Sure enough two weeks in (and we were being extra careful too) we couldn't find a sprinkle.  I looked on the website and couldn't find a replacement parts order form, so I called the main phone number and the super nice lady at the other end immediately took down my address and sent out a whole bag of sprinkles.  Free.  Free shipping.  Just sent it to me.  I thought that was fabulous.  Now I have an extra set tucked away and can replace a sprinkle here or there as needed.

So there you have it.  It's a game about pretend cupcakes, teaches colors and numbers, and my girls just love it.  Thought I would pass it along.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rainbow Cake

Now that St. Patrick's day is a few days away, my thoughts turn to lucky clovers, dying random food items green, pots of gold, and rainbows.  I thought I would share about the first time I made a rainbow cake.  It was for my daughters' shared birthday party and it turned out amazing.  One was turning 5, the other was turning two.  One wanted My Little Pony, One wanted a rainbow party.  We ended up combining them into one glorious "My Little Pony rainbow party" and my most favorite part of that party was the stunning rainbow cake.

The most beautiful cake ever! The Rainbow Cake

I had seen a few versions on line (way back in 2009 - in the days before Pinterest) and I just knew I wanted to make it.  It's actually not that hard, you can make one too!

I wanted to make this a double-stacked two layer 9x13 cake.  It really looks good when you layer this cake up.  So my directions will be for two 9x13 cakes.  (Just thinking if you do want to make one box of cake in two round 9 inch pans that would probably work, it would just be a lot thinner)

You will need:

2 boxes white cake mix (follow box instructions)
food coloring or coloring gel in bright colors
raspberry or strawberry jelly for between the layers
6 small/medium bowls
Two 9x13 pans

Mix the two cake mixes together in one large bowl according to package instructions.  Pour the white batter into six equal bowls.  Sitr in the food dye into the bowls in the six rainbow colors.

Picture used from the blog Omnomicon - which is where I got the beautiful rainbow cake inspiration from

I forgot to actually take pictures of the dying the colors part.  The picture above is from Aletta and it was her stunning pictures from her blog that really made me want to make this cake.  Your bowls will big bigger than this, she was making a tiny cake.  She was also making a round cake.. and a reduced calorie cake to boot, so if you are interested in any of that, please check her and her recipe out.

Now the trick here in the first pan, is that I was making a 9x13 rectangle and not a circle, so I had to improvise a little on the color layering technique, because normally it's in a simple bulls eye pattern.  Note: In this pan I am going to do a reverse rainbow order.  In the second pan I will do the regular order.  (You will see why at the end). You want to start with two scoops of purple side by side along the bottom (it will start to spread out). The first color in the pan will need the most batter, so I suggest 2/3 of that color in the pan then about 1 scoop of each color after that.  After the purple then do two scoops of blue right on top of the first blobs, then two scoops of green, two scoops of yellow, two scoops of orange, and finally two scoops of red.  You can see your batter will start to spread out in a bulls eye pattern of concentric circles.

Pan #1 of the rainbow cake starts in reverse rainbow order: purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red

For Pan #2 You do the exact same method, only you start in the correct rainbow order of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and ending with purple on the top.  This time the red will have 2/3 of the red batter used, and the other colors about 1 scoop each.  You can see the pans after I put them in the oven. Each bulls eye is the opposite rainbow pattern.

Rainbow cake baking
You kind of have to eye ball everything and use up all the batter between the two cakes.  The bottom layer is the thickest and the higher up scoops will have less.  Try to make the layers even so that all the colors will be seen.  Cook the cakes according to regular box directions.

After they are cooled, turn them out on a rack to keep cooling so they don't stick to the pan.

To layer:  Place the first 9x13 cake down.  Spread a layer of jam or jelly between the layers to help stick them together (you can also use frosting between the layers).  My cake was very moist and started to crack in places.  The frosting helped hold it together.

Almost day-glo cake colors.  Where's my sunglasses?
It was almost a pity to cover this baby up with frosting, but that was going to be the big surprise for the birthday guests.  I ended up making blue frosting for "sky" and white frosting puffs for clouds.  A few tubes of gel frosting to make a rainbow for the top of the cake helped pull it together.

Rainbows and ponies, living together... mass hysteria!
Since we were sharing the party theme, a few small ponies made it on top of the cake as well.  After the big happy birthday song (we sang twice, once for the 5 year old, once for the two year old) it was time to cut the cake!

My youngest looks so little here!

Cutting the cake:  You can see now why we reversed the two layers.  The batter spreads out and the bottom color becomes very thin, and the top scoops stay wide.  By reversing the order of the two pans you get more colors showing

You should have heard the gasp when the kids saw this
So what should you serve rainbow cake with?  How about rainbow sherbert?  Perfect.

This turned out so beautiful!

I just loved how the colors turned out so vivid and the layers of both cakes worked together so you could see all the colors of the rainbow.

By the way, this works for any color combination.  Do pastel colors for Easter, shades of pink for Valentine's day, red white and blue for the 4th of July, black and orange for Halloween, even black and white for a zebra effect.  You can also do the same technique on a smaller scale for cupcakes.  I will post more of my colorful rainbow ideas we used throughout our rainbow party theme soon. Cute fruit trays, rainbow games, snacks, and crafts.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Shamrock Sun Catchers

Today is a beautiful sunny day in March, and I started thinking about our Shamrock sun catchers we did last year during a spring storm, and how we should attempt to make some more this year.  We got the idea from the blog Serving Pink Lemonade and you can find the full instructions below.  This is not only a fun, hands-on craft but it is a great way to use up all the tiny, old, or broken crayons in your collection.

Pretty shamrock sun catchers

 All you need for this project is:

Wax paper
hand held pencil/crayon sharpener
crayon shavings
thin towel for pressing
shamrock pattern
tape or string 

We had Mr. D help us "shave" the crayons.  We found all the left over broken ones, and we tried to find as many shades of green as we could, from dark, to medium, to lime.  Using a hand held pencil sharpener we made little piles of each color.

Here's our left over nubs when we were through

 After that you want a longer piece of wax paper.  Find your small fry (or other assorted willing participants) and start sprinkling the crayon shavings however you would like.  We tried to leave a little space around the edges to help seal everything together in a minute.

Take another piece of wax paper about the same size and gently lay it directly over your first piece.

It's a waxy crayon shaving sandwich.
Next comes the warm iron.  We had ours set on medium to low, you might have to play with your settings, but you do not want the iron too hot, but does need to be warm enough to melt the crayons between the layers though.  You do not want to iron directly on the wax paper, so get a thin towel or dish towel to place on top of the two layers of wax paper and press your iron on that.

Mr. D actually irons better than me, so we "elected" him for this part
Press gently and make sure you cover the whole area underneath.  When you are finished you might get a few gasps as you peel away the towel to reveal this underneath:

Oo pretty green wax smudges
Let this cool completely and then you can get your shamrock template out.  I simply googled "shamrock shapes" or "shamrock coloring pages" and a bunch popped up.  I printed up the best ones on thicker card stock, and we cut out a few different sizes, some large and a few medium ones. Then, with the same idea that you would use for sugar cookies, we arranged the templates out where the most would fit in the allowed space and traced with a sharpie.

Simply cut them out carefully after that and you can hang them by fishing line or string in any window.  We decided to hang them in our front window using regular scotch tape, which was less time consuming.

We happened to make 20 shamrocks when we realized our front window had twenty squares to fill.  How perfect is that?  They were really bright and festive and, like snowflakes, no two turned out exactly alike


Our little kitty Haley liked them so much she sat in the window for quite awhile admiring our handy work.

kitty and clovers

And the luck of the Irish must have been with us, because no sooner had we put up the shamrocks, the sun came out behind the storm and out came a rainbow!

a happy rainbow smiling down on our Irish art
 It was a very lovely one too!

So grab a kid or a grandkid or two this weekend and have some fun making these cute little sun catchers.  By the way, you can switch up the colors and make these for any holiday.  Think pink and red hearts for Valentine's Day, pastel flowers, crosses, bunnies, and eggs for Easter, etc.  Anyway, have FUN!

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