Tag Archives: easy

Teacher Appreciation Gifts

I originally posted this last year, but since I know so many parents are starting to think about those end-of-year gifts, I thought it was a good time to re-post. Cheers!

It’s that time of year again when children’s eyes glaze over in class, teachers are fervently counting down to the last day of school, and parents are scrambling to throw together cute teacher gifts. Since my mom is a teacher, I know just how much those little tokens are truly appreciated. To help out those of you who are currently racking your brains for brilliant ideas, I’ve pulled together some of my favorite gifts that I’ve put into my “when Olivia is in school” file.

Apple Cupcakes
From make and takes
Slap on some red frosting, a green gumdrop leaf and a pretzel stem, and you’re good to go!

Summer Tote Bag
From The Lovely Cupboard
Help your child’s teacher really relax this summer with a tote bag full of fun magazines, a beach towel, sunglasses, flip flops. . . all the necessities for soaking up rays at the pool or beach!

Bucket of Hugs
From Little Pumpkin Grace
Pick up some cute containers in the Dollar Spot at Target, fill them with Hershey’s Hugs, and attach cute little tags. Done and Done!

Potted Plant
From Giggles Galore
A cute idea, with or without the additional gift card. If you don’t want to bother with the hand painted ruler, you can just spray paint the entire pot with chalkboard paint.

Strawberry Pickin’
From eighteen25
I LOVE this because it’s just so stinking adorable. Fill a strawberry crate with assorted strawberry goodies (soaps, candies, candles, fresh strawberries) and add the little sign. Perfect for summer!

Thirst for Knowledge
From Tatertots & Jello
You can find these plastic straw cups for pretty cheap at TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Have your child write a personal note to his or her teacher and put the note along with a gift card to Tropical Smoothie, Jamba Juice, etc. inside. You could even include some of those single serving lemonade packets.

Wise Owl
From Lisa Storms
This is definitely for the crafty mama. Fill this little owl bag with homemade cookies, candies, whatever you want. So sweet!

Apple Rice Krispie Treats
From Gourmet Mom On the Go
Use a package of Jell-O for coloring, Tootsie Roll Minis for stems, and a #68 icing tip (or other leaf tip) for the leaves. Package these four to a box and tie with green ribbon or yarn!

Best Breakfast Casserole. Ever.

In this age of Pinterest, I have pinned and tried a LOT of breakfast casseroles, most of which have been abysmal disasters. I once tried making this tater tot casserole that had been repinned a gazillion times. It was the greasiest, most disgusting thing … we couldn’t even eat it. It kills me to throw food away but that one went straight in the bin and we went straight to McDonald’s (yes, the casserole was greasier than McDonald’s, it was that bad!).

So this past Christmas, I really tried to research recipes and read reviews before choosing our breakfast dish for Christmas morning. I finally decided on this Easy Breakfast Casserole recipe from Food.com, with a few changes. Instead of ham, I used sausage, and I also added a bunch of veggies. Everyone raved about this casserole, even going so far as to say it was the best one they’d ever had!

I’ve since made it a few more times, swapping out sausage for turkey bacon and using whatever seasonal veggies were on sale at the store. You can really make it whatever you want, but the combo below is my fav so far. The success of this casserole is all down to one unexpected ingredient—Stove Top stuffing! Strange, yes, but it holds everything together while injecting some killer flavor.

Best Breakfast Casserole
Adapted from Food.com 

2 cups Stove Top Chicken Stuffing mix
2 cups milk
6 eggs, beaten
½ tsp salt
6 slices bacon, cooked and chopped (I used Hormel Fully Cooked Bacon—easier and less calories)
1 cup shredded gouda cheese
1 small tomato, diced
½ bunch of asparagus, chopped
4 oz sliced portabella mushrooms
½ red pepper, diced
½ cup diced onion
1 tsp minced garlic
Olive oil

1. Preheat your oven to 350°. Grease a 9 x 12 casserole dish with cooking spray.

2. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sauté for one minute. Add asparagus, mushrooms, red pepper, and onion and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set them aside to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Slowly add in the cooked vegetables and mix well.

4. Pour the mixture into the casserole dish, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes.

Southwestern Mac and Cheese

It’s no secret that kids love mac and cheese, but it’s not exactly a well-balanced, healthy meal on its own. So I’m always looking for ways to sneak in the good stuff under cover of cheesy goodness. I recently used the sun-dried tomato mozzarella Laughing Cow Light cheese in pasta and added spinach and chicken to make it a meal.

Below, I use the Queso Chipotle variety to make a yummy southwestern mac and cheese. You can use whatever veggies and/or meat you want to really make this a meal your family will love!

Southwestern Mac and Cheese

12 oz veggie pasta
4 wedges of Laughing Cow Light Queso Chipotle cheese
¼ cup skim milk
1 cup corn
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup canned or fresh chopped tomatoes
2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
Olive oil

1. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Drain and set aside.

2.  In a large sauté pan, heat about a ½ tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until nearly done. Stir in the mushrooms and continue cooking until the chicken is done all the way through.

3. Turn the heat to medium-low and add in the pasta, corn, black beans, tomatoes, cheese, and milk. Combine all the ingredients and continue stirring until the cheese has melted and everything is heated through.

Note: You can save a bit of time by using frozen, cooked grilled chicken strips, such as Tyson Grilled and Ready Chicken. You will still need to sauté it until it’s heated through, but it should only take 2-3 minutes.

Cranberry Bruschetta … Yum!

Go figure that the easiest dish I made for Christmas this year was also everyone’s favorite! It was a bit of a risk—I combined bits and pieces from several different recipes and adapted them to make my own, and I didn’t do a test run on this little experiment before Christmas. Luckily, the risk paid off! I think nearly everyone who tried it asked if I was going to post the recipe.

This is a fantastic appetizer to make ahead of time; in fact, I recommend making it the day before you plan to serve it so that the flavors can develop and the cranberries aren’t too tart.

Oh and special thanks to my brother, Josh, for being my oh-so-talented hand model. {Thanks for washing your hands!}

Cranberry Bruschetta

12 oz fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp chopped fresh basil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp oregano
Loaf of French baguette bread

Pick through your cranberries, discarding any that are soft. Place the cranberries in a food processor and pulse a few times to roughly chop. Spoon the cranberries into a bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Serve on slices of toasted baguette.

Our Favorite {Quick!} Toddler Bedtime Books

I love reading to my child. We do it every night as part of her bedtime routine, and it’s a big deal for her to pick out the book each night. But I’m not going to lie—I definitely have those nights when I positively dread storytime for fear that she’s going to choose some ridiculously long book when all I really want is to get her in bed so I can open a bottle of wine.

After reading The Cat in the Hat one such night (which takes freaking forever to read—thanks for that Dr. Seuss!), my husband and I got smart and started offering her a selection of books to choose from rather than giving her full reign over her entire library of books. She still gets to feel like she’s picking the book and we don’t want to take a long walk off a short pier by the time we’re done reading; it’s a win win! Here are our favorite bedtime books when we’re trying to make a quick getaway.

 *Honestly, there’s not a single Boynton book we haven’t loved. They’re funny and short and perfect for a quick bedtime story!

Crazy Easy Monkey Bread

For those who don’t know what monkey bread is, you don’t know what you’ve been missing! This is a Christmas morning tradition in my family because you do all the work the night before, it’s simple, and it’s DELICIOUS.

I know there are lots of different ways to make monkey bread, but this is how my family does it, and I have to say, it’s pretty darn good. Since I am taking over the Christmas hosting duties this year, I’m going to put my own little spin on this recipe by substituting the raisins and pecans for dried cranberries and pistachios for a little festive color!

Monkey Bread

18 frozen Parkerhouse rolls
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup raisins
1 pkg vanilla cook & serve pudding mix
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg

1. Soak the raisins in water for about 10 minutes to plump them up.

2. Butter a bundt pan (angel food cake pan works well also).

3. Sprinkle the raisins and pecans along the bottom of the pan, and place the frozen rolls on top in a single layer.

4. In a separate bowl, combine the vanilla pudding mix, nutmeg, and cinnamon, and then sprinkle it evenly over the rolls.

5. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and then add the brown sugar. Heat until boiling, stirring constantly so the sugar doesn’t burn, and then pour the glaze over the rolls.

6. Cover the pan with plastic wrap or wax paper and allow it to sit out overnight.

7. In the morning, preheat oven to 350°. Bake the monkey bread for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes.

8. Place a serving platter upside down on top of the pan and then turn everything upside down. The monkey bread will turn out of the pan and be right side up on the plate, ready for you to serve. Just pull apart the sweet rolls and enjoy!

Pumpkin Soup

If you live on the East Coast, you are likely trapped in your house today, and your Halloween pumpkins are probably getting pummeled by Hurricane Sandy. . . so why not turn them into some cozy, delicious pumpkin soup (if you have power, that is)? If you’re lucky enough to not be in the path of the storm, well, make this soup anyway because it’s just that good.

I have experimented with several recipes for pumpkin soup in the past, but they all turned out too sweet or too bland or too creamy. With this recipe, however, I have hit the jackpot. It is the perfect balance of savory and sweet with a little fall spice and just a hint of cream. I served this soup with a cheddar and apple grilled cheese sandwich, which was the perfect complement!

Pumpkin Soup

2 whole pie pumpkins (I roasted 3 to make pumpkin bread at the same time, hence the picture)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tsp thyme
5 ½ cups chicken stock
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 325°.  Place your pumpkins, whole and uncut, on a cookie sheet and roast them for about 45 minutes or until they are soft. Allow the pumpkins to cool before cutting them, removing the seeds, and scooping out the flesh.

2. Using a food processor, pulse the pumpkin until it’s smooth. If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a regular blender, an immersion blender (after you’ve added the chicken stock in step 4), or a manual masher instead.

3. Heat a dutch oven or stock pot over medium high heat. Add the olive oil, butter, and onion and sauté until the onion is translucent and soft. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme.

4. Whisk in chicken stock and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Slowly add in the pumpkin and stir to blend well.

5. Cook the soup for 15 minutes to allow it to thicken, and then add the nutmeg, cinnamon, and heavy cream.

6. Serve immediately or reduce heat to low to keep warm until you’re ready to eat.


Make Bathroom Cleaning {a little} Easier

I hate cleaning the bathroom. I don’t mind vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the kitchen, basically any other form of cleaning, but I hate cleaning the bathroom. I think it all comes down to the fact that there is simply so much to clean and it’s NEVER easy. Plus, you always have to deal with hair and that just grosses me out —and yes, I know most of it is mine, but it’s still wet and disgusting and ewwww!(Don’t get me wrong, I do actually clean—my bathroom doesn’t look like a frat house or anything.)

I had to tackle the guest bathroom recently, since my mom was coming to visit, and I was dreading it. However, the last time we were in Target, my husband grabbed a Scotch-Brite Tub Soap Scum Eraser and I could kiss him for it! They are amazing!! I usually have to use an awful headache-inducing chemical cleaner and some serious elbow grease to get the tub to sparkle. But with this little scrubber, it only took about 5 minutes (no chemicals) and it was spotless.

I was seriously impressed. I went online to look it up and found that they have a shower tile scrubber and a grout scrubber too- oh happy day! How did I not know about these before?! This might actually make bathroom cleaning more tolerable.

Simple Summer Vegetable Tart

This easy tart can be made with whatever vegetables you have on hand. Because it calls for pre-made pie crust, it’s a quick, healthy weeknight fix, and it looks deceptively impressive. I recommend getting a quiche/tart pan if you want the fancy scalloped edges; plus, it makes getting the tart out so much easier because the sides lift right off. Although Olivia initially squealed “Avocado!” when I set the plate down in front of her and was not-so-pleasantly surprised to find that “avocado” was really zucchini, she seemed to like it and ate almost her full helping.

Summer Vegetable Tart

1 refrigerated pie crust, brought to room temperature
1 zucchini, sliced thin
1 yellow squash, sliced thin
1 tomato, sliced thin
15 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
5 leaves of fresh basil*, chopped
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary*, chopped
3 sprigs of fresh Italian parsley*, chopped
olive oil
goat cheese crumbles

*I used basil, rosemary, and parsley in mine because those were the fresh herbs I had out back, but you can use dried herbs as well. I’ve also used thyme, dill, and mint, but it’s really whatever you prefer.

Preheat the oven to 450°. Spray your tart or pie pan with a nonstick cooking spray. Unroll the pie crust and place it into the pan, pressing gently along the edges. Bake the shell for about 3-4 minutes, and then allow to cool for just a few minutes.

Lightly sauté the zucchini and squash with a little bit of olive oil over medium-high heat to soften the vegetables.

In a small bowl, mix together ricotta cheese and herbs, and then salt and pepper to taste. Spread the mixture evenly into the pie crust. Top the tart with your vegetables, placing them in a circular pattern working from the outside in, one type of vegetable at a time.

Bake the tart for about 5 minutes or until the crust begins to turn golden brown. Pull the tart out and top it with goat cheese crumbles. Continue to bake until the cheese starts to bubble and brown.

Homemade Playdough

Shockingly enough, I decided to try making my own playdough out of pure laziness. I didn’t feel like hauling my cookies to Target in 105° weather, so after Googling a few recipes, I decided it was easier to just make the stuff myself. I had all of the ingredients in my pantry already, so I gave it a shot.

I followed the recipe on Musing from a Stay at Home Mom, which was a little more complicated and involved than some of the other recipes I found, but I thought that lent it some credibility.

It was seriously so easy—I don’t think I’ll ever buy Play Doh again! I made the full recipe in two batches so that I could create two different colors. The whole process only took about 15 minutes. We played with it after dinner last night, though it might have been more fun for mommy and daddy than it was for Olivia. She just thought it was dessert.

Homemade Playdough

1 cup flour

1 cup water

2 tsp cream of tartar

1/3 cup salt

1 tbsp vegetable oil

Food coloring

In a small saucepan on medium/low heat, mix flour, cream of tartar, and salt. Add in the water and vegetable oil and stir well. The mixture will be a bit clumpy at first; just keep stirring.

Once the playdough starts to thicken, quickly mix in your food coloring. Continue stirring as the mixture solidifies. When it starts to gather around the spoon and stick together, you know it’s done.

Remove the playdough from the saucepan and allow it to cool on wax paper. After it’s cooled, knead it a few times to soften it up and work out any remaining lumps.

Store the playdough in a Ziploc bag or an airtight container.