Thursday, September 22, 2016

Our 2016 Mexican Cruise

A few months ago, Noah ran the idea of doing a cruise for our yearly vacation by me.  I'll admit - at first I was a little skeptical of it.  Traveling in a small room with an active little girl and a tiny baby didn't sound appealing to me in the least.

But Noah had done his research and assured me it was a good idea. He's kind of our vacation planner - I call him Clark Griswold when it comes to vacations. :) He's way into it.  So I trusted his opinion, and we signed up for a 5-day cruise out of New Orleans.  Just for good measure, we invited my parents to tag along too.  They both have fall birthdays, so we thought it would be a perfect time to celebrate them!

And y'all?  Noah was right.  It ended up being the perfect vacation for our family this year.

We had to wait until Jackson was 6 months old to even think about doing a cruise (cruise line rules).  So we knew we couldn't go until at least August.  The further you get into the fall, the better the prices get...and we thought it would be a little bit cooler and less crowded if we went in September.  This is Emmie's last year to get to ditch school for a vacation, so we took advantage of it!  The weather and crowds ended up being great in mid-September.

I'm going to split this post up into two parts; today's post will have pictures and recaps from the vacation and I'll have one next week with tips and planning advice on cruising with kids.  Get ready for a picture overload today! :)

We sailed out of New Orleans on the Carnival Triumph.  We originally had a balcony room booked, but a few weeks before the trip Carnival offered us an upgrade to a suite for a few hundred dollars.  We accepted, and it ended up being the best thing we could have done for the vacation!  Not only did it give us a little more room, but gave us priority status for boarding and disembarking.  We got to skip a lot of the huge lines, which is huge with little children!


The room was perfect for the four of us.  It had room for a crib (which Carnival had waiting on us when we boarded) and a couch that converts to a twin bed for Emmie.  There was room for the kids to kind of play if we were in the room and we had plenty of space to all get ready at once.
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Monday, September 19, 2016

How I Effectively Meal Plan

This post is sponsored by Taste of Home in conjunction with Blog Meets Brand, and I have been compensated for my participation. All opinions are my own.

Meal planning is just kind of my thing.  We all have a few household chores that we really get into - and inventorying our pantry to figure out how I can feed my family wholesome, delicious recipes each week is one of mine.  I love it.

But, of course, to meal plan effectively, you have to have the right tools.  I like to have a few cookbooks on hand full of attainable ingredients and simple steps.  While I love to experiment in the kitchen, I also want recipes that aren't too complicated and are totally doable for a quick weeknight meal.

My meal planning process is pretty straight-forward: each week, I inventory the meats and perishable items in my kitchen that need to be used soon; those become the basis for next week's meal plan.  I come up with 4-5 meals that use up all of the items that have to be used, filling in as I can with things from my pantry that are a little more shelf-stable.  That makes for less food waste in our home and really reduces my grocery bill each week.  I fully believe in shopping your own kitchen before shopping at the store!

I like to have a cookbook with a variety of recipes that use just about anything that might be in my kitchen.  That's where cookbooks like Taste of Home's Simple and Delicious Cookbook come in.


This cookbook has over a thousand (yes, a thousand!) easy and delicious recipes that are perfect for busy parents looking to feed their families a wholesome, homemade meal.  It came along at the perfect time for our family - I was looking to kind of revamp our meal plans with the new school year, and the recipes in this cookbook were the perfect fit!

The recipes in this cookbook are broken down by category; choose from labels like "Finished in 15," "Slow Cooking," "Fast Comfort Food," and "Cook Once, Eat Twice."  More importantly for my meal planning process, you can also look up recipes by ingredient.  In need of a chicken recipe for tomorrow night?  Simply flip to the index and browse dozens of different ideas.  There are easy-to-understand tutorials and kitchen tips along with the recipe ideas.  Both newbie and seasoned home cooks could learn from some of the ideas in this book!

Every course of your weeknight meal is covered in this book.  There are appetizers, side dishes, main courses, and delectable desserts.  Our family has been working through just a few of the ideas Taste of Home's Simple and Delicious Cookbook over the past couple of weeks, and we have been beyond impressed.

Want to see what I mean?  Check out a couple of recipes from the book below!


Southwestern Sautéed Corn
source: Taste of Home

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon butter
3-1/3 cups fresh corn or 1 package (16 ounces) frozen corn
1 plum tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro

Directions:
In a large nonstick skillet, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add corn; cook and stir 3-5 minutes or until tender. Reduce heat to medium-low; stir in tomato, lime juice, salt and cumin.

Cook 3-4 minutes longer or until heated through. Remove from heat; stir in cilantro.

Yield: 5 servings


Confetti Spaghetti
source: Taste of Home

Ingredients:
1 package (16 ounces) spaghetti
1-1/2 pounds ground beef
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°. Cook spaghetti according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef, green pepper and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in next eight ingredients. Drain spaghetti; add to beef mixture.

Transfer to a greased 13x9-in. baking dish. Cover and bake 30 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with cheese. Bake until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes longer.

Yield: 12 servings


We also tried Chicken Chile Relleno Casserole (which everyone in my family loved...and that never happens)...


...and Trail Mix Blondie Bars.  These were so good that Noah and I caught ourselves eating the remaining crumbs out of the pan.  So easy to make too!

Get ready for this book to revolutionize your meal planning routine.  No matter your tastes or time limitations, Taste of Home's Simple and Delicious Cookbook will help you get incredible meals on the table!


Taste of Home's Simple and Delicious Cookbook is available now!  Check out how you can purchase your copy on Amazon or, for more info, visit Taste of Home's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest pages.


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Friday, September 16, 2016

Jackson at 7 Months


Jackson Lee,

You're SEVEN months old!  It's been a big month for you.  You've tried a few new things, went to a completely different country, and started really eating a lot of different foods!  This age is such a fun combination of sweet baby-ness and your cute little personality.

Here's what you're up to at 7 months!
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Monday, September 12, 2016

Bacon Buffalo Chicken Dip

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Dollar General for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

This recipe for Bacon Buffalo Chicken Dip is so easy for gameday! It has all of the flavors your guests love: ranch, cheddar, chicken, and just the right amount of heat.

I absolutely love Buffalo Chicken Dip.  There are a lot of variations out there, and I've tweaked mine over the years to get it just right for our family.  It's one of the recipes in my arsenal that I know is going to please everyone.  As a matter of fact, it's the one dip that Noah always requests when I'm making appetizers!

This recipe for Bacon Buffalo Chicken Dip is so easy for gameday! It has all of the flavors your guests love: ranch, cheddar, chicken, and just the right amount of heat.

One of my favorite things about this recipe is how easy it is and how readily available the ingredients can be.  You know how there are a few recipes that everyone has memorized?  This is one of mine.  The steps are so easy that I could probably rattle this one off in my sleep.

This recipe for Bacon Buffalo Chicken Dip is so easy for gameday! It has all of the flavors your guests love: ranch, cheddar, chicken, and just the right amount of heat.

As a matter of fact, you can grab every single one of these ingredients at your local Dollar General.  I very easily found everything I needed for this dip in just a few minutes of browsing Dollar General's aisles!  I love using their Clover Valley brand products - they provide the quality of the big national brands at a fraction of the cost.  There is a huge variety of products under this line - everything from ranch dressing to canned veggies.  You can even find several varieties of Clover Valley dairy products in Dollar General's refrigerated section.

This recipe for Bacon Buffalo Chicken Dip is so easy for gameday! It has all of the flavors your guests love: ranch, cheddar, chicken, and just the right amount of heat.

And, if you're brand-loyal to a certain ingredient (hot sauce, in my case), Dollar General has a great variety of brand-name products too.  I absolutely love Louisiana hot sauce for this recipe...nothing else seems to give it the right flavor.  I was able to find Louisiana (and several other varieties of hot sauce) at my local Dollar General.  That's just a small example of many of the national brand products that Dollar General carries!

On to the recipe!

Bacon Buffalo Chicken Dip

Ingredients

1 8oz package cream cheese

2/3 cup Clover Valley Buttermilk Ranch dressing

1/2 cup hot sauce

1 8oz bag Clover Valley sharp cheddar cheese

2 5oz cans  Clover Valley buffalo chicken (Side note: If you're normally a little skittish about using canned chicken, don't be with this one.  You really can't tell the difference!  Plus, the Clover Valley variety adds a great buffalo flavor.)

1 2.5oz bag Clover Valley real bacon bits

Directions

This recipe for Bacon Buffalo Chicken Dip is so easy for gameday! It has all of the flavors your guests love: ranch, cheddar, chicken, and just the right amount of heat.

In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese, hot sauce, and ranch dressing with an electric mixer.  Fold in buffalo chicken, half of the bacon bits, and half of the cheddar cheese.

This recipe for Bacon Buffalo Chicken Dip is so easy for gameday! It has all of the flavors your guests love: ranch, cheddar, chicken, and just the right amount of heat.

Pour mixture into a greased 8x8" dish.  Bake for 35 minutes at 350° until mixture is starting to bubble on the sides. Top with remaining cheddar cheese and bacon bits, and bake for 10 more minutes. Serve warm with tortilla chips.

This recipe for Bacon Buffalo Chicken Dip is so easy for gameday! It has all of the flavors your guests love: ranch, cheddar, chicken, and just the right amount of heat.

Looking to easily and quickly grab the items for your next kitchen creation? Find these products and more at Dollar General.

Want to get a few ideas for your next recipe? Discover DG easy meal recipes at Dollar General!



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Friday, September 9, 2016

Pumpkin Spice Sweet Potato Casserole

It's almost fall, and so many of you have Pumpkin Spice on the mind right now.  It's everywhere!  I think I saw 20 different varieties of pumpkin spice-flavored food at the grocery store last week.

So, in honor of that, I thought I'd incorporate the popular flavor into an old favorite.  If you think about it, pumpkin spice and sweet potato flavors go together so well.  They both have a spicy, comforting flavor about them, so the combination was totally natural.  

And the topping?  Let's talk about this one for a second.  Even if you hate pumpkin and decide to leave that part out, you absolutely have to try this crumble on top of the casserole.  The flavors are so rich, and it's the perfect little crunch and bite against the smooth casserole.  So.  Good.

I'm not totally sure if today's recipe is a casserole or a dessert...I guess you can decide! :) It would work as either, and either way I think it's a total hit.

Here's the recipe!

This recipe for Pumpkin Spice Sweet Potato Casserole looks delicious! Lots of rich flavors and spices.




print recipe

Pumpkin Spice Sweet Potato Casserole
A cozy and comforting dish with the spices of fall.
Ingredients
  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 15oz can pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup crushed pecans
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup crushed gingersnaps
Instructions
Peel and dice the sweet potatoes into 1" chunks. Steam sweet potatoes in a steaming basket (or in the microwave for a few minutes) until fork tender. Cool.Once sweet potatoes are cooled, mash with a potato masher until pureed to desired consistency. Add pumpkin puree, 1/4 cup butter, half and half, eggs, 1 cup brown sugar, vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon nutmeg. Mix well.Pour mixture into a large greased casserole dish.For the topping: slightly melt 1/4 cup butter in the microwave. Mix all remaining ingredients together until mixture is combined and slightly lumpy. Top casserole with crumble.Bake for 35-40 minutes at 350°, until topping is starting to brown.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 8 servings


Enjoy!


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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Create It Thursday - September



Well hey, Create It Thursday-ers!  Welcome to September's party!

I loved so many of the ideas you guys shared at last month's party.  I'm sharing a few of my favorites (and one fan favorite) below!  These are also on my Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

















...and this month's fan favorite...



Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to share with us at last month's party!  Grab your button below if you were featured this time:





Now let's get another party going!
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