Friday, May 22, 2015

Copycat Chili's Skillet Queso

 Saying we are obsessed with Skillet Queso in our house, would be an understatement. It is one of the only things that every single person in our family loves. Normally I am fighting one of the kids to eat or my husband is eating something that he doesn't love, but not with this. It is delicious and full of flavor. We were seriously eating at Chili's once a week before we discovered the amazing combination of cheese and Hormel No Bean Chili. I didn't even know No Bean Chili existed until a couple of years ago and now I always keep it on hand to satisfy our queso cravings.
This recipe can be whipped up in just a few minutes and it is full of delicious flavors. It is our go to party food and it seems we can hardly watch a sports event without it.

 You will need: 


  • 16 ounces of Velveeta 2% Milk (This is about half a box) 
  • 1 Can Hormel No Bean Chili (You can find a coupon here!)
  • 1 Cup Milk
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

Cut up the cheese into small sections. Add the cheese and milk into a saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Stir frequently until the cheese starts to melt. Add the spice and lime juice and stir well and then add the chili, stirring until everything is well combined and melted. I like to use the 2% Velveeta instead of the original because not only does the cheese melt better but it also has less fat than the original version.
 Serve immediately with chips. We also love to serve it with a cup of salsa so everyone can switch up their flavors a little bit.
What is your favorite party snack?
Find other great Chili pairings on Hormel's Facebook page here!

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Silly Face Magnet Board


One of the biggest hits of the travel basket I put together for our long road trip, was the silly faces board. My daughter loved dressing up the faces with mustaches, google eyes and most of all drawing of the faces with a dry erase markers. I printed a bunch of different 5x7s, pretty much anybody that I had close head shots of, so she had pictures of her parents, grandparents and some of her aunts and  uncles to play around with. She loved having the variety of people. If you don't already have a stash of pictures, just take a close up picture of each person you want to include and print a 5x7.

You will need: 


  • 5x7 Straight On Head Shots of Family Members
  • A Way to Laminate
  • Mustache Stickers
  • Google Eye
  • Other Stickers, Construction Paper or Dry Erase Markers
  • Magnet Tape
  • Magnet
  • Cookie Sheet to use as a magnet board 

 After you print your 5x7s, make sure to laminate each picture. I have an at home laminator and I absolutely love it! It made the whole travel basket a breeze to make. This is the one I have. Have each picture laminated will prevent finger prints all over the pictures and also will allow your kids to draw on the picture with dry erase markers. After each picture is laminated, add several strips of magnetic tape to the back of each one to hold them on the board.

Add magnets to the back of google eyes and mustaches. For the mustaches, I found a bunch of mustache stickers, stuck them on a piece of thin cardboard and then cut them out and added magnet to the back of the cardboard. I also added pipe cleaners, pop poms and piece of construction paper so she could dress each person up even more.
I store all of the pieces, including dry erase markers in a binder pouch in my travel basket of games. You can find my other play mats here including a free printable car map, ocean play mat and farm play mat.

How do you keep your kids busy on road trips?
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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Coconut Chicken with Two Mango Salsas


Summer is just around the corner and nothing says summer quite like light meals. I can only do so many salads before I'm craving something with substance. Normally I turn to my grill, but it has been raining like crazy around here lately, so I haven't been able to even do that.

But what says light and summer like fruit? It's delicious and sweet, but often seen as more of a dessert than a main course. But could it be a main course? Absolutely!

Enter Coconut Chicken with Two Mango Salsas. It's like child's food meets a grown-up taste palate. Why two mango salsas? Having lived in South Texas for a number of years I grew to appreciate a variety of salsas at a meal.

So, here you have it: a meal that's playful, light and incredibly tasty.

INGREDIENTS
Chicken Strips
6-10 chicken tenders
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 cup cashews
½ cup coconut flakes, sweetened
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 ½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp pepper

Mango Salsa - Pico de Gallo Style
1 mango, peeled and chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4-5 green onions, sliced
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp vinegar
1/2 tsp finely shredded lime peel
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper.

Smooth Mango Salsa
1 mangos, peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp honey
1½ limes, juiced
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp cumin
2 cloves garlic
2 green onions, chopped

DIRECTIONS
Chicken Tender Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Toast the cashews in a pan over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Place the cashews and coconut flakes in a food processor and mix until the ingredients have crumbled together and look about the consistency of bread crumbs.
  4. Combine the cashew/coconut mixture with the flour, Panko bread crumbs, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, paprika, salt, cayenne and pepper. Mix well in a flat glass dish.
  5. Beat the two eggs in a separate bowl.
  6. One at a time, take the chicken tenders and lightly dip in the dry spice/cashew mix. Place in the egg and return to the spice/cashew mix, pressing the mix into the chicken.
  7. Place each chicken tender on a sprayed cooking sheet.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the outside turns a nice golden brown.


Mango Salsa Preparation

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and stir to combine. The end results should look like a brightly colored pico de gallo, with large chunks.


Smooth Mango Salsa Preparation

  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend on high for a couple minutes until it takes on a salsa-like consistency. There shouldn't be any large chunks, but it also shouldn't turn into a sauce.

This meal works well when each salsa is placed in a small bowl. Serve with tortilla chips and alternate dipping the chicken strips and/or chips between the salsas. It's a flavor experience that will leave your sweet tooth satisfied.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

15 Ways to Reduce Allergens in Your Home


I try to be very aware of the allergens in my house. With a daughter who suffers from extreme eczema and my own asthma, I want as few things in my house that will make either of these conditions worse. Here are some of the things that I do regularly to make sure my house is as free of dust, mites and pollen as possible.

Dust before you vacuum. When you dust you are moving a lot of allergens in your house around. If you dust and then vacuum, you are going to pick up a lot more allergens than if you vacuum and then dust.


Wash all of your bedding regularly. Everyone knows they should be washing their sheets reguarly but you need to be washing your blankets and pillows on a regular basis too, You spend a lot of time in your bed, there is a lot of time for allergens to acrue. I try to wash my pillows at least once a quarter. It is also good to allow your bed to air out for a little while before you make it each day.

Run the exhaust fan when you shower. This is a hard one for me because I love it when the bathroom is warm and humid when I step out of the shower, but running the fan helps control moisture in the bathroom which will in turn prevent mold.

Wash all linens in your house. Dust doesn't just acrue on the fabric in the bed room. Make sure you are washing drapes, pillows and blankets on your couches and vacuuming your couches regularly to keep allergens down.



Don't over fill your washing machine. If you fill your washing machine too full, your clothes aren't getting properly cleaned leaving allergens all over them.

Hang your towels and other damp clothes to dry before tossing them in the hamper. Leaving damp clothes in a heap is just asking for mold to grow.

 Make sure you are washing your shower curtain and replacing your liner on a regular basis. This can be a great place for mold to grow. If you find mold, kill it with a mixture of water and bleach.

Replace cracked tiles or disintegrating caulk to keep mold from growing in your bathroom.

Use hardwoods or tile throughout the home especially in bathrooms, kitchen and dining areas where allergens love to accumulate. I see carpeted bathrooms all the time and it is honestly creating another place for mold to grow.


Have a mat on both sides of your doors, so that people can't wipe their feet well before they enter you home. Have people remove their shoes when they first enter your home to prevent allergens from being tracked all over the place.

Toss cutting boards after they get grooves or cracks in them so that germs and allergens can't collect where you prepare your food.

Keep food tightly covered to prevent pests, if you see bugs in your house especially roaches it might be time to call in professional help. Roaches bring all sort of allergens with them.

Replace your air filters often. Make sure you are replacing your air filters at least as often as the manufacturer recommends.

Swap out cleaners for free and simple versions. Watch the amount of chemicals you are using and limit there where possible.


Clean your floors often. You floors contain most of the bacteria in your house. Clean your floors with a free and clear cleaner like Bona to keep allergens under control without introducing harsh chemicals.

As someone with asthma using very gentle cleaners is really important to me. I have tried cleaners that have full on set off asthma attacks. Up until recently we have just been using water and vinegar to clean our floors so I wouldn't have an asthma attack. Bona, reccently introduced a free and simple floor cleaner, Bona Free and Simple Hardwood floor cleaner that has been certified by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. This certification made me willing to try and I love the results! My floors are so much cleaner and I don't have to worry about the product making me sick. The bonus? It removes 93.3% of allergens on the floor, making the entire house healthier too. Right now if you sign up for the Bona mailing list you can get a $3.00 off coupon!

What do you do to remove allergens from your home?


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Monday, May 18, 2015

Where to SPLURGE and Where to SAVE at Disneyland


In preparation for our latest trip to Disneyland I read just about every article I could find. I found so many great tips, but almost all of them talked about how to save every single penny. While we wanted an affordable trip, we also wanted to find a couple of items on which to splurge. I talked to family members and past cast members and found some amazing things to spend our money on and make the magic go farther. There are also places that we worked to save every penny.

Here is my list of where to SPLURGE and where to SAVE while you are at Disneyland.

Where to Splurge


The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
This was one of our favorite things we splurged on our latest trip. A fairy godmother does your little girl's hair in one of four styles. Each style has a special extra that goes with it. My little girl chose the bun style which came with a rhinestone tiara and a sparkly Mickey Mouse hair clip. After they are finished with their hair they apply a small amount of makeup, a rhinestone gem on the girl's face and glitter nail polish. Each girl is given a sash to wear and then there is a big reveal moment where they show the little girl what they look like in the mirror. At the end of the appointment they give your little girl everything they used — the brush, comb, makeup pallet, bottle of nail polish and leftover gems, all in a cute drawstring backpack for them to carry around.

The price starts at about $60 and goes up from there, but with everything you get and how much fun our daughter had I would do it again for sure. The boutique fills up very quickly so make sure to make a reservation before you go.


Ariel's Grotto
I am not sure that my husband and I would have ever decided to do a character dining experience, but my parents really wanted to. We ate at Ariel's Grotto in California Adventure. The food was absolutely delicious and we were able to eat outside, right on the water. The girls were given crowns and stickers to decorate with while we waited for our food. Then the princesses came around right to our table.

I loved that there was no rush for the princesses to leave. They took their time with each table and we were able to get autographs, pictures and chat with each one. In the time we were there, we saw five princesses: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Tiana, Belle and Ariel. I felt like the service was spectacular. We ordered spaghetti for our six-year-old daughter, and I forgot to ask if there was going to be cheese on it. When they brought her the plate it was covered with cheese. When she looked visibly disappointed with her food, the waiter asked the problem and immediately brought her another plate without cheese. I loved that they went out of their way to make her experience a good one. I have to say my favorite part was the dessert plates: each person got a small assortment of desserts and they were all so good.

Treats
When we are in Disneyland, we let each person pick one treat to have in the days we are there. My daughter picked a churro, her Disneyland must have. My husband and I each had a Dole Whip. (If I am being totally honest, I may have snuck off for another Dole Whip.....shh...)

Photos
I don't know about you, but as the designated picture taker in my family, I am often not in our vacation photos. It might be worth it to you to have the Disney photographers take your pictures all over the park. I would suggest that you not buy any of the photos in the park but wait until you get home. When you get home you can load up ALL of the photos they took in the same online account and then get a CD copy of every photo for about $75.

Building a light saber
If you are a Star Wars fan then check out the gift shop at the end of the Star Tours ride. They have a long Build Your Own Light Saber display with all of the different light saber parts. You can pick and chose which parts you want and create your own light saber. Both my husband and my dad built one as their souvenirs and they are awesome. They light up and make sounds when they hit together.

Where to Save 

Food
Don't plan on eating every meal in the park. Be smart about the food you purchase. We bring a LOT of snacks and water bottles with us into the park and snack all day long and then eat one meal in the park. We bring snacks like trail mix, beef jerky and dried fruit to give us a break from the sugar overload. I did end up buying kid packs while we were there. We found them at a food place by the Pirates ride for about $6. They had juice, yogurt, goldfish, apples, carrots and a banana in them. Obviously you can get all of that for way cheaper at a grocery store, but it felt like a good, healthier bang for our buck in the park.

Even if you don't bring your own food, you can always leave the park for lunch and/or dinner and go somewhere else. Once you've purchased a parking pass, you can go back and park again later that day without any trouble (other than trying to remember where you parked). This may seem like a hassle, but truthfully your most productive park hours are the first few hours after the park opens, and the few hours before the park closes. The rest of the day can be busy, hot and involve a lot of waiting in line. Leaving the park for awhile can provide a relaxing break, allow you to purchase less expensive (and often healthier) food, and come back re-energized to tackle more rides.


Photos
Photos can be a place to save as well. You are more than welcome to take pictures of just about everything with your own camera. If you are able to get some good shots with your family this might just be a good place to save your money. When we met with the characters, the Disneyland photographer was always more than willing to take a couple with my camera too. That ended up saving us a bundle. I would compare the photos you take with the photos the Disneyland photographer takes and see which you want as the memory of your trip.

Souvenirs
One of the biggest ways I saved money on souvenirs this last trip was to bring them with us. I hit up our local dollar store in the weeks before we went and I found coloring books, crayons, buckets and shovels, water guns, stickers, small white boards and figures that were all Frozen. I was able to buy a ton of the little trinket-type souvenirs for $1 a piece. If you want to bring back souvenirs from the park itself, I wrote an entire post about the Free and Cheap souvenirs you can find in Disneyland. For our kids, we set a $25 budget per kid for souvenirs and made them wait until the last day to buy. We window shopped in the days before, but we didn't actually purchase until the last day. That made sure they weren't going to find something else they wanted more later. Both of my girls ended up getting the Disney Babies stuffed animals and they love them.

Strollers
It is worth it to bring your own stroller to the park. Add the price of renting a stroller each day that you are there together and it can be pretty expensive. We loved having our own stroller because not only did we not have to rent one, but it was easy to spot since it didn't look like all the other rental strollers. It was also nice to have a place to store all of our snacks in the bottom compartment.

Small Necessities
On one of the days we were at the park we discovered our one-year-old daughter was cutting a molar. She was miserable and I didn't have any medicine with me. The baby center had some baby medicine, but it was very pricey. I made sure to have medicine with me the next day. If you can remember things like medicine, sunscreen, baby wipes and the like you can save yourself oodles.


The most important part of our splurging and saving this last trip is that we had a budget for everything. We truly got to enjoy our trip without the stress and sticker shock of how expensive Disneyland can be.

Where would you splurge?
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Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Best Free or Cheap Disneyland Souvenirs


Disneyland is hands down my favorite place in the world to take my kids. There is nothing as magical as watching your child experience Disney for the first or 20th time. While I think Disney is worth every penny, it can get pricey fast. Especially if your kids want to bring home a lot of souvenirs. 

But souvenirs in the park don't have to be expensive. In fact, you can get some AMAZING ones for little or nothing at all. Here are some of my favorite cheap but amazing souvenirs:


  • Animators Academy — This was probably one of my favorite things from the whole trip. Located in California Adventures, you go into a large auditorium and an animator will teach you how to draw a Disney character. The pieces of paper you are drawing on say Disney's California Adventure on them and you get to take your drawing home at the end. I love how all of ours turned out and I think I want to hang them all together. There is a schedule of the different characters they will be drawing that day so make sure you check in to see when they are drawing a character you want to try your hand at. The animator is very good at teaching you how to make your character.

  • Buttons  Whether it is your first visit, your birthday or your honeymoon, Disneyland has a special button for it. You can ask for these pins on main street and they are free. My husband and I got them while we were there on our honeymoon and it was so much fun to wear them because everywhere we went people told us congratulations. For this trip we asked for the 1st Visit buttons for our girls. They also have some more generic ones that say "I'm Celebrating" and such. 

  • Smashed Pennies — There are smashed penny machines all over Disneyland and California Adventures. Bring a roll of quarters and a roll of pennies and let your kids smash them to their hearts' content. It takes two quarters and a penny to get a smashed penny. In a few places they smash dimes instead of pennies. Those take three quarters and a dime, but most of the machines are for penny smashing. 

  • Silhouette — There is a fantastic silhouette studio on main street, where an artist will cut out your profile using super tiny scissors. It is so much fun to watch these creations come to life and most of the artists can add people or animals into your portrait as long as you have a profile picture of them. You can also choose to add your favorite Disney character into your silhouette. It costs around $10 to have it done, and you get two copies. You can choose to purchase a frame, but since the silhouettes are done on a 5x7 piece of paper, I find it just as easy to frame it when I get home. 

  • Jungle Cruise Map — When you go on the Jungle Cruise, ask an attendant for a map!

  • Buzz Lightyear Ride Pictures — On a lot of the rides you ride at Disneyland, you get the opportunity to purchase a photo that was taken of you during the ride. On the Buzz Lightyear ride in Tomorrowland, it lets you email the picture to yourself for free! 
  • Autographs and Pictures — In most of the character meet and greets there is a photographer taking pictures that you will have the opportunity to buy, but you are absolutely allowed to take photos with your own camera. Some of my favorite pictures from our trip aren't the posed pictures of my girls with the characters but the pictures of them chatting with the characters or dancing that I took while we were there. You can also ask each character for their autograph. Autograph books are a little pricey in the park so I brought some Frozen notebooks with us. I bought these ones here and they were great! I would recommend making sure the books you bring are spiral bound or bound well to keep the pages in. Make sure you also carry a pen with you. 


  • Confetti — In the Disney Jr. Live on Stage show, gold doubloons drop from the ceiling in the form of shiny gold paper. If you have a Jake and the Neverland Pirates fan like I do, they will love running all over after the show collecting them.
  • Stickers — My kids were offered Mickey Mouse stickers all over the park by different employees. If you ask, I am sure they will scrounge one up for you. 

  • Restaurant Fun — This isn't exactly free, because you have to pay for the meal, but if you dine in one of the character restaurants they will give your kids crowns, stickers and crayons to help keep them occupied.  

  • Keychains — these cute little keychains were in most of the shops and cost $6 for 3 of them. They would make perfect little gifts to bring home to friends. 

  • Charms — These cute little charms run about $5 a piece. We let our daughter pick one on every trip. It is a small, fun way to remember each vacation.
  • Maps and Tickets- I always make a vacation box for each of our vacations and we save park maps and our tickets to put inside. 

  • Badges — Your kids can earn badges at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in California adventure. Make sure you have your kids try the Smoke Jumpers while they are there, My girls LOVED it! I wish adults could go on them! 

What do you get to remember your trips to Disney? 

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Winger's Sticky Fingers Copycat Recipe


There are some foods that take you back to certain times and places with just one bite. One of those foods for me is Winger's sticky fingers.

For those not familiar with Winger's, it's a Utah-based chain that specializes in chicken wings and sticky fingers: a type of chicken finger coated in sweet-spicy sauce. It's delicious, and reminds me of going to Winger's on game nights in college because the local restaurant had game day special. It reminds of me good times, great wins and wonderful food.

As kids have come along, the ability to easily go to the restaurant has decreased, but I still crave these delicious sticky fingers. So I thought, "What if I could make them myself?" So I did.

This is about as close as you can get to the real deal. Even if you've never been to Winger's you owe it to your taste buds to try this quick-fix recipe.

INGREDIENTS
3-4 chicken breasts or cutlets
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 eggs

Sticky Finger Sauce
1/3 cup buffalo sauce
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

PREPARATION

  1. Pound the chicken into 1/2" thick cutlets. Cut into strips.
  2. Combine flour, onion powder, garlic salt, paprika and black pepper in a large, flat glass container. Mix well.
  3. Coat all sides of chicken strips in the flour mixture.
  4. Dip each chicken strip in the egg and then coat in the Panko bread crumbs.
  5. Lay all coated chicken strips on a sprayed cookie sheet.
  6. Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
  7. Prepare sauce by combining all sauce ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat.
  8. Once chicken is cooked, toss in the sauce and serve hot.
  9. Serve with ranch dressing.

Not only is this meal super tasty for adults and children alike, it's also so easy to make, and can be done with ingredients on hand.
 
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