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What’s For Dinner Wednesday: Sausage & Peppers

26 Sep

Everyone at our house likes some aspect of this recipe, whether it’s the sausage, the peppers, the pasta or all three!

Today’s recipe is one of those not-an-exact-recipe posts. It’s more of a meal suggestion post.

We’ve been back to school for one month now, and everything is getting back in full swing. We often need a fast, easy meal so we can eat together and then run to wherever we need to be.

Sausage and Peppers is that meal. Not so often because it’s not super-healthy for you, but on occasion it’s a good one.

We usually throw ours on top of pasta so that there is something for everyone to choose from, no matter what they like or don’t like.

To make this simple meal you need just a few ingredients:

Sweet Italian Sausage cooked through and sliced
Sliced Peppers (red, green, yellow any color will do!)
Sliced Onions

Cooked pasta (we like egg noodles but any kind is fine)

And the directions are simple:

Saute your veggies in olive oil and garlic.
Add cooked, sliced sausage (you can either cook your sausage under the broiler first, then cool and slice or you can cook on top of the stove, cool and slice).
Saute sliced sausage with sliced veggies.

Serve on top or next to pasta.

Option: Sometimes we offer rolls for sausage and pepper sandwiches instead of pasta. The sandwich version also makes a great meal to serve for our at-home birthday parties as part of our buffet.

Pineapple-Banana Cake

31 Aug

It’s rare that we like cake to begin with, but this one we all loved!

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but no one in our house really loves cake, as in a birthday cake type of cake, with the exception of Lemon Cake and Boston Cream Pie which we adults choose for our birthdays, but we recently had a cake that we loved so I thought I’d share it with you today.

My parents had come for dinner and my mom had volunteered to bring dessert, saying she had a new recipe for a Pineapple-Banana Cake she thought we’d like. The recipe is not her own, she credits Roberta Grundy for passing it along to her. (Thanks Roberta!)

Well we gave it a try, and we all loved it! It wasn’t too sweet and the flavors of the pineapple mixed with banana was delicious and perfect for the upcoming fall season. I encourage you to give it a try!

PINEAPPLE-BANANA CAKE
BY ROBERTA GRUNDY
INGREDIENTS

*Grease and flour two layer cake pans
*Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 package Duncan Hines Yellow Cake Mix
1 eight ounce can of crushed pineapple NOT drained
2 medium bananas, mashed (approximately one cup)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup canola oil or vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon

DIRECTIONS

Combine ingredients and mix together on low for one minute.
Scrape sides of the bowl and continue to mix for two more minutes on medium until well blended.
Pour into greased and floured pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30-33 minutes until cake springs back.

See that little layer of frosting in the middle….yummy!

FROSTING

Roberta uses Betty Crocker frosting mix, beaten by hand and adding in 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 ts. vanilla, but you can also choose to make your own vanilla frosting, adding in the cinnamon and vanilla as well.

Optional: sprinkle with nuts

Serves 10-12 approximately

A Chocolate Lover’s Dream Day

13 Aug

We hadn’t even parked the car yet and I was already salivating.

Last week, you may remember that in my post about Boston Cream Pie, I mentioned that Saturday was my birthday. This year for my birthday, I got an extra-special treat: we spent the day before my birthday in Hershey, PA.

That’s right. I was in the Chocolate Capital of the World this past Friday.

I know, I’m a lucky, lucky girl.

I must give all the credit for this amazing treat to my mother-in-law, Marylou, who treated both my family and my sister-in-law’s family to a long weekend vacation in Pennsylvania with all the activities and everything that went with them, this past weekend. It was such a fun weekend and I loved being able to spend my birthday with this side of my family, something I don’t always get to do. We hated to see it end.

All of my favorite things, all in one delicious place!

I had been to Hershey a long time ago, back when we lived in New Jersey, but it was so long ago that I had almost no memory of the trip. It was like being there for the first time, all over again.

The streets smell of chocolate as you drive through the town. It’s heavenly.

The street lamps are shaped like Hershey Kisses.

It was truly a dream-come-true for a chocolate lover.

There are several parts to the Hershey experience, and I can share a little bit with you about the parts that we got to see on Friday. There’s so many family-friendly things to do there, you definitely have to pick and choose what you’d like to do on your visit. We were lucky too, it was a rainy day and at first I thought we would not be able to go. However, there were tons of indoor activities so we were able to keep to our plan for the day.

On our first ride we learned all about how chocolate is made, how all our favorite candies come to be.

We first chose to take a moving ride tour through the chocolate-making experience. It was about 10-15 minutes long and you learn all about how chocolate is made and it was a fun ride while being very informative at the same time. It was during this tour that I realized just how many different kinds of chocolate candies are actually made by Hershey’s.

After that, since it was lunchtime, we ate in the food court, which I thought seemed very affordable. There were ten of us total: five kids and five adults, so eating out is not an easy thing to do, especially when you’re trying to stick to a budget.

Caroline got a great shot of the trolley after we finished our ride.

Following the food court, we took an hour-long trolley ride which led us all through the town of Hershey. Here we not only saw the entire area, but also heard an animated history of the town and of Mr. Hershey himself. There was lots of laughing and singing (yes, we sang) on this ride and it was just as fun to watch our kids reacting to the antics of the tour guides while they were learning about the town and seeing all the local landmarks.

The kids got such a kick out of the antics on the trolley and we got such a kick out of watching the kids.

After the trolley ride ended, we went on to what was the most highly anticipated event of the day: The Gift Shop. The kids had all saved their money for the entire summer to take on this trip and they were anxiously awaiting the first time to spend some of it. I was proud though, both couples are on tight budgets and it’s rubbed off on our kids in what I think is a good way. They all took great care in buying their items and they really seemed to weigh the pros and cons of what to get and why. No one over-spent, as we still had other places with gift shops that we’d be visiting. All of my kids came home with extra money ultimately, and I believe my nieces did as well.

Ready to leave the hotel, wearing our Hershey’s t-shirts, purchased here in RI especially for this trip.

One tip I will pass along: this summer I found brown Hershey’s t-shirts at our local Walmart store. Total cost for three shirts: $22.50. I called my sister-in-law and she went to her store and found two for her daughters. Our five girls wore their matching Hershey’s shirts to Hershey Park on Friday and they looked so awesome. None of them had to spend their money on a $21.50 Hershey shirt from the gift shop. I thought that was a great treat for them and a great lesson as well.

There were some things that we didn’t do at Hershey Park that you might enjoy if you visit as well. They included a 3D show, a tour of the production facilities and an outdoor water park. If we took another trip there, those are things we might consider doing.

Overall, this was a fabulous way to spend the day before my birthday, or any day, and I’m so thankful I got the chance to visit Hershey Park again.  Here are a few last photos from the 200 or so that the girls and I took that day.

Enjoy!

The kids got a kick out of the singing cows.

Lamp posts on the streets of Hershey.

Trolley ride antics

So Much Candy

The biggest and for $29.95 it could be yours.

The Almost Sleepover Birthday Cake

27 Jul

Elizabeth turned 10 earlier this month, which meant she got to host a couple of friends for an “Almost Sleepover” last weekend. The Almost Sleepover is also sometimes known as a Mock Sleepover or a Half Sleepover. It’s when the guests come with pj’s on, sleeping bags and pillows in hand, and do all the typical sleepover type stuff (pizza, cake, movies, games, presents) but then right before bedtime, *poof!!* they go home!! The Almost Sleepover means that everyone gets to actually sleep! It’s one of my favorite birthday parties of all.

When Caroline had her Almost Sleepover two years ago, I coincidentally received an email earlier that month, from Kraft Foods, showing a slumber party cake, which I adapted here at home for her party. Here’s what her cake looked like back in 2010.

Caroline’s Almost Sleepover Cake from 2010. So cute, right?

I decided after making the cake once, that I’d do it slightly differently the next time around, which was now for Elizabeth’s party last weekend. Here’s what I did differently:

I used brownie as the base, rather than cake.

I used one quarter of a graham cracker for their sleeping bag instead of whatever I’d used here. That allowed me to make smaller people and fit more of them on the cake than just six. I like everyone to get a person to eat and there’s already three girls here before any guests or adults arrive.

I couldn’t find the rainbow candy for the hair this time around, I think it was from Halloween that year since Caroline’s birthday was in October. But, Elizabeth found some gummy worm type of candy in the checkout lane at Walmart when we were buying our supplies, so we used those, which worked out fine.

So here is what Elizabeth’s Almost Sleepover Cake looked like:

The Almost Sleepover cakes are so fun to make and the guests always love seeing it, almost more than eating it!

There was plenty of space for candles too:

Make a wish!

And in case you’re wondering what we did for a craft at the party, it was decorate-your-own pillow cases:

Everyone had different colored pillow cases to choose from. Elizabeth had everyone sign hers so she’ll always remember her 10th birthday party.

The party was fun and easy and the cake was delicious! Best of all was seeing Elizabeth enjoying her special day:

Happy Tenth Birthday Elizabeth!

The perfect summer birthday cake recipe: Ice Cream Sandwich Cake

13 Jul

Turning on the oven is the last thing you want to do in the summer!

It’s mid-July and already we’ve had two heat waves this summer. A heat wave is defined as three or more days of excessively high heat. Our first one happened just after school got out in June, and as luck would have it, my youngest daughter was invited to an outdoor sprinkler party on Day Two of that heat wave.

It was 100 degrees that day and 103 the next.

I was sitting out there that afternoon, watching her NOT going in the sprinkler AT ALL, but running around with all her friends nevertheless, and having a great time when another mom, Melissa, brought out the dessert she brought with her that day.

Did someone say dessert?

Melissa did! Melissa had just finished telling me how much she loved The Whole Bag of Chips a little while before she brought out her cake, and now…her recipe is being featured in it.

Yay Melissa!

What did Melissa bring on that incredibly hot, hot day?

Ooey, gooey and COLD, this cake is absolutely perfect for a summer dessert!

She brought an Ice Cream Sandwich Cake! Bless you Melissa! That cake was pure heaven that afternoon and as I sat enjoying it, I said to her, “My kids would love this cake! In fact, my daughter has a summer birthday, this would be PERFECT for her party!”

And so it was.

This past weekend was Elizabeth’s 10th Birthday (gasp!) and I did indeed make Melissa’s Ice Cream Sandwich Cake.

It was a hit. Almost everyone had seconds.

I was nervous making it without a recipe to read as I went along, but I’d gotten the instructions from Melissa and even heard her son telling all of the other kids how it’s made, “You take a box of 12 ice cream sandwiches…”

I’d definitely make this cake again, and according to Melissa you can use any topping you want. There are also many different flavors of ice cream sandwiches including vanilla, chocolate and mint chocolate chip, just to name a few. I opted to go with just vanilla the first time because I didn’t know who would like what. Additionally, you could also throw some treats in between the layers like crushed Oreos, or M&M’s or whatever you want. I just kept it simple for my first time.

Here’s the recipe. In Melissa’s words, “If I can make it, anyone can!”

Thanks again Melissa!

I actually used TWO of each ingredient shown here for our cake: two boxes, two tubs, two jars.

MELISSA’S ICE CREAM SANDWICH CAKE

INGREDIENTS

(For a 9×13 glass baking dish)

2 boxes of 12 ice cream sandwiches, any flavor

2 tubs whipped topping, such as Cool Whip, thawed

2 12 oz. jars of hot fudge or any sundae topping you’d like. You could even mix and match, one hot fudge, one caramel, for example.
DIRECTIONS

I felt like I was racing against time, unwrapping all those ice cream sandwiches. I did not want them to melt!

1) Unwrap the first box of 12 ice cream sandwiches and place them in your baking dish so that the bottom of the dish is filled. (For some reason I only could fit 11 sandwiches on my bottom layer, but on my top I did fit 12. They were easier to move around on the second layer and push them close together).

2) Slightly heat your first jar of hot fudge so that it’s spreadable. I did about 25-30 seconds but it depends on your microwave. You don’t want it to be actually hot or it’ll melt the ice cream but you don’t want it to be solid or you won’t be able to spread it.

The view from the side.

3) Spread it so that all the ice cream sandwiches on the bottom layer are covered.

4) Spread the first tub of whipped topping across the layer of hot fudge.

Ready to freeze!

5) Repeat steps again with a second layer of sandwiches, hot fudge and cool whip.

6) Freeze until ready to serve.

I decorated mine just before serving as I wasn’t sure how the sprinkles and writing would freeze.

Thanks to Melissa for such a delicious recipe!

Grandma Grello’s Green Bean Marinade

22 May

Marinated green beans are great for cookouts and great to bring to a party. This is one of our favorite summer “regulars.”

Grandma Grello’s birthday is this week. There’s a story surrounding her birthday where she was born on one day but it didn’t get recorded for a few days, making the date on her birth certificate different than the date that she was actually born. This makes her birthday date a little sketchy, but we always celebrate it some time this week. In honor of that, I thought I’d share her Green Bean Marinade recipe with you today. Summer is here and we’ve already made this once, one time of many over the upcoming months.

One thing we’ve discovered, is that if you want to, when you’re done marinating the green beans, you can re-use the marinade to marinate broccoli, which is also very good.

Last time I made this, Caroline picked the beans, minced the garlic and pretty much did the entire recipe herself with my supervision, so it’s a good recipe for kids who like to help in the kitchen, as mine do, and I love the idea of passing along family recipes to my kids at a young age, so that when they’re old enough to do their own cooking, they’ll have all their favorite recipes on hand and they will have made them, too.

GRAM GRELLO’S GREEN BEAN MARINADE

Caroline made most of this recipe by herself last time around. Her garlic was so perfectly minced, I thought Grandpa Grello had come back and done it himself, as he was always known for the most perfectly cut ingredients when he cooked.

INGREDIENTS

1 pound clean, snapped fresh green beans, the ends picked

1/3 cup blend of olive oil and vegetable (or canola) oil

1/4 cup white vinegar or cider vinegar (we use white mostly)

salt

pepper

parsley

garlic

Caroline has the marinade ready and awaiting the cooked beans.

DIRECTIONS

Bring salted water to a boil in 2 qt. sauce pan.

Drop in beans.

Bring to a boil and cook for 10-15 minutes uncovered.

Remove with a slotted spoon (apparently this step is the most important. Spoon must be slotted.)

Don’t drain or rinse and place beans into the bowl that has the marinade.

Marinate in the fridge for several hours.

Remove garlic and serve. (We never remove the garlic.)

Wings, roasted potatoes and marinated green beans; a simple summertime meal.

Thinking outside the birthday party box

21 May

Birthday parties for kids can have a tendency to take on a life of their own.

Our family is full of rules.

We more often say no than yes, it seems, and we have a rule for everything.

We can’t help it, that’s just how we are and it works for us, at least for now. That being said, we have birthday party rules at our house. I know I’ve talked about it before, but I’ll tell again just so I can get on with my story for today.

Our rules are as follows: You can’t have a “friend party” until you are five and when you do, you can have it at the house with five kids. At six, seven, eight and nine, you can have your birthday party out of the house, with more people (within reason, and we never invite the entire class or grade, or even “all the girls”).

At ten you’re back to having it at the house with just a few people. We like the “Almost Sleepover” or “Mock Sleepover” (come in pj’s stay late, go home to bed) at ten because many people (ourselves included) do not allow their kids to sleep at someone else’s house and our kids tend to turn ten before other people’s kids are ten. At 11 and beyond they can have a sleepover if they want, with a few kids (our house is not huge and there are already five of us in it at all times, so space constraints are an issue) or we can discuss another inexpensive, small outing option if desired.

Now that you have the back story on our birthday party rules, here’s where I was going with all of that.

We have to give Alex all the credit for thinking out of the box for this party.

Our youngest daughter turned seven at the end of the month a couple of months ago. We opted to hold off on the friend party until after the Easter holidays and after school vacation, which led us to the end of April. However, way back in October, she already knew what kind of party she wanted: a cooking party and she wanted it to be at home. She planned the entire thing out herself. It would be a Hello Kitty theme. They would make homemade pizza (we do that a lot here) and decorate cupcakes (which turned into decorating donuts when we got the Babycakes Donut Maker as a Christmas gift) and decorate aprons.

We were thrilled. Birthday parties out of the house tend to be expensive: $10 per kid on the low end and as much as $17 per kid or more on the higher end, with some having a minimum of paying for ten kids whether they are there or not. Some include food, some do not. Some include invitations, some do not. However, “everyone does it” so we have tried to keep up while establishing what we feel are fair rules and reasonable budgets for our parties, and having had to say no to some party options our kids have thrown out at us as suggestions in the past.

But I can’t lie: we were jumping for joy in our heads when she explained what she wanted for her party.

The day of the party came, and she had invited seven kids to come. They all were able to come except one, so there were seven little girls plus my two older daughters who served as the helpers.

First activity: making a variety of homemade pizzas.

We bought enough dough that every pair could make one pizza (and Elizabeth helped out when the seventh friend didn’t arrive). We had two cheese and sauce pizzas, one mushroom, olive and cheese pizza, and one cheese and pepperoni pizza.

That week, I found a “20% off your whole purchase” coupon for Michael’s Crafts, so I went and got 8 aprons. I already had fabric markers here, but I bought a set just in case mine were dried out, but I didn’t need them so I returned them along with an extra apron.

I made the donuts from scratch with Caroline ahead of time, along with the chocolate frosting with Elizabeth while the kids were making their aprons, and each child was able to decorate and eat four donuts. I had purchased one Hello Kitty cake decorating kit which contained sprinkles, cupcake wrappers, candies and tooth pick decorations, and I split it for use between the family party and the friend party. I bought all my paper goods at the dollar store in time for the family party and used what was left for the friend party.

And no, I didn’t care that the paper goods weren’t Hello Kitty. Apparently no one else cared either.

Second activity: decorating aprons.

The kids had a blast.

Alex had a blast.

The moms that stayed, loved it.

We had fun, and it was an easy party. I was relaxed at the end, not exhausted and not broke. It was as much fun (maybe more so) than any party we’ve had out of the house, and best of all, she was happy.

The entire party cost us $32.

We didn’t figure that part out until the end, as we weren’t trying to keep it that low on purpose, but when the party was over and we sat back and realized all we’d been able to do at such a low price, we were amazed.

It just goes to show that even though we sometimes live in a “top this” kind of world and there’s lots of keeping up to be done, that it doesn’t always have to be that way. You can think out of the box, as Alex did back in October, and do something different and still have fun.

It may not always be this way. She may want to have her next party somewhere else, and we’re more than willing to oblige, as long as it stays within the parameters we’ve set, but for now, we’re celebrating the success of this year’s party and remembering more often than not, that it can be done.

PRICELESS.

The Un-birthday-cake Birthday Cake

2 Apr

Although I'm crafty, I'm not an artist so birthday cake decorating is not really my thing. But, each time, my kids always say they love my cakes and that means so much to me.

Every once in a while I have one of those slap-myself-on-the forehead realizations, the kind where I think to myself, “Why didn’t I think of that,” or even “Why didn’t I think of that sooner?”

Birthday party cakes was one of those moments.

Although I don’t bake them from scratch, I always make our cakes at home and do my best to decorate them despite my lack of artistic ability, but the funny thing is none of us in our immediate family actually really like the traditional birthday cake kind of cake, you know the yellow or chocolate cake with the birthday cake frosting on it. Yet, I just kept making them three times a year, six times if you count friend parties AND family parties. Sometimes I’d do cupcakes instead, but still it’s like cake.

And then last year it happened: my sister in law and her family were here for Elizabeth’s birthday and I made some kind of comment about making the cake even though none of us actually eat it.

Her brilliant answer: “You know, I’ve done brownie cakes and chocolate chip cookie cakes instead, and frost them just the same. It works out great.”

Light bulb.

Slap on forehead.

Why didn’t I think of that????

We love brownies! And, we love cookies!

Elizabeth's "cake" this summer was our first brownie birthday cake.

So last summer I tried out a frosted brownie cake for Liz’s party and it worked out great! I did it two more times over the summer, once for her friend party and once for July 4th, and then again in October for Caroline’s party. Over and over I just kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I never thought of this!”

Here it is again, birthday party time and once again, we are doing the un-birthday cake birthday cake. I briefly toyed with the idea of trying out a cookie cake this time and I even grabbed the recipe from my friend Shelley, but I just didn’t have the time to pull it off this weekend. Next time….

In any event, a great time was had by all, and everyone loved the “cake.”

Surprise, it's a brownie! And, this was a budget-friendly brownie cake with the brownie mix from Price Rite and the frosting from Aldi's. My secret ingredient: I throw chocolate chips into the batter.