Thursday Tip- Slow Cooker Holiday Recipes- Mac N Cheese and Mashed Potatoes

Just enough time this week to pop in with an early Thursday Tip.  Here are a few favorite slow cooker holiday recipes, perfect to take to a potluck or host a large group at home.

First up is a favorite at the office (I’ve taken a double batch in for several work potlucks now), Paula Deen’s Slow Cooker Mac N Cheese.  Okay, I admit 1. I’m not a huge fan of Paula Deen (not even before the whole “racist” shenanigans) and 2. This is ridiculously unhealthy for you.  The thing is, it’s outrageously delicious, serves a large group, and is super easy to make.  Sold.

I’ve made a few of my own tweaks to the recipe, but you can find the original here.

Slow Cooker Mac N Cheese
(Serves 12)

INGREDIENTS

2 cups elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces
2 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

DIRECTIONS

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker.  Cook on low for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Yes, that’s truly it.  Paula has you melting the cheese and butter ahead of time and adding 3 eggs.  I don’t have time for that shiz.  Plus, if you haven’t already gathered, I’m an incredibly lazy cook.  So I was like “screw you Paula, your pre-melted sauce, and your eggs.”  Guess what?  Came out the same as when I followed the directions.  When I take this one in for a potluck, I cook the macaroni the night before and keep it in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, I grab all my ingredients and go, then throw everything in there and start cooking it at work.  Don’t panic if your cheese looks clumpy when it first starts to cook.  It all melts together beautifully over time (just be sure to stir it every once in a while).

Next up?  Another classic holiday side dish.  Mashed potatoes- in the slow cooker- and you don’t have to peel them!  Mind blown, right?  Mashed potatoes are tricky as a potluck food, so I was super excited when I found this recipe and could bring mashed potatoes to our holiday potluck last year.

Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes
(Serves 12)

INGREDIENTS

5 lbs red potatoes (or sierra gold), diced and unpeeled
1 cup water
1 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/3 cup milk

DIRECTIONS

Combine all ingredients except milk in slow cooker.  Cook on high for 4 hours.  After 4 hours, mash potatoes by hand or with a mixer.  Add as much milk as needed till you achieve the right consistency.

Yes, that’s it.  For the potluck I just did the same kind of thing as I did for the mac n cheese- I cut up the potatoes the night before and took all ingredients into work with me so it could cook.  Yes, I also took a potato masher (the potatoes get so soft that mashing is no biggie).

Hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

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Thursday Tip- Unique Holiday Gifts From Etsy

So, there are 2 things you need to know about me

1: I LOVE shopping

2: I HATE holiday crowds

Dealing with Christmas crowds especially has always been a nightmare to me.  The last few years, I’ve relied heavily on online shopping at Amazon (free shipping, what what!) and Etsy.

Etsy, for those of you who’ve never shopped here (careful, it’s addictive) is an online store where people from all over the world can have their own “shops” to sell hand made or vintage items.  On Etsy, you can find totally unique, hand made, WELL made items and support small business owners, NOT big box stores.

In need of a little holiday inspiration?  Here are some of my favorite Etsy shops:

For friends with little ones, cute hats and headbands are always a hit.  This shop sells the most adorable hats and headbands.  Oh, and they even have an Ohio State one, which I recommend for everyone you know 😉

Want something a little more practical that they won’t grow out of in 2 seconds?  We got our friends’ son a step stool on his 2nd birthday.  I don’t mean to brag, but they still have it in their downstairs bathroom.  Oh, and we got it personalized with his name.  This shop sells super cute ones.

Would you rather buy the kids on your list a toy, or do you have an itty bitty one to shop for?  I  love, love, love the wooden toys, rattles, teethers, and games at this shop.  I bought L her very first rattle and teether at this shop, and they are 2 of her faves.

I could literally spend hours perusing Etsy’s array of jewelry shops.  I love shopping here for my mom, mother-in-law, and friends.  Love the simple, but personalized jewelry in this shop and this necklace would be really cute for a mom or grandma.

Men are always hard to shop for, but wouldn’t a wallet like this be fun?

Like vintage?  Etsy has that too!  Wouldn’t something like this make a fun, unique gift for a family member (or a wedding gift for a friend)!  (Full disclosure? This is actually my mom’s shop… this post is NOT intended to be a plug for her shop, I just truly love Etsy).

So those are a few of my faves, but I honestly haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s out there.  Personally, I’d much rather sit in the comfort of my own home with a warm cup of coffee and browse online for fun gifts than fight crowds of cranky people at the mall.  Happy shopping!

Thursday Tip- Car Seat Poncho

The fall chill has arrived here in NC, and a few weeks ago, I had to bundle L up in a coat before leaving the house.

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It wasn’t until I got her to the car that I was faced with a dilemma.  I had taken the time to bundle her up and get her out to the car (we don’t have a garage), only to realize that I now had to take her coat off before buckling her into the seat.  (I think a lot of moms don’t know this, and I didn’t know this till I read it on someone else’s blog, but it’s actually a huge no-no to buckle your baby into the car seat while wearing a bulky coat.)

It seemed like such a hassle to get her into the coat only to take it back off when we got to the car, then do it all over again when we arrived at our destination.  Since she’s out of her infant car seat and into her convertible car seat, the go-to car seat covers wouldn’t work for us anymore.  So, I reached out to other moms via my Facebook page to see what they do in the same situation.

One of my friends saw my post and texted me a link to the Car Seat Poncho.  Um, genius.  One of those why didn’t I think of that? moments.

Okay, disclaimer. I don’t actually own one of these ponchos, and I probably won’t be buying one, just because Loralai already has quite the collection of coats so we’ll probably just wrap her in the coat till we get to the car, then use the coat as a blanket.  But I still think it’s a great idea, and might be useful to other mamas out there.

 

Thursday Tip- Waze Mobile App

There is nothing quite like cruising along the highway, then suddenly finding yourself in the midst of a raging traffic jam.  How long will I be stuck here?  What’s causing this mess?  Is there an alternate route that would get me to my destination faster?

Waze can answer all of these questions.

Waze is an ingenious app that offers real-time traffic data, allows users to report incidents, offers turn-by-turn GPS directions, and will re-route you if it finds a faster way to get you to your destination.  It also warns you of hazards like if there’s a car on the shoulder or bad weather ahead.

Mind = blown.

I used this app for my big trip to Atlanta last weekend.  We hit some traffic in South Carolina and I pulled the Waze app up on my phone.  It took me off the highway for a few minutes and had me merge back on the highway a few miles down the road, past where the traffic jam was.  I utilized it again when we reached the outskirts of Atlanta and its nightmarish rush hour traffic. Every minute saved when you have a ticking time bomb in the back seat is priceless.

I highly recommend downloading the app to your phone and trying it out!

Thursday Tip- Brie Cheese Appetizer

So, here’s my thing.  I like having people over, but I don’t want to be running around finishing up appetizers as people are arriving or fussing over a complicated meal (which unfortunately has happened before).  I want to enjoy my guests.  So I try to stick for uncomplicated, quick, easy, but also delicious recipes for having people over.

I discovered this recipe after having it at a friend’s house.  If I’d just seen it online, I probably would have passed it over because it sounds like a weird combination, but it’s actually delicious (probably could have eaten the whole thing myself, but I refrained because I have manners).  After a little digging, I found a recipe here.

Brie Cheese Appetizer

Ingredients

1 wheel brie cheese (about 18 oz)
3 tablespoons apricot preserves (you can also try other flavors like raspberry)
1 container of Pillsbury crescent rolls (I think the recipe I found calls for puff pastry, but crescent rolls work for me)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 and lightly grease a cookie sheet

Do not separate, but spread the crescent rolls out on the cookie sheet flat.

Slice the cheese in half so that you have 2 separate layers of cheese.  Spread preserves on one half of the cheese then put the other layer on top (like a sandwich).  Place the layers of cheese and preserves in the middle of the crescent roll dough and wrap the dough so that it completely covers the cheese.  Flip so that the “seam” of the dough is on the bottom.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the dough is golden brown.

Serve with crackers.

 

Thursday Tip- Tips for Glowy, Healthy Skin

So, the other day my friend, Rachel, and I were discussing our daily skin and makeup routines.  I was super flattered when she complimented my skin, because I’ve made some changes in the past few years and was glad someone else noticed!

I’m going to share my healthy, glowy skin tips with a disclaimer:  Everyone’s skin is different, so these tips won’t work for everyone.  I have combination, sensitive skin.  I can get super oily in the summer, super dry in the winter, and harsh products can really irritate my skin.   Your skin may not be exactly like mine, but hopefully you’ll find something that helps you in at least one of these tips!

1. Keep your skin care routine simple

I’ve tried various skin care products that promise to make my skin flawless.  What I’ve learned is that all the nasty, chemically stuff you put on your face is only going to make things worse.  If it fixes one problem, it’s probably going to cause another.  After testing about a zillion different products, I decided to go back to basics.  I use a gentle, natural soap that I bought at our local Farm Market (I call it my hippie soap).  I wash my face once a day (in the evening) and I use oil free lotion in the morning and at night.  That’s it.

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2. Tinted moisturizer is the best thing ever

I have to give Rachel credit for this one.  She taught me this trick a few years ago.  When you’re applying your usual moisturizer in the morning, blend in a dab or 2 of tinted moisturizer.  I absolutely ADORE this trick.  It evens out my skin tone and works as my substitute for foundation, which saves me a step and leaves my skin looking fresh and natural instead of matte and overworked.  I like Aveeno Positively Radiant because it’s oil free and has SPF in it.

IMG_14613. Mineral powder is the second best thing ever

Similar to the tinted moisturizer, I turn to mineral powder to give me a natural, glowy look, rather than made-up.   I like Physicians Formula, which made me look fresh, even at an outdoor wedding in July.

942710_10151580872831630_181589613_n4. Eat right for health inside and out

I honestly believe the first step to healthy skin is to take care of it from the inside out.  Hydrate!  Drink plenty of water, which is a highly underrated health and beauty tool.  Also, eat plenty of fruits and veggies.  Thanks to my mom, I now have a juicer which allows me to cram a ton of fruits and veggies into my diet in a way that’s both tasty and allows my body to process everything efficiently.  Anything green is great for your skin (think spinach or kale), cucumber is great for inflammation, and I turn to carrots and apples for a good base that will sweeten it up.  It may look questionable, but it’s actually delicious.

IMG_14535. Switch from dairy milk

I kid you not, this is by far the greatest thing I’ve done for my skin.  About 2 years ago, I started getting really bad breakouts.  Like, worse than I’d ever had in my teen years.  It was embarrassing and frustrating having such awful skin in my late 20’s and not know how to get it under control.  In a moment of desperation, I tried Proactiv, but all that did was dry out my skin and make the breakouts worse (see #1).  After a bit of research, I learned that studies that had shown that hormones in dairy milk (even organic milk) were shown to cause breakouts.  I realized that I’d drastically increased my milk intake around the time that my breakouts had started, so although I was skeptical, I decided to give up dairy milk.  My skin almost instantly cleared up and has been nearly flawless since.  The great thing is that there are a ton of tasty (and healthy!) alternatives. Soy, almond, and rice milk- just try them and see what works for you.

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Here I am, proudly rocking the no makeup look.

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Thursday Tip- Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches

Happy football season!  This is one of my Pinterest faves (original recipe here).  It’s perfect for having people over to watch a game since it doesn’t require a ton of work (especially after I cut out a few steps… I’m lazy like that).

Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches
(Serves 4-6 people)

3.5lbs of beef chuck roast

I.5 cans (16 oz) beef broth

1 can (10.5 oz) french onion soup

6 oz red wine

1 tsp garlic powder

salt and pepper, to taste

6 french rolls

6 (or more) slices of provolone cheese

Trim excess fat off of beef roast and season meat with salt and pepper.

Pour beef broth, soup, red wine and garlic powder into slow cooker with beef roast.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Slice or shred beef

Lightly toast the bread.  The easiest way to toast the buns is to set your oven to broil, spread the buns out on a baking sheet, and broil for a few minutes.  Seriously, only 2-3 minutes, though.  They toast FAST.  I nearly burned down my kitchen toasting buns one time.

Serve beef on rolls with cheese and spoon beef juice into individual bowls so each person has their own dip.

If you’re serving it to a group, you can just do chips or something easy like that as a side, but when I make it for JD, I like to make homemade sweet potato fries.  To do those, just preheat your oven to 425 and cut an uncooked sweet potato into individual fries, then  place in a lidded container with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (another thing about me- I generally just eyeball things when I cook instead of measuring things out exactly) and seasoning of your choice, to taste (I like McCormick’s Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning).  Shake the container (make sure the lid is sealed tightly!) to coat the fries in the olive oil and seasoning.  Spread out on a baking pan and bake for at least 20 minutes, flipping once (cooking time will vary based on the size of fries you cut).

P.S.  The original plan was to have pictures of this recipe by the time I posted it.  Obviously, that didn’t happen.  I did my shopping at Target instead of my usual grocery store, so the selection was limited and our meal plan for the week changed.  Anyway, it looks like beef on a bun with melted cheese, if that helps 🙂