Saturday, July 26, 2014

Getting Set for the Twinkie Cookbook - My Chocolate Dipped Cajeta Twinkie Recipe

I wrote this review while participating in a campaign for Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Twinkies. I received samples and a promotional item to thank me for participating.

Twinkies were a fixture of my childhood. Actually all of Hostess was, including the monthly trip to the Day Old Hostess shop in town. I remember making my selections to fill lunch boxes for the next several weeks. It was the closest thing to a kid and a candy store feeling I remember.

Now that Hostess is back along with all our childhood favorites, The Twinkies Cookbook is also making it's comeback. So if you are a Twinkie fan or food fanatic with a great idea for a Twinkie treat, get your submission in for The New Edition of the Twinkies Cookbook. Help celebrate the triumphant return of the Twinkie by submitting your own unique recipe to by July 31st, 2014 for a chance to be included in the next #TwinkieCookbook.

My Twinkie creation is a Chocolate Dipped Cajeta Twinkie. My husband is a huge cajeta fan, though he could just eat it by the spoonful. I love caramel, so thought it would be great to combine our favorites into one ultimate snack cake treat. And the chocolate? Well, besides that dark chocolate is just awesome, it does a great job of holding my little Cajeta Twinkie Treat together. So grab a box of Hostess Twinkies and let's make some fun treats!

Chocolate Dipped Cajeta Twinkies

You Will Need:

  • Hostess Twinkies
  • Cajeta
  • Melting Chocolate (I use Ghirardelli dark melting wafers)
  • multi-colored jimmies or mini M&Ms

Slice each Twinkie in half. Squeeze a little cajeta in the middle and replace the top.

In a double boiler or melting pot, melt your chocolate wafers. Dip the Twinkie sandwich in the chocolate or pour chocolate over one half. Sprinkle with jimmies or M&Ms and set on waxed paper or cupcake liners to cool. The chocolate will harden as it comes to room temperature.


What would you create with your Twinkies?

For more details or recipe submission head to the Hostess website. You can also connect with Hostess on Twitter and Facebook for product information and upcoming promotions.
Pin It

Friday, July 25, 2014

Kid, Finger and Budget Friendly Meals with Kraft

This shop has been compensated by #CollectiveBias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone.

Keeping a family of 5 full and happy seems to be my full-time job. Trying to balance hungry children and my wallet? That is the real challenge. The first and fifteenth of the month often leave us feeling the pinch right before payday. I am always on the look out for recipes that can be turned into budget friendly meals. Alongside the Back-to-School sales at my local Walmart I also found some great #RollIntoSavings deals on the products we already use and love. Combining those great products into one simple dinner seemed like the perfect mid-week Mom Challenge!

I don't know about your house, but finger foods are king around here. All three of my children would much rather eat with their fingers than a fork any old day, so sometimes I like to indulge them in a laid back family meal where we can all concentrate more on the conversation and less on perfect table manners.

Summer seems to be slipping away and I still want to share some great moments with my kids. So I challenged myself to create a menu for under $20 with items I knew they would love. We piled into the car and headed to our local Walmart.

I noticed the rollback deals on Kraft and Velveeta products as soon as I entered the store. Some were even part of a back-to-school promotional display. We grabbed several items that I will be using for other recipes later on in the week as well. There is nothing more frugal than multi-tasking an ingredient in multiple menu items.

These are just a few of the items on rollback right now. I know they helped me come under my $20 budget without losing flavor. While I was planning my menu I had all of my children in mind.

My youngest, Elliott is only 1, but he loves macaroni & cheese! Since he is all about finger foods and is still working on making sure some of it gets to his mouth, I wanted to make him a finger-friendly mac, well, finger-friendly for all of us. For my oldest son I wanted to make cheesy potato skins. He just loves potatoes. My daughter always picks out the bag of salad when we do our grocery shopping, so I wanted to make her a salad to remember with a sweet and delcious creamy barbeque dressing.

Let's get started with those potato skins.

Start by rolling each scrubbed spud in oil and sprinkling liberaly with Kosher salt. I baked them on a baking sheet for 45 minutes to an hour at 400 degrees. Time will vary depending on the size of your potatoes. The skins will start to crisp up and the potato will be soft and fluffy.

Let them cool for a while until I could safely pick them up. Cut in half, then scoop the filling out of each one. Reserve that for another purpose. Brush the inside of each hollowed out skin with barbeque sauce and turn it upside down on the sheet. Bake for another 7 or 8 minutes, or until the are nice and crisp.

Then turn them back over and stuff each one with a big pinch of shredded cheddar cheese. Mmmm... Stick them back into the oven until the cheese gets all melty. Drizzle with a little creamy barbeque dressing and ranch, top with a generous pinch of sliced green onions for a little added bite.

For the macaroni bites prepare the KRAFT Macaroni & Cheese Dinner as usual and add in a can of drained green chiles. Let that cool, then mix in one egg yolk and scoop the mixture into a mini muffin pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Press the pasta down into each well and then sprinkle with a little additional Velveeta Cheddar Shreds.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 12 minutes. I let mine cool slightly in the pan before running a silicone spatula around the edges to loosen them from the pan. They popped out and were ready to dip in Kraft Ranch Dressing.

Now, isn't that a spread? This was one meal where I didn't hear one complaint from my kids. In fact, I didn't hear much of anything. They were too busy eating to complain or fight. It was lovely.

Now, want to see how easy it is to make these dishes for your family? Continue reading for all the recipes.

BBQ Potato Skins

You Will Need:
  • 8 small to medium russet potatos, scrubbed
  • vegetable or canola oil
  • Kosher salt
  • KRAFT Barbecue Sauce
  • VELVEETA Shredded Cheese
  • KRAFT Ranch Dressing
  • Green Onions, sliced thin
  • One recipe of Creamy Barbecue Dressing (see below)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Rub each potato in canola oil and sprinkle with Kosher salt. Place on a baking try and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and the skins are crisp.

Remove from the oven and as soon as you can handle them, cut each potato in half and scrape out most of the inside. Leave a thin ring around the peel so the potato retains its shape. Brush the inside of each skin with Kraft Barbecue Sauce. Place back on the baking tray skin side up, and bake for an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Turn them over and bake for 3-5 minutes more, or until the skins are nice and crisp.

Fill with Velveeta Shredded Cheese and return to the oven to melt the cheese. Drizzle with Kraft Ranch Dressing, creamy barbecue dressing and green onions. Serve immediately.

Creamy Barbecue Dressing

You Will Need:
  • 1/4 c. KRAFT Barbecue Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. KRAFT Mayo
  • 1-2 Tbsp. Milk to reach the desired consistency
Whisk together the Kraft Barbecue Sauce and Kraft Mayo. Add the milk, a tablespoon at a time, to achieve the desired consistency. Drizzle over a tossed salad or potato skins.

Baked Green Chili Macaroni and Cheese Bites

You Will Need:
  • KRAFT Macaroni & Cheese Dinner
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 can of fire roasted mild green chilies
  • 1 egg yolk
  • VELVEETA Shredded Cheese
Prepare the KRAFT Macaroni & Cheese Dinner as directed on the package. Note, you will be using slightly less milk. Stir in green chilies and allow the macaroni to cool slightly. Stir in the egg yolk.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a mini muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.

Using a cookie scoop, place a packed tablespoon of the macaroni mixture in each mini muffin well. Press down slightly and top with a little Velveeta Shredded Cheese. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the tops start to turn golden brown. Let them cool in the pan before taking out to serve. They will hold their shape better if they are room temperature or cooler.

Serve with a side of Kraft Ranch Dressing for dipping.

With these budget recipes I will still have enough money leftover to take the family to the roller skating rink. It is a big hit with my kids who have both mastered quads. The kid-friendly fun doesn't have to stop at the table and I can savor these final days of Summer vacation just a little longer.

Check out other great budget recipe ideas on the Kraft site.

What is your family's favorite budget friendly meal?

Pin It

Thursday, July 24, 2014

DIY Succulent Garden - Kids Create #TBCCrafters

Succulents are all the rage right now. Have you seen them on Pinterest? Etsy? in Magazines? Well, they are also fabulous plants for kids. They don't require much water, they grow slowly and are very resilient. We decided to set up our own little succulent garden.

We opted for a shallow clay pot  base since terrariums often create too much humidity for the plants. They like to be in the open air and do not do well with too much water. Our solution was shallow and with a nice layer of gravel to keep the roots watered but the plants dry.

DIY Succulent Garden

You Will Need:

  • 1 large, shallow pot.
  • assorted small succulents
  • good potting soil (ours contained a large amount of vermiculite for good drainage)
  • gravel
  • figurines *optional

Fill the dish just below the rim with potting soil.

Arrange the plants, dig small holes and fill in around the plants with more potting soil

Cover the dirt with a layer of gravel. Water the plants well to allow the dirt and gravel to shift and settle.

Then decorate with figurines or small toys. My daughter helped decorate the garden and insisted that her bunnies nibble on the succulents. Now my kids can water their plants weekly and re-arrange their bunnies as often as they want.

Simple and fun. Now my kids have their own succulent garden and it cost a fraction of the pre-made succulent planters in stores.

Pin It

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Party Perfect Hawaiian Style Macaroni Salad

A staple at every backyard BBQ, picnic or family reunion is the macaroni salad. But, let's be frank, it isn't always that exciting. Limp noodles? Dripping in mayo? Bland?  Yeah, I have scooped myself a fair number of passable macaroni salads. Not, passing good, but more like, I'll pass.

But, there is a great little place called Ron's Island Grill in Eugene Oregon that serves up a mean Huli Huli Chicken with a side of pineapple and a scoop of macaroni salad. It is smooth, tangy and good. Now, you can choose any side at Ron's, but why wouldn't you choose the amazing macaroni salad?

My version is inspired by Cook's Country who added the bite of vinegar back into the noodles and even added in a touch of color and crunch with some veggies. I actually added just a bit more apple cider vinegar and more veggies. I think my favorite Hawaiian restaurant has finally met it's match.

Start by whipping up the wet mixture. This will be part of it. This recipe is all about timing. It isn't a barbaric dump and stir sort of affair, no, it has stages. No need to be intimidated though, it's just a salad.

Boil a pound of elbow macaroni noodles. For this recipe they are boiled long past the recommended time. The noodles should be very soft and ready to drink in the vinegar. Toss them in good apple cider vinegar. I prefer Bragg organic raw apple cider vinegar, but use what you have handy.

Stir in all the vinegar, but be careful not to take a deep breath over the pot. That stuff will knock you over!

While living in Japan I remember touring brewery for vinegar. Climbing up a big vat to look inside the operation, no one warned me not to inhale. The stuff just about knocked me off the ladder. Now I have a deep respect for rice wine vinegar.

When the noodles cool slightly, mix in the sauce. Stir it up and let the noodles soak it in. Don't worry. There will be more sauce to add later.

After it is completely cools you can toss in the green onions, carrots and celery along with more sauce. Now the macaroni salad is ready to chill before serving. This stuff tastes even better the following day.

Just a little warning... this mac salad is not short on flavor and creaminess, but it is also full fat. If you want to cut it back and add skim milk, sadly, it won't turn out the same way.

Hawaiian Style Macaroni Salad

You Will Need:

  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 2 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lb. elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 ribs of celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
Whisk together 1 1/2 cups milk, 1 cup mayo, brown sugar and 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Chill until needed.

Boil the pasta for about 15 minutes, until the elbow macaroni is very soft. Gently drain and drizzle with the apple cider vinegar while still hot. Toss gently so all the noodles are coated. Let the pasta cool for 10 minutes and then coat with the dressing. Allow to then sit and cool completely. 

Once cooled, add the sliced green onions, carrot and celery. In a small bowl whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup milk and 1 cup mayo. Dress the noodles and stir to coat completely. Add additional salt and pepper and the paprika to taste. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving. It also serves well the following day.


Do you have a favorite Macaroni Salad?

Pin It

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Queen of Hearts, Volume Two: The Wonder, by Colleen Oaks - #SRC2014

I received review copies from BookSparks in order to write my book review posts for the 2014 Summer Reading Challenge. All opinions are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. #SRC2014

Book two in the bestselling Queen of Hearts series! 

Alone in the wilds of Wonderland, Dinah fights for survival. When she meets the Yurkei, natives she was always taught were the enemy, and finds out she had been lied to all along, Dinah plots to reclaim her throne with their help. Filled with vivid imagery and thrilling action, Dinah’s transformation into a fierce warrior is stunning.

My Opinion
Picking up where the first book left off,  The Wonder is just as good as the first. I love the idea of seeing what leads a notorious villain to become who they are.

The same great cast of characters is back, and author Colleen Oaks does a marvelous job of bringing the reader back to Wonder Land. We all know how the story ends, but the journey there is full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing. Dinah is growing up... and we know what kind of villian she is growing into.

Now you will know why...

This is one of my favorite series right now and I can't wait for the third book to be released. You can bet I will share my thoughts on it as soon as it is released.

About the Author

Colleen Oakes is the author of the Elly in Bloom series and the YA fantasy Queen of Hearts Saga, both published via SparkPress, a BookSparks imprint. She lives in North Denver with her husband and son. 

When not writing, Colleen enjoys swimming, traveling, and immersing herself in nerdy pop culture. She is currently at work on the last Elly novel and her second YA fantasy series, Wendy Darling. 



Pin It

Have You Joined in the Fun? Come Connect with Beamly.

Gone are the days of random channel surfing. Now you can have everything you ever wanted right at your fingertips. Your favorite shows are now social experiences and fellow TV Junkies are sharing and discovering more about their favorite shows on Beamly.

I don't have the same taste in TV shows as my husband, or even my kids. One of my current favorites is Master Chef, Monday nights on FOX. Headed by Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot as the panel of judges, home cook contestants face new challenges weekly.

It is now down to only 13, and the pressure in the kitchen seems to keep rising. Not only am I loving the show, but I can dish about my favorite contenders, the drama and the food with fellow fans on Beamly. It is a little like having a crew of buddies over each week to watch with me. We chat in the room during the episode and then can leave questions, clips and info all during the week to build up excitement for the next installment.

If you are a fan of Master Chef, Orange is the New Black, Suits or a whole host of other great shows on this Summer, come follow me and see how much fun it can be to talk about those emotional highs and lows of our favorite programs. Come connect via the App, the web, in real time or whenever you get to TiVo. I'll be waiting.

What are you watching?

Beamly is THE 24/7 social and content network for TV and TV fans. Join me today in TV conversations and get the latest juice and gossip about your favorite shows!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Beamly. The opinions and text are all mine.

Pin It

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A New Twist on a Favorite Shortcake Recipe with Lifeway Kefir

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #KefirCreation #CollectiveBias

Peaches are here!

Yes, strawberries get the most attention in our house because they are the first crop to fruit each year on the farm, then come the cherries, but peaches kinda slide into home base quietly. Don't let there subtle entrance fool you though, they are sweet, fragrant and juicy.

Normally I would throw any overly ripe counter peaches into my morning smoothie with a little Lifeway Kefir but today I decided to makes something completely different. Since this year's strawberry season came and went without me making shortcake biscuits, I thought it would be fun to give a few peaches the same treatment. The fun thing is I can also use the tangy flavor of my favorite blueberry kefir, with all the probiotic benefits I love, in place of the buttermilk in the recipe. I just happened to be all out of buttermilk.

Oh, darn...

These are the light and tasty biscuits that I make year after year. This time around I modified the recipe a little more. With a little less sugar because of the great blueberry taste in the kefir and just a little more flour to keep the biscuit dough from being too wet.

You may have seen Lifeway Kefir before.  I usually drink it straight or add it to a cold fruit smoothie, but I am also learning about how easy it is to bake with. Now I just have to find the plain kefir so I can try it in my homemade pizza crust recipe. I have heard that kefir makes a fabulous and flavorful crust, much like a sourdough crust but without all the extra waiting. Want to get creative with your own #KefirCreations? Try substituting kefir in your favorite recipes in place of milk. It's that easy.

Not sure what Kefir is? Well, similar in someways to drinkable yogurt, think of it like yogurt's cousin, it came from Eastern Europe over 2000 years ago. If you are looking for an easy way to add probiotics into your diet, this is a great option. You may have remembered some of my other posts on probiotics and cultured foods, sauer kraut and kimchee, to help with my overall digestive health. I even remember drinks like this being very popular in Asia while I lived there. I am so glad I can now find it locally.

I already love making fresh biscuits. They are one of the few baked goods I make regularly because they are so fast and easy. One of the tricks is to have good, cold ingredients, especially the butter. I use a pastry cutter for incorporating the butter. I don't want it to melt in a food processor or between my fingers. Cold little clumps of butter will bake up to create flakier biscuits.

The other key is to work the dough as little as humanly possible. Push the biscuit cutter straight down with no twisting. Twisting is tempting isn't it? Well, don't. Biscuits cut straight down will rise higher.

Trust me, okay?

For fabulous golden brown tops with a bit of crunch, I brushed the tops of the biscuits with more kefir and sprinkled them with sanding sugar. I used clear sanding sugar on my biscuits here.

The filling was really easy. I am always a fan of peach pie, so I grabbed my ripest (aka: mushiest) peach and mashed it down for a compote with a little sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean paste and a touch of corn starch for thickening.

After slicing my biscuit in half I put a few heaping spoonfulls of compote on the bottom half, stacked on some sliced peaches, sprinkled on some blueberries, added a little kiss of whipped cream before topping with the other half of the biscuit.

Just perfect, let me tell ya.

But, you don't have to take my word for it. Go ahead and try this easy recipe for yourself.

Kefir Shortcake Biscuits with Spiced Peaches and Blueberries

You Will Need:

  • 3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 c. Lifeway Low Fat Kefir Cultured Milk Smoothie in Blueberry + more for brushing the tops
  • sanding sugar
  • 5 ripe peaches
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch + enough water to dissolve it
  • fresh whipping cream
  • 1 c. blueberries
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Whisk together the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in the chilled butter until you have pea sized pieces. In a medium bowl, whisk together the vanilla bean paste, egg and kefir. Fold this into the dry mixture until moistened.

Turn onto a floured surface and pat down to about 3/4" thick. With a large biscuit cutter (or glass) cut biscuits and transfer to a non-stick baking mat lined sheet. Do not twist the cutter, cut up and down. Brush the tops with a little more kefir and dust with sanding sugar.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

For the compote, peel and slice the ripest peach. Mash it in a small saucepan and add in the cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring up to a simmer, add in the cornstarch and stir till it begins to thicken. Turn off the heat and allow it to come to room temperature before building your shortcake.

To assemble, Cut the biscuits in half. Divide the compote between the biscuits, top with peach slices, blueberries and whipped cream. Replace the biscuit top and serve.


Want to try Lifeway Kefir for yourself? Get started by signing up for coupons.
Pin It

Friday, July 18, 2014

Soar into Excitement with fun #FireAndRescue Actitivies for the Movie (Opens Today)

I haven't been this excited about a sequel... er, series movie for a while. It just happens to be Disney's Planes Fire & Rescue which opens in theaters TODAY!

Yes, my little copilots are eager to see it on the big screen. Till we have a chance to break away from hay season and check it out, we have some fun activities to do. Click below for the PDF file. Print it out and share with your own Disney fans.

Download Race To The Rescue Activities

...and for anyone wondering, no compensation was received. I know my kids will love these and had to share. These would be a great thing to print out for eating out entertainment or road trip fun.

Pin It