Wednesday, April 29, 2015

American Girl Birthday Party

My daughter is really into American Girl dolls right now so that's what she wanted her 7th birthday party theme to be. When I was planning her party, I looked for ideas on Pinterest. There were a lot of really cute ideas but it only overwhelmed me and made me feel like I'm a mediocre mom. I'm not super creative or crafty and I think that some of the ideas are over the top. I don't think it's necessary to serve 10 different desserts at a little girl's party. So I decided to simplify. You don't need to go overboard or break the bank to throw an awesome party!

I found these cute invitations at Amercan Girl Ideas. They had a lot of different invitations on this website but these are the invitations I chose. You can print them out on cardstock and write on the invitations.  Or you can save them to your computer and edit them to add your daughter's name and the party info. 

I'm all about keeping things simple at the party so we served fresh fruit (which was a huge hit with the little girls) and these cupcakes using this recipe: White Almond Sour Cream Cake.

All of the little girls brought their dolls to the party. I planned two activities for the girls. We made blankets and sleep masks for their dolls.
Items needed for blankets:
fleece fabric cut into 14x16" pieces

To make the blankets, cut strips all around each piece of fabric for the girls to tie. The girls will tie two strips together in a double knot so make sure you have an even number of strips. I cut my fabric a little smaller than 14x16" and I think it would've worked better if it was a little bigger. This was a really fun activity for the girls. They were all able to do this easily with little help.

Items needed for sleep masks:
foam paper
string or yarn
To make the sleep masks make a template and use that to cut out masks using the foam paper. Have the girls decorate the masks however they like and then tie it around the doll's head using string or yarn.

This was such a fun party and the girls had a blast! Here are all of the girls together. Yes, I know that's a lot of girls. My daughter has too many friends and I don't have the heart to leave anyone out. So we invited all of them. The more the merrier, right?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

White Almond Sour Cream Cake

I made these cupcakes for my daughter's birthday party. I love this recipe. It uses a cake mix with the addition of other ingredients. My favorite thing about these cupcakes is the almond extract, one of my favorite flavors! All of the little girls loved these cupcakes. They were definitely a hit at the party!

Printable Recipe

White Almond Sour Cream Cake

1 box white cake mix
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
4 egg whites
1 1/3 cup water
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, flour, sugar, and salt. Mix by hand using a whisk. Add remaining ingredients and beat on low speed for 2 minutes, or until well combined. Pour into pan or cupcake liners. If you're making a cake, bake for 32-40 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. If you're making cupcakes, bake for 25-30 minutes. Cool completely then frost with Almond Buttercream Frosting.

*This recipe makes 2 full 9" rounds, 30 cupcakes, or 100 mini cupcakes

adapted from Frosted Happy Cupcakes

Almond Buttercream Frosting

1 cup butter, softened
6-7 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp almond extract
2-3 Tbsp milk

Cream butter. Slowly beat in 1 cup of the powdered sugar and mix until smooth and creamy. Beat in almond extract and milk. Add remaining powdered sugar and desired food coloring. Mix well.

makes 6 cups

adapted from Food Network, Paula Deen

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Slow Cooker Chicken Caesar Sandwiches

I love these sandwiches! They're so easy and so delicious!

Slow Cooker Chicken Caesar Sandwiches
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs
1/2- 1 cup caesar dressing
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh parsley or 2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
shredded romaine lettuce
slider or hamburger buns

Place chicken in a slow cooker with 1-2 cups water. Cook on low for 4-6 hours or until cooked through.

Remove chicken from slow cooker and drain water. 

Shred chicken and place back in the slow cooker. Pour dressing over chicken. Add parmesan cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper and mix well. Cover and cook on high heat for 30 minutes or until mixture is hot. 

Serve chicken on buns and top with lettuce.

Makes 8 servings

Recipe adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything

Monday, April 20, 2015

Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake Cupcakes

I love this cheesecake! It was so creamy and delicious. It didn't take near as long to make as regular cheesecake and the best part is everyone gets their own personal cheesecake. The original recipe called for raspberries but I like strawberries better so I went with that. But you can probably use any kind of berry and it would be delicious.

Printable Recipe

Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 Tbsp sugar

Berry swirl:
6 oz. fresh strawberries or raspberries
2 Tbsp sugar

Cheesecake filling:
2 lbs cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 325. Line cupcake pans with paper liners. In a small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar. Stir with a fork until combined. Press 1 Tbsp of mixture into the bottom of each cupcake liner. Use a small drinking glass to press crumbs down evenly. Bake for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack.

To make berry swirl, combine berries and sugar in a food processor or blender. Process until mixture is smooth. If using raspberries, pour through a mesh sieve to remove seeds.

For the filling, place cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer. Beat at medium-high speed until smooth. Blend in sugar until smooth. Mix in salt and vanilla. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Spoon 2 heaping tablespoons of the cheesecake batter over the crust in each cupcake liner. Dot 1 teaspoon of the berry puree in a few dots over each cheesecake. Use a toothpick to lightly swirl and create a marbled effect.

Bake until set, about 22 minutes, rotating halfway through baking. They will puff up slightly and return to normal. Cool to room temperature then transfer to refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

Makes 30-32 cupcakes

Recipe adapted from Annie's Eats

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Family Friendly Las Vegas Vacation

We recently went on a family vacation to Las Vegas. When we were deciding where to go for Spring Break, I was a little hesitant to take my kids to Las Vegas. There are a lot of things in Vegas that I really didn't want to expose my kids to. It's called Sin City for a reason, right?

Our main reason for choosing Las Vegas was because we wanted to go somewhere warm and fairly inexpensive. We booked an extra vacation through RCI at Grandview Las Vegas and it was a killer deal. We would've spent a lot more money going to the coast or somewhere else that is warm during Spring Break.

After going on this vacation, my opinion of Las Vegas has changed a little. Yes, there are things that I'd rather my kids not see. But we planned things to do that kept our kids a little sheltered from those things. Our condo was about 15 minutes away from the strip so we felt like we weren't in the middle of Las Vegas and all that comes with that. Our condo had 4 beautiful swimming pools and we spent a lot of our time there. We had so much fun and I would definitely take my kids here again.

Here are the things that we did in Las Vegas to make it a family-friendly vacation:

Hoover Dam/Lake Mead
Most of the things I read about Lake Mead was about their boating, fishing, and hiking. But I also read online that there is a beach and swimming area at Lake Mead so I thought it would be fun to take the kids there. I wasn't sure what to expect because I haven't really heard a lot about it. Well, it wasn't the most desirable area. The beach had very little sand and it was very rocky. The water in the lake was pretty dirty. But my kids had fun and that's all that matters.

Before we went to Lake Mead, we went to the Hoover Dam. This was really cool and I really wish we would've spent more time here. My kids were so excited to go to the lake so they didn't want to be at Hoover Dam and they thought it looked boring. It was pretty crowded and we had a hard time finding a parking spot. So we stopped and got a picture and then we left.

In hindsight, I wish we would've skipped the lake altogether and just gone to Hoover Dam. I think my kids really would've enjoyed it if we spent more time there.

At Hoover Dam they offer tours but they are pricey. If you want to just walk around it's free.

Ethel M. Chococlate Factory and Cactus Gardens
This chocolate factory is located just outside of Las Vegas, in Henderson. They offer free self guided tours at the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory. When we went there, they weren't doing much in the factory so we really didn't get to see anything. So I would maybe call ahead next time and find out when is the best time go. But they offered some free samples in the gift shop. They also have a small M&M World store right next to the chocolate factory. It's not nearly as big as the one on the strip but it was still fun to walk through the store. My favorite part about this place was the cactus gardens outside. It was so much fun to walk through and take pictures. I would definitely recommend coming here for a free activity with the kids.

Circus Circus
Most of the things we did in Las Vegas were free but we told our kids that we could choose one activity that's a little expensive. Our kids chose the Circus Circus Adventuredome. This is an indoor theme park inside Circus Circus. You can purchase ride tickets separately or you can buy an all day pass for about $30 a person. (We found coupons for $4 off each person just outside the elevator at the resort where we stayed.)

My kids love theme parks and roller coasters so this was the perfect activity for them. There were a lot of fun rides and we had a blast! It definitely wasn't Disneyland but we also weren't paying Disneyland prices.

We also went to Midway at Circus Circus during our day here. In the middle of Midway is a stage where they perform free circus acts throughout the day. This was super fun to watch! Surrounding the stage are lots of carnival games. Each game costs $1-2 and I think they're pretty generous with their prizes. We gave each of our kids $5 to play games and we left with 15 stuffed animals! This was definitely a highlight for my kids. Such a fun day!

Aquarium and Mermaids at The Silverton
At the Silverton, there is a large aquarium with lots of fish and some mermaids that swim around. It's also free. My five year old is always pretending she's a mermaid so I had to take my kids to see this. It was so cool to see a mermaid swimming around an aquarium and interacting with the kids. The mermaid swims are only on certain days so make sure to check the website before you go.

Connected to The Silverton is a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. This was one of the coolest stores I have ever been to. It's huge! If you're going to The Silverton, I would definitely recommend checking out Outdoor World while you're there. 

Las Vegas Blvd. (The Strip)

This is the place that I typically try to avoid with kids. But there are a lot of really fun free things to do here. If you go at the right time, it really isn't bad. We went on a Thursday around 11 am and we stayed all day. We started at the Flamingo and walked to MGM Grand. Then we crossed the street at New York New York and walked to Caesar's Palace which is across the street from the Flamingo. It took us about 8 hours to do all of this. I have to say this was my favorite day. There's something about the lights and the people and the music that draws me in. Every once in a while I had to tell my kids to look away so they wouldn't see something inappropriate but it didn't happen very often. Maybe it's because we went during the week. I'm not sure. But I really didn't feel like my kids were exposed to much.

These are the places we went on the strip (All of these places are free):

The Flamingo
Outside of The Flamingo they have a Flamingo Habitat with birds and flamingos. Definitely worth checking out!

Coca Cola Store
This store is full of Coca Cola memorabilia. I love looking at all of the products, especially the vintage Coke products. Upstairs they have a snack bar where they sell Coke, Coke Icees, and Coke Floats. You can also buy a sample platter with Coke products from around the world. This was my 10 year old's favorite thing of the day because he got his own 32 oz Coke!

M&M World
This store has four floors of M&M products. They have a wall where you can buy M&Ms by the pound with every color and flavor imaginable! They're a little more expensive here but it's fun to buy any variety you want. On the third floor they have a 3D movie which is really fun.


Hershey's Chocolate World
This store is similar to the M&M store but with Hershey's products instead of M&Ms.

Bellagio Fountains 
This is one of the most iconic places on the strip and the fountain show is always so much fun to watch!

Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Inside the Bellagio is a beautiful garden that is changed seasonally. It's so beautiful and so fun to walk through.

Worlds Largest Chocolate Fountain
Just past the botanical gardens in the Bellagio is the worlds largest chocolate fountain located at Jean-Philippe Patisserie. It was cool to see. I wouldn't make a special trip just for the chocolate fountain but if you're going to the Bellagio, it's fun to check it out. The pastries at Jean-Philippe Patisserie also looked delicious. If we hadn't eaten so many M&Ms that day we might've gotten dessert!

Caesar's Palace
This is one of my favorite places to walk through on the strip. Inside Caesar's Palace is the Forum Shops which is like a really high end mall. There is a also a Fall of Atlantis show which includes fire, water, talking statues. Unfortunately, we missed this show because we weren't in the right place when the show started. It starts every hour on the hour. We weren't exactly sure where it was and we were on the opposite end of the Forum Shops. The Fall of Atlantis is located by the Cheesecake Factory.

Las Vegas Sign
This is probably the most iconic place in Las Vegas. Just past the Las Vegas strip is the Las Vegas sign where you can stop and take photos.

There's so much to do in Las Vegas and we couldn't do everything! Here is a list of other kid-friendly activities that we did not do. Most of these cost admission but a few of them are free: 

Madame Tussauds
CSI: The Experience
Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat
Mandalay Bay Shark Reef
Springs Preserve
Mob Museum
Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition
Pinball Hall of Fame
Red Rock Canyon
Excalibur Tournament of Kings
Volcano at the Mirage

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Slow Cooker Verde Chicken Tacos

Printable Recipe

Slow Cooker Verde Chicken Tacos
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
16 oz salsa verde
4 oz can chopped green chiles
1 tsp cumin
fajita size flour tortillas

shredded cheese

Combine chicken, onion, garlic, salsa verde, green chiles, and cumin in a slow cooker. Cover and cook at low heat for 5-7 hours. Remove chicken from slow cooker and shred. Add enough juice from the slow cooker to make the chicken moist. Serve in tortillas topped with desired toppings.

Serves 6-8

Recipe adapted from Real Mom Kitchen

Friday, April 10, 2015

Teriyaki Meatballs

We love meatballs at our house and I'm always making different variations of it. This recipe is so good. My kids love it!

Teriyaki Meatballs

2 lbs lean ground beef
2 eggs
2/3 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp milk

1/2 cup soy sauce
1 3/4 cups water
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp honey

Mix together:
3 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup cold water

In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients for the sauce. In a separate bowl, mix together cornstarch and cold water. Set both aside.

In a large bowl, combine all of the meatball ingredients together except for the ground beef and mix well. Add the ground beef and mix well until combined. Form mixture into 1 to 1 1/2 inch meatballs. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 2 Tbsp oil over medium heat until the oil is rippling. Add the meatballs to the skillet and brown on both sides, turning with a pair of tongs. They don't need to be cooked all the way through, just browned. Drain skillet, if necessary.

Pour the sauce ingredients over the meatballs and gently turn the meatballs to coat them in the sauce. Heat the sauce until just simmering and add the cornstarch and water mixture, carefully stirring to not break apart the meatballs. Simmer the meatballs and sauce over medium-low heat, stirring every few minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce is thick and smooth, about 10-15 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a tablespoon of water at a time to thin. Serve over rice.

Serves 8

Recipe adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Chicken Enchilada Pizzas

Printable Recipe

Chicken Enchilada Pizzas
6 flour tortillas (soft taco size)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
3/4 cup green salsa
1 can sliced olives, drained
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
diced tomato
chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 400. Place tortillas on an ungreased cookie sheet. (You'll need to use more than one cookie sheet or make it in different batches.) Bake 5-10 minutes or until crisp.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and cook until tender. Stir in chicken, green salsa, and olives. Heat through.

Spread sour cream on crispy tortillas. Top with chicken mixture, tomatoes, and cheese. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until cheese melts. Sprinkle with cilantro. Cut into slices and serve.

Serves 6

Recipe adapted from The Sisters' Cafe
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