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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Teacher gifts...continued...crayon wreaths

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I have to bring this up again, since my kids still have 3 weeks of school left, and I'm still dealing with end of the school year madness :)...By the way, I'm glad you had fun in Disney, Jo, but am SUPER jealous that as you were riding rides and having tasty food, I was still doing carpool, and PSG...I digress....
I made these crayon wreaths for the teachers.  I made a total of 4, but am sharing just with the longest name, and one with the shortest name...

What you need:

12" embroidery hoop, or basketry hoop
8" embroidery hoop, or basketry hoop
(instead of the embroidery hoops, you can also use the styrofoam wreaths.  I found them a bit thick, so I cut the in half and then painted them.  My friend also had a savvy tip and you can cover the styrofoam in a nice clean fabric.  Mine were already painted...maybe next year)
box of 64 crayons
hot glue

Directions:  Place the 8" hoop in side the 12" hoop with equal   distance between all edges.  Arrange the crayons along the 2 hoops.  Hot glue the crayons to the hoops. 
Savvy Tip:  Keep the unglued crayons arranged on the hoops.  It will keep the spacing. 

Tie the bow around the 2 crayons that you want at the top.  Create a separate loop and glue the edges together to create the hanging loop.  Place as many (or as little) stickers as you like.  Personalize with the teacher's name, if you'd like.  Super easy :)!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

¿Qué hay que beber?...

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What will you have to drink?  Today, I'm going to talk about, margaritas (of course), Agua Fresha, and Mexican beer!

Of course, no Cinco De Mayo fiesta would be complete without margaritas!  There are a few options.  If you haven't been able to tell, one of my favorite food genres is Mexican.  We eat Mexican food A LOT.  Also, my all time favorite drink is the margarita.  I like them made from scratch, from a alcohol-included mix, and virgin from a mix; I like the traditional lime flavor, and strawberry; I like them frozen and on-the-rocks.  And I am here to provide you with what you will need to make all of them, if you like!

Margarita's from scratch (this recipe was given to me by a very dear friend, and it's the only scratch recipe I use now)...yes I'm sharing (see Jo, your little sister DOES share LOL):

Mix together:
  • 2 parts tequila
  • 1 part cointreau
  • 1 part-fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 part limeade
  • pinch of salt
Rim your glasses with salt (See the Savvy Tip below)
Mix all the ingredients in a pitcher, and chill until ready to serve.

Savvy Tip:  To create the restaurant styled salt-rimmed glass, take a lime wedge and rub around the edge.  Turn the glass upside down and twist through a pile of salt (coarse salt works best, like kosher salt.  You can also sometimes find a tub just for making margarita salted glasses).   If you are making strawberry margaritas, you can do the same thing but substitute sugar for the salt.

Strawberry Version:
Use all the same ingredients as above, but you will rim the glasses with sugar. 

In a blender combine one package of frozen strawberries, thawed.  Cover and blend until smooth.  If you want, strain the mixture to remove seeds.  Add the blend to the margarita mix.

By the way, you can really make ANY fruit flavored margarita.  Just substitute the strawberries with your favorite fruit: mango, blackberry, raspberry, etc. 

On-the-Rocks vs. Frozen
I have found this is all based on preference.  I am an equal opportunity margarita drinker, but know people who will only drink frozen or only drink on-the-rocks.  Either way, you will have it covered.

On-the-Rocks:  Use the above recipes or below mixes.  Place the desired amount of ice in a glass, and then pour your mixture over the rocks...DONE!

Frozen:  Place the desired amount of mixture in the blender and add a few handfuls of ice.  Blend to your desired thickness.  More ice = thicker margarita!  DONE!

DISCLAIMER:  We are not/not here to promote drinking.  Everything can be enjoyed in moderation, and if you do plan on drinking (even just ONE drink) please, please, please have a designated driver (DD).  My husband and I take turns.  If he wants to drink at a certain event, I drive and vice versa; just one way to be safe.  And we certainly do not tolerate under age drinking, so if you are under 21...please enjoy the virgin versions!

Virgin Margaritas:

José Cuervo makes a great mix.  (Again, we are not promoting drinking, and I'm certainly not promoting any brand in particular, this is just one I particularly enjoy).  This mix is made to mix with Tequila.  But, you can use it as is.  You will now have a great alternative for those who don't drink, or who are being responsible enough to be the DD.

José Cuervo also makes a FANTASTIC mix, alcohol included:

And, if strawberry is you flavor of choice, both the above come in strawberry.

OK, I think we have the margarita area covered...let me know if you think I've missed something, or have questions!

Want a non-alcoholic beverage, that still stays true to your theme?  How about...

Agua Frescas

Agua Frescas are "fresh waters" that are infused with fruits, flowers, grains or seeds.  Mix one of these light, healthy sippers at your party.  They are super easy to prepare.

Based on the fruit you choose the recipe (water level mainly) changes.  I'm going to provide you with 3 versions:

Strawberry Agua Fresca:
6 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
4 cups cold water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup honey
ice cubes

In a blender combine half of the halved strawberries and half of the cold water.  Cover and blend well.  Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher.  Discard solids.  Repeat with the remaining strawberries and remaining water.

Stir in lime juice and 1/4 cup honey.  Serve immediately over ice or chill until ready.

Orange-Papaya Agua Fresca:
4 cups peeled, seeded and cubed ripe papaya (About 3)
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 1/4 cups cold water
2 Tablespoons honey
ice cubes

In a blender combine papaya, orange juice and lime juice.  Cover and blend until smooth.  Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher.  Discard solids.

Stir in the water and honey.  Serve immediately over ice or chill until ready.

Watermelon Agua Fresca:
1  6 to 8 pound seedless watermelon (aprox. 13 cups)
2 cups cold water
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 Tablespoons honey
ice cubes

Cut the rind from the watermelon and discard.  Cut the flesh into 2 inch cubes

In a blender combine about 1/3 of the watermelon cubes and 1/3 of the water.  Cover and blend until smooth.  Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher.  Discard solids.  Repeat twice with remaining watermelon and remaining water.

Stir in the lime juice and honey.  Serve immediately over ice or chill until ready.

Finally, say hola to Mexican beer.  Here is a small list of some Mexican beer you may want to consider purchasing for your fiesta:
  • Corona
  • Dos Euquis (XX) Amber
  • Negra Modelo
  • Pacifico Clara
  • Tecate

Time to think of your menu...

Before you begin to plan, you have to keep a few things in mind.  How many people are coming?  (Remember, if you haven't heard from all your invitees, it's OK to pick up the phone, or send a quick email to see if they plan on attending.  Just let them know, you are in the menu planning process and want an accurate count)  What type of party are you having? a sit down dinner? informal buffet? just snacks and cocktails?  It is COMPLETELY up to you.  Jo and I have done all of the above.  But, in order to have a successful menu, you have to know what you are cooking.  We are going to provide you with some ideas, and recipes, but by no means is this an all inclusive list, and you don't even have to use them.  If you have some recipes you would like to share, PLEASE DO!  We are always willing to try some new savvy recipes.

Growing up in the southwest, I often have Mexican themed food at my parties (whether it's Cinco De Mayo, or Game Night).  A huge success, and very little work is a...


Here's what you need, all suggestions:
  • Taco shells (either store bought, or handmade)
  • small flour tortillas (for those who like the soft tacos)
  • assortment of meats (here are some ideas: ground beef, shredded beef, pork and/or chicken, diced chicken, etc)....stay tuned for recipes
  • shredded cheese 
  • sour cream
  • guacamole...stay tuned for recipes
  • salsa...stay tuned for recipes
  • shredded lettuce
  • diced tomatoes
All you have to do, is set this up buffet style, with the shells/tortillas at the beginning, the meat in the middle (preferably in a crock pot/slower cooker to keep warm), and all the fixings at the end.  Your guests make their own plates, and enjoy!

Here are some tips for sides:
  • Refried beans:  Don't get scared!  I NEVER make these from scratch, but here are some Savvy Tips to make your beans leaving your guests asking for the recipe (I'm serious...I'm always will be up to you if you divulge my your secret).  Place the canned beans in a pot and warm on the stove.  Add garlic powder (to taste, I use probably more than the average Joe José) and a generous amount of shredded cheese (I use cheddar).  Stir to combine, and heat through until cheese melts.  Sorry I don't have an exact recipe, I make this weekly, and just eye ball it.  You can never have too much cheese or garlic (at least in our family).
  • Black Beans:  Another dish, where I'm always asked for the recipe, and I actually do have a recipe for this LOL.  This is another staple dish in my family (outside Mexican themed nights) because my VERY picky 4 year old will actually eat these:  

    1 Tbsp olive oil
    3/4 c. onion, chopped fine (Savvy Tip...I use frozen onions...shhhhh...they're in the frozen section)
    1/2 c. green pepper, chopped fine  (Again...I use frozen peppers...shhhhh...sometimes you can find them in frozen section WITH the onions included)
    1 c. diced tomatoes (I use canned, drained)
    1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drain and rinse
    1/2 tsp thyme
    1 tsp garlic salt
    3 Tbsp cider vinegar
    Dash of Tabasco (optional...but even my 4 year old doesn't object)

    In large skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil. Cook onion and green pepper until crisp tender. Stir in tomatoes, beans, thyme, and garlic salt. Cook 3 minutes; add vinegar and Tobassco. Cook for 5 minutes. 
  •  Rice...ALWAYS a necessity for Mexican food.  There are many types of Mexican rice, but here is Jo's secret...cook it with salsa.  We also have another Savvy Tip when cooking ANY white rice.  Substitute water with CHICKEN BROTH.  We promise, promise, promise, will never cook your rice with water again.  Here is our white rice recipe:

    For a serving of 4 (You will have to adjust to how much you want for your party):
    1 cup uncooked white rice (I personally LOVE Jasmine rice)
    2 cups canned/boxed chicken broth

    Bring chicken broth to a boil.  Add rice to the boiling broth, and stir with a fork.  Return broth and rice to a boil, and stir once more with a fork and cover.  Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15-20 minutes.  Every stove top is different, for example, it takes my rice 17 minutes :)!

    Substitute 2 cups chicken broth with 1 1/2 cups chicken broth and 1/2 cup salsa (either jarred or homemade).  Follow the same directions...we don't think you will be disappointed.  Both Jo and I have tried MANY Mexican rice versions, and by far Jo's is the best!
  • Shredded Meat (this can be made the day before, and just reheated in a crock pot for the party):  Whether I use, chicken, pork, or beef, I prepare it all the same way.  For the beef/pork find a boneless roast you like, for the chicken, I always use chicken breasts, but that's just my preference.  This recipe is like the above refried beans, in that I don't follow an exact recipe, but it really is hard to mess up.  PLEASE contact me if you have questions.

    Protein of choice (beef, chicken, pork)
    A couple cups of diced onions
    2 cans of green chilies
    Salsa, either homemade or jarred

    Wrap your protein of choice in aluminum foil and place in a shallow baking dish (to catch any leaks).  Place in a preheated oven of 300 degrees.  Cook for 4-5 hours. 

    Right before the meat finishes cooking, in a large pot saute onions and green chilies in a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  Once the meat is finished cooking, place in the pot with the onions and green chilies, and shred with 2 forks.  Add your salsa, and stir to combine.  That's it!
  • Ground beef:  If you choose ground beef, brown your beef in a skillet.  Drain the fat.  Add onions, green chilies and salsa, and combine.  That's it!
  • Carnitas:  Mexican for SUPER yummy pork!  Check out onelovemama's blog for a mouth watering recipe leaving you wanting more.
    Here are some other recipes to keep in mind:


    Salsa Picante
    4 medium tomatoes
    1 medium onion
    1/4 cup cilantro
    1 to 2 fresh jalapenos or serrano chili peppers, seeded and halved (Savvy Tip:  Handle peppers with gloves.  When I was in high school, I was making salsa, and handled the peppers bare handed, and then touched my face.  My face was on fire for HOURS!)
    2 cloves garlic, minced (I use jarred)
    1/2 cup chopped green sweet peppers
    2 Tablespoons lemon juice
    1 Tablespoon fresh oregano or one 1 teaspoon dried
    1 bay leaf
    1/2 teaspoon sugar
    1/4 teaspoon salt

    FYI...although I am ALL about the frozen onions and peppers in the above recipes, I always use fresh when making salsa!

    Place tomatoes in a blender or food processor.  Cover and blend or process until coarsely chopped.  Add onion, cilantro chili peppers, and garlic.  Cover and blend or process until finely chopped.

    Transfer tomato mixture to a medium saucepan.  Stir in sweet pepper, lemon juice, oregano, bay leaf, sugar and salt.  Bring to boiling; reduce heat.  Simmer uncovered about 30 minutes or until salsa reaches desired consistency.

    Discard bay leaf.  Cool salsa slightly.  Cover and chill for 1 hour up to a week before serving.

    Salsa Verde (my personal favorite!)
    12 ounces fresh tomatillos, husks removed, or one 13 ounce can tomatillos, rinsed and drained
    What are tomatillos:  Also called Mexican green tomatoes, the fruit within the tomatillo husk, is firm herby and slightly lemony. 
    1/4 cup cilantro
    2 Tablespoons finely chopped red onion
    1 fresh jalapeno or serreno chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon sugar

    Finely chop tomatillos.  In a small bowl stir together chopped tomatillos, cilantro, red onion, chili pepper, salt and sugar.  Cover and chill for 4 hours to 3 days before serving.


    Chunky Guacamole
    2/3 cups finely chopped, roma tomatos
    1/4 cup sliced green onion
    2 Tablespoon lime juice
    1 Tablespoon olive oil
    1 to 2 garlic, minced (again, I used jarred)
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
    1 fresh jalapeno or serreno chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
    2 very ripe avocados, halved, seeded, peeled and coarsely mashed

    Combine all the ingredients together and stir together.  Savvy Tip:  SAVE YOUR AVOCADO PITS...once your ingredients are combined, add the pits to the guacamole.  This will prevent you guacamole from going gray!

    Stay tuned tomorrow for drink ideas, from the coveted Margarita to Agua Frescas.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Teacher Appreciation or Teacher gift? You choose!

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    This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. Last night, my sons and I made candy topiaries. Since Jo has also started our dialogue regarding the end of the year, and room parties, you can also do this for the party. They make great table center pieces. If you have more than one teacher (say a main teacher and an aide) then you have your gifts AND decorations.

    A candy topiary tree can be created using a variety of candies. They really make great gifts. Every time I make one, the first response is "I've never seen anything like this." Unlike flowers, they won't wither away. In fact, the best part of a candy tree topiary is that not only does it look attractive, you can eat it.

    What you need:
    • Candy of choice (not too much, because otherwise you will eat the extra as you blog)
    • wooden dowel 
    • Styrofoam ball or cone to decorate
    • smaller Styrofoam ball, cut in half, for the bottom (or plaster of Paris... but with this option, the pot can not be reused)
    • Hot glue
    • Flower pot
    • Paint pens, glitter glue, or other crafts to decorate.
    1. Center the end of the wooden dowel at one end of the Styrofoam ball. Push the dowel into the ball firmly. Do not push it all the way through, however push it far enough so that the weight of the candy on the ball later will not cause it to fall off the dowel. You can also put some craft glue on the end of the dowel to ensure it stays in the Styrofoam ball.  Wrap the dowel with the ribbon, using the hot glue to hold in place.

    2. If using plaster of Pairs, mix the plaster of Paris according to package directions in the bowl. Pour the mixed wet plaster into the flower pot or cup you are using for your topiary. It should come almost to the top but not quite. Take the end of the wooden dowel that does not have the ball on it and push it into the wet plaster. Be sure it is straight and let the plaster dry.

    3. Place a small spot of glue on the piece of candy and place on the ball. Hold in place a few seconds until it dries. Continue with each piece of candy until the ball is covered in the desired design. A popular method is to start placing the candy at one end and work your way down, but you can put the candy on in any way you like.

    4. Fill the rest of the flower pot with more candy (I used chocolate mini bars this last time---get it?  for dirt?), colored pebbles or Easter grass to cover the halved Styrofoam ball or plaster of Paris.  If you like, use the paint pens, glitter glue, acrylic paints, etc. to paint a design on your flower pot as a finishing touch.

     Let us know what other ideas you have for teacher appreciation gifts.  Here are some more that Jo posted on FaceBook and there are some other ideas to the right in the Savvy Etiquette box:
    • Pick up an extra latte on your way to school and deliver it with a note card that says “A special thank you . . . For providing an extra boost of energy to every part of our children’s education!”
    • Ask the local coffee shop to donate a carafe of coffee and a platter of scones for the break room. Make a giant card out of poster board to display next to the treats and have the children sign it. Include a small sign that says “Provided by (insert coffee shop name here)” as a thank you for the donation.

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