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Sunday, May 20, 2012

End of the year - teacher gifts - Candy Bowl!

It's that time of year again, to think of teacher gifts.  As Jo's kids are finishing up, we still have 3 more weeks left here...sigh!  This weekend my boys and I worked hard to make up the gifts so I'm not doing last minute scrambling.  This year, I decided to bring back an oldie, but goodie.  Jo and I used to make these up by the dozen and sell them at craft fairs, over 10 years ago...Jo, how is that possible?  These are SUPER easy to make, and the best part is that you can make them your own, and personalize as you like (and it's dirt cheap if you use the below links)!  The sky is the limit....

Yes...I had to make FIVE!
What you need:

  • 4" craft pots or flower pots....(I ordered a dozen from Oriental Trading, and they got here, Africa, all in one piece)
  • Glass bowls (I got these for a STEAL of a deal from the DollarTree...again, all in one piece)
  • Paint (if I could, I would have used spray paint, but craft acrylic worked just fine...Jo, didn't we use to spray paint them?)
  • Paint pens
  • Glue (As you will see in the photo, I didn't know what glue would work best...turns out the Tacky Glue worked famously!)
  • Ribbon
  • Optional, but SUPER cute:  I couldn't figure out how to send them here, but if you can find flower pot saucers that match your 4" pot, glue a wooden ball to the bottom, paint them the same color as the pot, and you have a lid to your candy I wish I had them this year!

  • Paint the flower pot the color of choice.  If you want them to look like an old fashion gum ball machine, red is the way to go.  But, as we were painting, I thought chalk board paint could be fun, too.  Keep in mind, with red paint, you will need many coats to be even.  I lost count at 4 :)!  The good news about the Oriental Trading pots, is that the paint dries super fast, which means, if you have 2 (or more) little helpers, you will need to keep an eye on their painting, to ensure there are not paint bumps.  This is why spray painting them, may be better...Let us know if you spray paint, and how it comes out :)!  
  • Then decorate as you like (minus the ribbon, do this last).  I used a black sharpie for the "dispenser" and highlighted it with a silver paint pen.  I then used paint pens to write the teacher's names, school name, and class/year.  
  • Glue the glass bowl to the top of the pot.  
  • Tie your favorite ribbon around the top of the pot, under the bowl.
  • Fill with your favorite candy!  (I did choose the obvious "gum balls,"  but that's because many of our teachers are not American and I thought it would be fun to give them something "Americana.")
Savvy Tip:  Glue the bowl after you decorate the pots.  It's easier to handle.

The one with a white ribbon, is for my son's male teacher's aid...My son said the polka dot ribbon was "too girly."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cinco De Mayo Menu....

What will you be having?  Being in Africa, and having grown up in the southwest I MISS MEXICAN FOOD!  So, on a regular basis, we have Mexican night.  Actually, just this weekend, was DH's birthday, so we invited 4 couples over, who all miss Mexican food as much as we do, and had a pre-Cinco de Mayo celebration.  We had so much fun, we decided that we will repeat the exact menu this weekend.  (Thank you leap year so that Cinco de Mayo is on a Saturday this year!).  Here is what we had.  Chimichangas, Taco Bar, Nat's Veggie Enchiladas, refried bean, black beans and Mexican rice!  Of course, we had the yummy condiments such as salsa and guacamole.  Stay tuned for margaritas!


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.

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