Sep 142011

Chicken Recipes: A New Take On Wings

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that doesn’t love mac & cheese.  It’s an iconic comfort food, all warm and creamy and cheesy.  When I ran across this recipe in a magazine (I believe it was Taste of Home) that crossed mac & cheese with the classic flavors of buffalo chicken wings – I knew we had to try it.  I’m so glad we did!  This was scooped up quick, with just a little taste left for lunch the next day.  It can be hard to find new chicken recipes and it’s nice to have a new favorite to add to our rotation.

Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n Cheese

7 T butter
1 lb. pasta (cavatappi is my favorite, but you can use elbows or any similar pasta)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 chicken breasts, cooked & shredded
2 gloves garlic, minced
3/4 C hot sauce
2 T flour
2 tsp. dry mustard
2 1/2 C half & half
1 lb. yellow sharp cheddar, cut into 1″ cubes
8 oz. shredded Monterey jack cheese
2/3 C sour cream
1 C panko
2 T chopped fresh parsley

  1. Preheat oven to 350; butter a 9×13″ baking dish.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add pasta and cook for about 7 minutes.  Drain.
  2. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and celery and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the chicken and garlic and cook 2 more minutes, then add 1/2 cup hot sauce and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
  3. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in saucepan over medium heat.  Stir in the flour and mustard with a wooden spoon until smooth.  Whisk in the half & half, the add the remaining 1/4 cup of hot sauce and stir until thick, about 2 minutes.  Whisk in the cheddar and pepper jack cheeses; whisk in the sour cream until thick, around another 2 minutes.
  4. Spread 1/2 of the cooked macaroni in the buttered dish; top with chicken and then the rest of the macaroni.  Pour the sauce over the entire thing.
  5. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small skillet and mix in the panko and parsley.  Sprinkle over the sauce.  Bake until bubbly, 30-40 minutes.

As you can probably tell, this isn’t health food.  And while we generally try and eat healthily, I really think that every now and then everyone needs something creamy and cheesy.

Chicken Recipes - Tasty Tuesday

About the hot sauce: 3/4 cup sounds like a LOT of hot sauce and I was a little scared.  But it really didn’t end up being too much at all (though I do reduce it to about a half cup when I’m making it for the kiddos).  You can even use a combination to get different tastes.  Recently I had partial bottles of both Texas Pete’s Original Hot Sauce and Garlic Hot Sauce so I used a 1/4 cup of the garlic and 1/2 cup of the regular and it was quite tasty.

Do you have a chicken recipe you’d like to share?

Sep 142011
This post is the second in a series of reviews for some of our favorite baby products so far.

After the swing, one of the next things we picked out was an activity mat.  While being a less costly investment, this ended up being a harder task than choosing the swing, mainly because there are just so many mats out there to pick from.

I wanted something that was bright and interesting for Baby C. and that would keep her engaged without being garishly colorful.  I also wanted it to be able to “grow” with her; items to capture her attention as a newborn and toys to stimulate her as an infant into toddler-hood.
We solicited recommendations from friends, asked for suggestions on Twitter and did a lot of web searching for reviews.  After about a week we settled on the Fisher-Price Rainforest Melodies and Lights Deluxe Gym and I’m glad we did; we have been so pleased with our purchase.
Fisher-Price Rainforest Gym
Here are some of my favorite features:
The colors and print.  They are bright, fun and cheerful – but not in a clown-closet-just-exploded-all-over-the-place or “cutesy” kind of way.  And as Baby C. got older and could roll over onto her stomach she was intrigued by the colors and print on the mat part.
Baby C. on the mat at age 2 months
The toys.  The gym comes with “spinning” butterflies, a shiny mirror, a crinkly leaf attached to the mat, and movable activity toys that include an elephant spinner with rattling beads, a soft monkey, a soft toucan with a bell inside, and a parrot with a spinning paddle.  Before Baby C. was old enough to actually play with any of the toys she loved to stare at the (orange) monkey.  Once she was old enough to play with the toys the elephant was her clear favorite.  She didn’t play with the parrot and toucan as much, though she did like to kick them to hear the jingle and see the paddle twirl.  She also enjoyed the crinkle leaf once she could reach out for it while on her tummy.  There are multiple loops of varying height so you can rotate the toys to new places to keep baby interested.

The sound options.  This mat has both lights and sound which play in three modes: continuous music (20 minutes), continuous rainforest sounds (20 minutes, or activity mode.  In the activity mode, when baby makes the frame or one of the toys move the lights and music come on for 8-12 seconds.  Once Baby C. discovered that she could “make it work” she was thrilled.  She’d swat the elephant until the lights and sound turned on, would watch the show, and then do it again when it stopped.

Areas for improvement:

The “spinning” butterflies.  The butterflies don’t spin.  Well, more accurately, they don’t spin unless you spin them yourself.  Baby C. loved looking at them and eventually got old enough to reach them to swat, but never made them spin.  They feel like they should be motorized (it does use batteries for the lights and sound), but since they’re not I think that instead of the mobile-type thing that’s used they should attach them with individual strings so that a swat could make them rock.  Definitely keep them (they’re adorable) but maybe rethink them a little.

The parrot paddle.  Cute toy but you have to put it on the highest hoops and even then it hangs pretty low to the ground.  This is fine for awhile but once Baby C. got to be three months or so playing with it meant that she was going to smack herself in the face with it.  Maybe they could make the paddle detachable and include a different attachment for older babies.  I’m not sure, I just know that it became unusable after awhile.

The battery life on this gym is also good; we haven’t had to replace them once in almost seven months, and Baby C. uses it a lot.  As you can see below, she was still loving it a couple of months ago when she wanted to start playing with it while standing up (with help from Grampie).
The Fisher-Price Rainforest Melodies and Lights Deluxe Gym is available from most major retailers but the cheapest I’ve seen it (by $8-$25 at the 8 websites I checked) is on Amazon for $46.50 with free Super Saver Shipping.  (Target doesn’t seem to carry it, though they do have the matching mobile.)

Final words: I would definitely recommend this mat to anyone with an infant (or looking for a baby shower gift).

I received no product or compensation for this post; we just love this swing and I wanted to share it with you.
Sep 072011

Tasty Tuesday – Banana Muffin Recipe

Muffins are such a great food. They’re a portable breakfast-in-your-hand that require no utensils and they also can double as a late-night snack.  They can also fill your kitchen full of a scent so wonderful that you temporarily forget that other foods exist.  These are that kind of muffin.

After I first made these muffins over a year ago they quickly were added to the list of “you must make these every week; every day is also acceptable”.  Everyone in the family loves these; A1 even learned to make them and has baked them quite a few times with friends.  If you’re not around when they come out of the oven you’re probably not getting one.

Banana Nut Crunch Muffins

(adapted from the

For the muffins:

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

For the topping:

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2T flour
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1T butter
1/4 cup chopped walnuts


  • Preheat oven to 375.  Grease jumbo-cup muffin tin(s).
  • In large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a second bowl, beat together the bananas, sugar, brown sugar, oil, egg, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture until just combined.
  • Prepare the crumb topping: whisk together the brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. With your fingers, work in the butter until mix resembles cornmeal.
  • Fill muffin cups 1/3 full of batter (I used a cookie scoop to obtain a relatively consistent size); sprinkle with the crumb topping mix, then sprinkle with chopped walnuts.
  • Finish filling muffin cups to about 2/3rds full. Generously sprinkle the tops with more crumb topping mixture and then more chopped walnuts.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean (you may see a little bit of banana, just use your judgment). Cool briefly in pan(s), then remove to wire rack to cool.

Makes 6-12 muffins, depending on how big you make your muffins.  I usually make 6 big ones.

Banana Nut Crunch Muffin Recipe

Don’t they look moist and tasty?  It’s because they. are.  If you make these please let me know what you think!

Sep 072011

I love accessories.  They’re kind of a weakness of mine when I go shopping.  Shoes, jewelry, handbags – it’s enough to make a girl swoon.

If that sounds at all like you, you might want to be seated.  Maybe even have a fan and a glass of water nearby.  When you see these beautiful bags from PonyUP! Kentucky you may just swoon, yourself.

Before I start gushing over the bags let me share with you a little about the company.  Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, founded PonyUP! Kentucky to raise money for horse rescue operations. As she was searching for the perfect fundraising product, she was also searching for a handbag that reflected her love of horses and equestrian gear.  One day as she was carrying a leather halter slung over her shoulder on the way to get her horses, she thought, “Wouldn’t this be a great shoulder strap for a handbag?”

She searched for a handbag with the halter strap and when she couldn’t find one, she spent a year designing one and creating an entire line of handbags.  She donated the first 20 bags to Old Friends: A Kentucky Facility for Retired Thoroughbreds.  The proceeds of those bags support the horses at Old Friends.  So when you buy a bag you also know you’re helping to support equine causes.
Now for the bags themselves.  There are oh so many choices!  I had such a hard time choosing one.  Some of top contenders were these:
PonyUP! Kentucky Chilled Chocolate
PonyUP! Kentucky Stable Safari
PonyUP! Kentucky Pink Passion
The one I finally chose, though, was this one, called Sweet Alfalfa.

PonyUP! Kentucky bag in Sweet Alfalfa
Mine says PonyUP! Kentucky but you can have the brass name plate on the strap personalized with up to 20 characters.
Personalized Straps

I love so many things about these bags.  First, they’re made in America and I always try to support local (or national) companies when I can.  Second, they’re versatile.  Because you can purchase the bag without a strap, once you buy your first one with the strap attached ($125) you could buy a few others to change up your look ($65 each; they also have some on sale for $45).  And third they’re really roomy.  I could easily fit all my own stuff and Baby C.’s accessories in there with room to spare.

Where to Buy
You can purchase the bags directly from the PonyUP! Kentucky website.  They also have a book, “Riding for Life”, that talks about diet and fitness.

Want to Win?
PonyUP! Kentucky has generously offered to provide a handbag (winner’s choice!) to one of you!  Simply fill out the Rafflecopter form below for your chance!  Note: Rafflecopter does occasionally take a moment to load.  If you don’t see it after a minute, try refreshing your browser.

I received products in order to facilitate my review. All opinions are 100% mine.
Sep 052011

One of the first items that we purchased before Baby C. was born was her swing.  We did a lot of research online; I think I even sent out some tweets for recommendations.  After sifting through dozens of swings and hundreds of online reviews we ended up purchasing the Fisher-Price My Little Snugabunny Cradle ‘n Swing.

Fisher-Price Snugabunny Swing & Cradle #BabySwing

I was a little taken aback by the price (this would not be the last time that feeling hit me) but since the reviews for it were so overwhelmingly positive and because my husband (who had the prior experience) said that a good swing is key. Continue reading »