My Happy Crazy Life

Make Edible Colored Rice for the Sensory Table


I know this may stir up some drama, but I can’t tell a lie: I put food items in my sensory table.

Ducks and covers.

Some early childhood teachers don’t have a problem with food in the sensory table, while others think that playing with food is disrespectful, irresponsible, even harmful to children’s psyches.

I can understand both sides of the issue, and while I respect people who won’t use food in the sensory table, I’ve decided that in my program the benefits of using edible materials outweigh the drawbacks.

Peeks head out…

To me it’s a matter of safety; no matter how closely I monitor the children or how carefully I clean up and vacuum, there’s still a chance that one of the little ones will find and eat some of whatever was in the table. I’d rather have them eating flaxseed, rice, flour, or even rock salt the kind for making ice cream, not for driveways instead of aquarium gravel, sand, beads, etc. Besides, children are smart and most won’t really think that playing with raw ingredients in a sensory table means it’s OK to play with the food on their plates.

 

Anyway, that brings me to the real topic for today:
How to Make Edible Colored Rice for the Sensory Table.

Doesn’t it look all important and title-like in bold with uppercase letters? Oooh, impressive.

I’ve wanted to make colored rice in the sensory table for a long time, but all the directions I found used watercolor paint, rubbing alcohol, dry tempera paint, or other things I wouldn’t want my littles to ingest. Of course all of my paints are non-toxic, but that doesn’t mean I want the kiddos to eat them!

Then – EUREKA! – I found directions for making colored rice with food coloring and vinegar.

All edible materials, woo hoo! Happy dance time!

I couldn’t wait to try it so I whipped up a batch of rice for our February sensory table. It was super-easy and fun too! I did this trial batch myself, but now that I know how easy it is I’ll invite the kiddos to help from now on.

 

How to Make Edible Colored Rice for the Sensory Table in Pictures

Edible Colored Rice for the Sensory Table - IngredientsTo make edible colored rice you need rice, vinegar, food coloring, a covered container, and cookie sheets.

 

Edible Colored Rice for the Sensory Table - Mix Vinegar and Food Coloring with RicePour some rice into a container with a cover. Mix food coloring and vinegar, then pour over rice.

 

Edible Colored Rice for the Sensory Table - Shake Until ColoredCover and shake until rice is evenly colored.

 

Edible Colored Rice for the Sensory Table - Darker RiceUse more food coloring for darker rice.

It really is darker in real life, cross my heart and hope to die. My camera just doesn’t like to photograph reds. Dumb camera.

 

Edible Colored Rice for the Sensory Table - Lighter RiceOr less food coloring for lighter rice.

 

Edible Colored Rice for the Sensory Table - Rice DryingSpread on cookie sheets to dry overnight.

 

Edible Colored Rice for the Sensory Table - Protect SurfaceYou may want to protect your countertops from the food coloring, since it stains. Oops!

 

Edible Colored Rice for the Sensory Table - PlayingWhen the rice is dry dump it in the sensory table then stand back to watch the fun.

 

Edible Colored Rice - Still PlayingThis time I put out plastic snack cups and scoops from formula cans, but an endless variety of tools and toys can be used to enhance and support the children’s play. The children LOVE the sensory table and can spend literally a full hour in it. Who says today’s kids have no attention span?

 

How to Make Edible Colored Rice for the Sensory Table
Step by Step Directions

Materials needed:

  • Plain rice
  • Food coloring
  • Vinegar
  • Container with a lid
  • Cookie sheets or other protected surface for drying the rice

 

Directions:

  1. Pour 1 cup of rice into the container.
  2. Mix several drops of food coloring into 1/2 tsp vinegar.
  3. Pour over the rice.
  4. Shake until rice is evenly covered.
  5. Pour out onto cookie sheet or protected surface. Let dry several hours or overnight.
  6. Wipe out container and start again.

 

My container was fairly large and I don’t have patience to dye 8-10 cups of rice one cup at a time so I did 2 cups of rice at once with 1 tsp vinegar. Next time I’m going to try a bigger container and see how much rice I can do at once before it’s too hard to shake.

 

What’s your favorite thing to put in the sensory table?
Amy Sue

Make a Natural Wood Teether


Natural Wood Teether - My Teether
Ever since I changed my child care space to be more natural I’ve wanted to get some natural wood teethers. I browsed Etsy several times, but every time I started to click the Buy Now button a little voice in my head would scream “What are you doing, you crazy woman? You can make those yourself much cheaper!” so I couldn’t bring myself to buy them.

 

Natural Wood Teether - Teether from NicoleSince my youngest little ones were pretty much past the teething stage and life was as crazy as usual I didn’t get around to making any, until my friend Nicole gave me this wood teether she picked up on vacation. It was all the inspiration I needed to try making my own!

 

Natural Wood Teether - TraceI took the easy route and traced the teether I had, but you can make your fabric any shape you want. If I had to hand-draw a shape I’d probably round the pointed ends and make the whole thing barbell shaped. The measurements are:

  • 17″ long from tip to tip
  • 5″ at the widest part of the ends
  • 7″ long in the center
  • 1 1/2″ wide in the center

Remember to add 1/4″ seam allowance all around before you cut!

 

Natural Wood Teether - Cut I used fun cotton prints and bamboo velour from my cloth diaper fabric stash. I think you could also use flannel although it may pill a little, velour, or cotton fleece. I wouldn’t use polyester fleece because it seems too fuzzy to be nice for chewing on.

After cutting, pin the fabrics right-side-together and mark an opening for turning.

 

Natural Wood Teether - SewBeginning at one mark, sew all around with a 1/4″ seam, ending at the other mark.

 

Natural Wood Teether - Done SewingIf you look closely you can see that the stitching ends at the blue mark.

 

Natural Wood Teether - Trim SeamsTrim the seam allowance to about 1/8″ and clip the curve where the center widens out toward the ends.

 

Natural Wood Teether - TurnTurn right-side-out, using the opening in the stitching. Press

 

Natural Wood Teether - Press Seam AllowanceTurn the seam allowance in the open area in about 1/4″ and carefully press.

 

Natural Wood Teether - Pin and StitchPin the layers together.

 

Natural Wood Teether - StitchStitch close to the fold to close the opening.

Ta da – you’re almost done!

 

Natural Wood Teether - Three Fabric SectionsDon’t they look great?

 

Natural Wood Teether - Wood RingsI had some wood rings set aside from the rainbow ribbon rings I’d made earlier. They’re a little smaller than the purchased one but I figured they were close enough.

 

Natural Wood Teether - Attach FabricFold the fabric in half and thread the folded part halfway through the wood ring.

 

Natural Wood Teether - Pull Through LoopPut the ends through the loop, around the wood ring, and pull tight.

 

Natural Wood Teether - DoneAnd there you go – you’ve just made your own natural wood teethers!

Since making these I’ve discovered that my clever littles figured out how to take the fabric off the rings. After putting them back together this way numerous times I’ve given up and have just tied the fabric to the wood rings. It’s not as pretty, but it stays together much better!

Amy Sue

Breakfast Basics


The old saying “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is true. Research supports the idea that breakfast is the one meal children (and adults) should’t go without. A nutritious breakfast can provide children with about one-fourth of their daily nutrition needs. Children who don’t eat breakfast may not meet their daily protein and calcium requirements.

In addition to providing the necessary nutrients for children to grow and have energy for the day, a good breakfast boosts “brain power.” Studies show that children who eat a healthy breakfast concentrate better, are more creative, and get along better with their peers.

One of my child care kiddos’ favorite breakfasts is Peanut Butter Roll-Ups: Simply spread a whole wheat tortilla with peanut butter, sprinkle with a little cinnamon, then roll and cut into 1″ pieces. Sometimes I slice banana or strawberries over the peanut butter before rolling them up.

Another favorite is Apple Bread Pudding, which just as quick and easy to make as it is delicious.

If your child isn’t fond of traditional breakfast foods, consider expanding your idea of what “breakfast food” is. Pizza, peanut butter sandwiches, and other favorite foods can be part of a nutritious – if untraditional – breakfast.

One of my favorite untraditional breakfasts is leftover grilled hamburgers with pepper jack cheese, while Peanut will chow down cheese pizza at breakfast, or any other time of the day.

Breakfast Basics - Pizza

What’s your favorite breakfast?

Amy Sue

Sickness Survival Kit


One of the things I love most about Facebook is the great ideas I get there. I love Pinterest for the same reason, but this idea came from a Facebook friend.

A family child care provider friend posted a photo of the “Sickness Season Survival Kits” she’d made for her families. She did a Doc McStuffins theme and filled paper bags with hand sanitizer wipes, antibacterial hand sanitizer, hand soap, kleenex, a book, antioxidant-rich raisins, and cookies.

It was such a great idea I decided to make some for my families too – with my own spin on it, of course. I was able to find all of the items in Target or the Dollar Tree, so the Kits weren’t too expensive.

Sickness Survival KitMy Sickness Survival Kit included:

  • An Olivia book
  • Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup
  • A small pack of tissues
  • “Cuties” – aka tangerines
  • Dial natural soap instead of antibacterial soap/hand wash
  • Antibacterial wipes

I’m generally not a fan of antibacterial anything, but I do like the wipes when there’s sickness sweeping through. I’d have preferred natural wipes, but those didn’t come in travel packs.

 

Other possible items that were on my list but weren’t included because I either couldn’t find them at all or couldn’t find them at the right price are:

  • Natural spray disinfectant
  • Lip balm
  • Liquid soap
  • Hand lotion
  • Vitamin C gummies
  • Small Vicks Vapor Rub tins
  • Boo Boo Bunny or similar “lovie”
  • Cute ice pack

 

Now that I’ve got a bunch of ideas for next year I can watch the sales and stock up ahead of time!

What would you include in a Sickness Survival Kit?

Amy Sue

Apple Habanero Margarita by Rick Bayless


Rick Bayless Apple Habanero MargaritaCollege Boy and Irish Girl are great at thinking of creative birthday presents that the recipient will really love, and this year they hit it out of the ballpark with Teacher’s birthday present.

 

Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - Birthday GiftAt first we were a little puzzled when Teacher reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of apple brandy – we love a good tequila but aren’t really into brandy.

We were even more puzzled by the container of something that looked like applesauce, and when Teacher pulled out half a dozen habanero peppers I was really confused – and a little worried. I love Mexican food with a fair amount of heat but habaneros are usually beyond my tolerance unless used very sparingly. Six habaneros is NOT “sparingly”!

College Boy, that’s got to be one of the weirdest presents ever…

College Boy watched us with a huge grin on his face, then finally took pity and explained “It’s the basics for Rick Bayless’s Apple Habanero Margaritas.” Irish Girl found the recipe online and College Boy made up the apple habanero puree for us so all we had to do was add tequila; a staple in our house.

Ohhhhh, I get it now! Guess who’s having Apple Habanero Margaritas for supper tonight? Happy dance!

 

Apple Habanero Margarita by Rick Bayless

Rick Bayless posted the recipe online, but it’s also in his Frontera Margaritas, Guacamoles and Snacks cookbook. If you’re as big a fan of Margaritas and guacamole as Teacher and I are, you’ll want to buy this book! There’s no affiliate link and I don’t get any benefits from recommending it; I just think it’s a great cookbook that every Margarita and guacamole lover should own!

I was still working on Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert so when Teacher started putting together the Margaritas I handed Z-Man my iPhone with the instructions “Take pictures of Dad making the Margaritas, especially anything that looks interesting.”

It’ll be interesting to see what I end up with…

 

Apple Habanero Margarita by Rick Bayless – in Pictures

Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - IngredientsFor Rick Bayless’s Apple Habanero Margaritas you’ll need a nice reposado tequila, apple brandy, apples and habaneros, fresh lime juice, and ice. You’ll also need fresh ground black pepper, cinnamon, and kosher salt for Peppery Cinnamon Salt to rim the glasses.

Apple Habanero Puree

College Boy made the apple-habanero puree for us, but here’s how to make your own:
Peel, core and quarter 2-3 large tart apples – enough to make 3 1/2 cups of quarters. Toss with about 1/4 cup sugar and spread on a baking sheet with sides.

Halve the habanero – gloves are a good idea because you do NOT want to get habanero oil in your eyes. or other sensitive body parts. i.e. Be careful in the bathroom after working with hot peppers! Remove the seeds and membrane for less heat, or leave them in for more of a kick. Add 1/2 of the habanero to the baking sheet.

Roast 20 minutes at 400° then flip the apples and roast another 20 minutes, or until lightly brown and soft.

Puree the apples with 1/4 cup light agave or syrup and 1/2 cup water until completely smooth. Chop the roasted habanero into 4 pieces. add 1 piece to the apple puree and process. Add more habanero until the puree has the desired amount of heat. Cover and refrigerate up to 5 days. We froze the leftover puree College Boy made; it worked very well

A Pitcher of Apple Habanero Margaritas for a Party

The cookbook gives directions for a single drink or a “Pitcher Recipe for a Party,” and since Margaritas are always a party we never bother with the single recipe. You can halve the ingredients for half a pitcher, or look up Rick’s recipe for a single drink.

 

Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - Lime JuiceSqueeze limes to make 1/4 cup lime juice.

Add 1 1/2 cups 100% blue agave reposado tequila and 1/2 cup apple brandy.

 

Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - No More TequilaBut why is all the rum tequila gone?

 

Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - Add Apple PureeMix in 1 1/2 cups of the apple-habanero puree. Z-Man did something to make the photos look weird; luckily he realized it before taking too many photos.

 

Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - Ready to PourIt ends up looking like a watered-down applesauce.

 

Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - Rim the GlassesTo make the Peppery Cinnamon Salt combine 3 parts Kosher salt with 2 parts cinnamon and 1 part freshly ground black pepper. I used 3/8 tsp salt, 2/8 tsp aka 1/4 cinnamon and 1/8 tsp pepper.

Spread the Peppery Cinnamon Salt on a small plate. Rub the rim of your glass with a lime wedge I use the previously juiced halves and press the glass upside-down in the salt to crust the rim.

 

Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - DeliciousFill a cocktail shaker half full with ice, then add the margarita mixture and shake 15 seconds or so. If you don’t have a cocktail shaker, a large sports bottle works well but the tequila aroma may linger, so be sure not to send it to soccer with one of your kids. Lesson learned the hard way!

Strain into the prepared glasses, and enjoy!

Are you brave enough to try an Apple Habanero Margarita?

Amy Sue

Teaching Children to Care


Teaching Children to Care - A Hugs WSpend any amount of time on Facebook and you’re likely to come across someone complaining about kids who want more and more but give less and less. And it’s not limited to kids; many adults grow with a case of the “gimmies” – always looking to get something for nothing, while not appreciating what they already have or empathizing with others who have less.

Raising your child’s social awareness and nurturing a caring spirit is one of the most helpful things parents can do to promote a sense of caring in the family and the community. And when people care for others they learn to truly value themselves too.

Teaching Children to Care - G Comforts LMost young children demonstrate a willingness to share and comfort others. Even toddlers show an ability to empathize; when they notice a friend is unhappy they bring that friend’s “lovey” to her, pat her head or back, or even give her a hug. What prompts this kind of caring, and how can you promote it in your own children?

It’s not hard, but it does develop slowly over time. Young children are egocentric so it may take years of practice before they start to show empathy on a consistent basis. Remember to encourage and applaud all efforts by your little one; after all, adults aren’t empathetic all of the time either.

Teaching Children to Care - L Helps BThe best way to help your child to develop a sense of empathy and caring is for him to see you caring for others. Many parents routinely help others but their children aren’t aware of these caring actions. Don’t be afraid to let you child know how you care for others and why it’s important to you. Include your child so he can experience how good it feels to help others. Have him help you make and deliver a meal for a neighborhood family, or pick up some groceries for a friend. If you volunteer as a coach, classroom parent, scout leader, etc, explain to your child what volunteering means and why you choose to give up your time to volunteer.

Teaching Children to Care - Z Helps BThe holidays are great opportunities to focus on helping others rather than getting things for ourselves. Many organizations have a “Giving Tree,” offer to “Adopt a Family,” or sponsor coat and food drives to help the less fortunate in their community. Invite your child to choose a few toys or items of clothing she no longer loves to donate for a child who may not have as many toys or clothes. Let your child bag up the items and go with you to drop them off at your chosen charity.

Modeling caring and empathy for your child, discussing social issues, and involving your children in caring for others are the best ways to make a lasting impression that will follow them into adulthood.

One of our family’s favorite ways to show caring for our neighbors is by “Ghosting” neighbors in October. Although the kids are understandably excited about receiving mystery treats, they’re even more excited about putting together Ghosting treat for a couple of our neighbors. Every year they decide who to Ghost then roam the Halloween aisles looking for just the right treats for the intended recipients.

How does your family show empathy and caring for others?

Amy Sue

Drunken Sweet Potato Recipe


Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - Teacher's Drunken Sweet PotatoesMy family has a tradition who brings what for Thanksgiving dinner at Uncle Ike and Aunt Elle’s. We always bring, in Uncle Ike’s words, “The weird stuff that only your family eats.”

Like Aunt Betty’s Stuffing, squash, Drunken Cranberries, and Drunken Sweet Potatoes. We also bring pumpkin and cherry pie, but apparently those aren’t considered “weird.”

 

Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe – in Pictures

Although Teacher makes sweet potatoes often, Drunken Sweet Potatoes are a special treat that he only makes at Thanksgiving.

Start by rinsing 8-9 sweet potatoes and pricking each one several times with a fork. Place the pricked sweet potatoes on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake in a 400°F oven until tender, about 45-55 minutes.

I recommend organic sweet potatoes; we tried them once and they tasted so good we haven’t been able to eat non-organic ones since!

 

Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - Make Brown Sugar SauceWhile the sweet potatoes are baking, mix about a cup of sugar and a stick of butter together in a sauce pan. Cook, stirring, until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolves.

 

Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - BoilBring to a boil, then remove from heat.

 

Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - Add Ginger and SaltStir in about 1/4 tsp salt, and about 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger. We grate ours with a microplane – see it behind the by the ginger?

 

Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - TattooNow for the secret ingredient… about 1/3-1/2 cup Tattoo dark rum. White rum will work too, but it won’t give as deep and complex a flavor as the Tattoo does.

If the sauce gets done before the potatoes you can set it aside.

 

Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - Prepare the Sweet PotatoesWhen the potatoes are done, take them out of the oven to cool slightly. When you’re able handle them, remove the skin and cut into pieces. Place in a buttered 9×13″ pan and pour the sauce over them. Stir to make sure the sauce coats all of the potatoes.

Bake another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

 

Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - Ready to EatIf we were staying home they’d be served from a pretty bowl, but we keep them in the pan so they stay hot during the drive to Uncle Ike & Aunt Elle’s. Either way Drunken Sweet Potatoes are so good you won’t need marshmallows, nuts, or any of that other stuff!

Amy Sue

Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert


Great Apple Dessert - Yum!When I was a kid my grandma and grandpa had a huge Cortland apple tree in their back yard. To me nothing tasted better than those apples, except maybe Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert.

Like Big Meat Bake Dish, this recipe probably has an official name, but we’ve always called it Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert.

 

Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert – in Pictures

This apple dessert is great served warm, cold, or in-between. Sometimes we like it with ice cream but most of the time we just eat it plan – it’s just that good! It’s also easy to make; the hardest part is cooking the corn starch.

Great Apple Dessert - ApplesYou’ll need 6-8 good “cooking” apples for apple dessert. Cortlands are my favorite for everything, but when they’re not in season MacIntosh will work just as well. Some people swear by Granny Smiths for cooking, but they’re too tart for me.

 

Great Apple Dessert - CrustTo make the streusel crust, mix 2 cups flour, 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup oatmeal, and a little salt.

We use whole wheat pasty flour – it’s healthier and gives the crust a little depth of flavor without tasting too “whole-wheat” – and thick-cut oatmeal because that’s what we have on hand.

 

Great Apple Dessert - Crust Mixed Grandma’s recipe says to stir in 3/4 cup melted shortening, but we don’t use shortening anymore. Instead, I use coconut oil and College Boy uses butter; either option works well.

 

Great Apple Dessert - Keep Some OutSet aside about 1 1/4 cup for topping.

I put it in the coconut oil melting bowl; no reason to make extra dirty dishes, right? True Confession: I love this streusel so much that sometimes I make extra just to eat. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone!

 

Great Apple Dessert - Pat Remaining in PanPat the rest evenly into the bottom of a 9×13″ pan. Z-Man was my official helper, so he did the honors. “It’s hard to get it into the corners and make it even!” he said.

 

Great Apple Dessert - Crust Ready to GoSet the crust aside while you prepare the apples.

 

Great Apple Dessert - ApplesPeel, core, and slice the apples.

 

Great Apple Dessert - Apples in PanDon’t go so quickly that you cut yourself, but don’t dilly-dally either, or they’ll brown from being exposed to the air. Spread the sliced apples in the pan, over the crust and set aside.

 

Great Apple Dessert - Cornstarch MixtureMix 1 cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons corn starch and a teaspoon of salt. Add 1 cup of water and mix very well.

 

Great Apple Dessert - Heat, stirring, until the mixture bubbles, and becomes thicker and kind of transparent rather than white.

 

Great Apple Dessert - Pour Mixture over ApplesPour the cornstarch mixture over the apples.

 

Great Apple Dessert - Ready for ToppingDo your best to pour it evenly, but don’t be OCD about it because it’ll even out as it bakes.

 

Great Apple Dessert - Sprinkle Topping OnSprinkle the reserved streusel mixture on top.

 

Great Apple Dessert - Ready for the OvenPop the apple dessert into the oven until the top is lightly browned – about 30 minutes at 350°.

 

Great Apple Dessert - Serve warm, cold, or somewhere in between; it’s delicious regardless!

 

Grandmas’ Great Apple Dessert – Official Recipe

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 6-8 medium apples
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  1. Combine flour, brown sugar, oatmeal, salt, and shortening in a mixing bowl. Pat evenly in a 9×12″ pan, reserving 1 1/4 cup for topping.
  2. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. Spread on crust.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and water. Whisk in 1 cup water. Cook until thick, stirring constantly. Pour over apples.
  4. Top with saved streusel.
  5. Bake at 350° about 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

Grandmas’ Great Apple Dessert – Mom’s Recipe

Here’s how the recipe came to me from my mom, which I treasure because it’s in her handwriting.You can always tell a good recipe by how beat up and dirty the recipe card or cook book page is. Obviously this one is a good one!
Great Apple Dessert -
Great Apple Dessert -

By the way, everyone in my family from Teacher to Little Guy will say that Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert is great for breakfast too. Whole what flour… Oatmeal… Apples… it’s almost health food!

I hope you enjoy Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert – if you do, comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Amy Sue

Big Meat Bake Dish


You know those family recipes that you aren’t sure where they came from or what their real name is? This is one of those kinds of recipes.
Big Meat Bake Dish - I grew up on Big Meat Bake Dish. It was such a staple in my family when I was growing up that I can’t remember the first time my mom made it. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it was one of the first foods I ate after graduating from baby food.

Everyone in my family loves Big Meat Bake Dish, but no-one loves it as much as Uncle Jay does; Big Meat Bake Dish has been his #1 all-time favorite for as long as I can remember. Maybe HE was the one weaned from strained peas to Big Meat Baked Dish! I think it used to have another name but it was renamed Big Meat Bake Dish in my family because little Jay would ask Mom to make “That bake dish with the big meats in it.”

And this is how family recipes come to be.

Big Meat Bake Dish – in Pictures

Like most of the recipes I make, Big Meat Bake Dish is quick and easy. At our house, Teacher makes the complicated stuff and I make “kid food” – stuff that’s so easy a kid could make it. Since most of the ingredients are usually stocked in the average pantry it’s a great back-up meal for the nights that you forgot a major ingredient for your recipe, or don’t feel like making what’s on the menu.

Big Meat Bake Dish Ingredients

You just need a handful of basic ingredients to make Big Meat Bake Dish. We always make a double recipe so you’ll probably need to cut down from what you see here if your family eats less than mine, or plan to have lots of leftovers.
Big Meat Bake Dish - NoodlesWe usually buy whole wheat or organic pasta, but our grocery store doesn’t have organic or whole wheat egg noodles. Boo!

 

Big Meat Bake Dish - Condensed Cream of Chicken SoupWe were so excited when our grocery store finally started carrying organic condensed soups! Now if they’d just come up with an organic skim milk version…

If you’re not into organic, spend the few extra cents to spring for Campbells instead of a generic. The Bake Dish will taste so much better and have a nicer consistency. Yes, this is the voice of experience talking.

 

Big Meat Bake Dish - CheeseMy mom always used Medium Cheddar, but we can only get Mild and Sharp in organic so we combine the two. It averages out to Medium, right?

 

Big Meat Bake Dish - BratsMom used pork brats, but we do turkey because Angel Face doesn’t eat pork and Little Guy likes turkey better than pork. I actually do too, because turkey is less greasy, but don’t tell anyone or they’ll take away my Wisconsin card!

Uncle Jay sometimes buys precooked brat patties to save time, and says they’re almost as good as when you make them yourself. Keep a package in your freezer and it’ll take even less time to get Big Meat Bake Dish on the table.

Big Meat Bake Dish Directions

Fill a big pot with water and put it on the stove over high heat to boil. I didn’t take a photo because I know you can do it without a picture.

When the water boils add the noodles and cook according to the package directions.

While you’re waiting for the water to boil…

 

Big Meat Bake Dish - Shred CheeseShred the cheese. I think the original recipe called for 1 cup of cheese, but that’s never enough for us me. We used both blocks for our double recipe.

 

Big Meat Bake Dish - Brat pattiesRemove the brat skins and form the meat into small patties.

To do this I grasp the middle of a brat with the index finger and thumb of both hands, twist to “cut” the meat, then slowly squeeze the meat out the holes in each end of the skin. It usually works better to hold on to one half and squeeze the meat out of the other end, then wrap the empty skin around a finger so it doesn’t slip out of your hands and squeeze the meat out of the other end.

I divide each section of meat in half and squish it between my palms to form a patty. This way I get 4 patties per brat.

 

Big Meat Bake Dish - Soup and MilkWhisk together the Cream of Chicken soup and about 1/2 cup of milk. I use skim milk to reduce the fat a little, but don’t tell my kids or they won’t eat it! Heat on medium until simmering, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Yes, I know it looks nasty now, but it’ll taste yummy – I promise!

 

Big Meat Bake Dish - Fry BratsWhile the soup and milk mixture is heating and the noodles are cooking, fry the brat patties in a large frying pan. Be sure to cook them thoroughly. And don’t forget to stir the soup mixture!

 

Big Meat Bake Dish - Add Cheese to Soup MixtureWhen the soup mixture is simmering, reduce the heat and gradually stir in the shredded cheese a little at a time. Remove from heat when the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is smooth.

 

Big Meat Bake Dish - Assemble the Bake DishPlace the brat patties in the bottom of a baking pan, add the noodles, then pour the sauce over the top. Stir to combine.

 

Big Meat Bake Dish - BakePlace the Big Meat Bake Dish in a 350° oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the top layer of noodles begin to brown.

 

Big Meat Bake Dish - Little GuyLittle Guy decided to cuddle Kippy while the Big Meat Bake Dish was baking. Kippy didn’t mind – he purred so loudly I could hear him across the room.

 

Big Meat Bake Dish - DoneAfter 30 minutes, remove from the oven and enjoy!

Sometimes we like to sprinkle a little extra cheese on the top of the Big Meat Bake Dish before baking it. When you live in Wisconsin there’s no such thing as too much cheese!

 

Big Meat Bake Dish – Official Recipe

WAIT!

Before you get to the official recipe, I have a disclaimer to make: I learned to cook from my mom, who rarely measures anything and seldom follows a recipe exactly. Instead, she cooks by intuition; adding more of this or that depending on the way it looks or tastes. Any “recipe” from her is more a guideline than an actual by-the-book recipe, so feel free to adapt the Big Meat Bake Dish recipe to your own tastes – she would definitely approve.

Here is the recipe exactly as I got it from my mom…

  • 1 lb brats, removed from skins, flattened and browned.
  • 1/2 pkg noodles, cooked and drained.
  • Combine meat and noodles in greased casserole.
  • In saucepan, heat and stir: 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1/2 cup cheese (I use more), some milk (1/4 – 1/2 cup).
  • Heat and stir until cheese melts and sauce is smooth.
  • Pour over meat and noodles. Mix gently. Bake at 350° about 45 minutes.

I hope you’ll try Big Meat Bake Dish with your family some night. And if you do, be sure to comment below and let me know what you think of it! I’ll bet you can even come up with some really yummy variations too…

Happy eating!
Amy Sue

Save Money on Halloween Costumes


Halloween can be an expensive holiday, and costumes usually top the list of expenses. Over the years we’ve found ways to keep costume expenses to a minimum – when you’ve got six kids finding ways to cut costs is a matter of survival!

Here are some tips to help you save money on your children’s Halloween costumes too:

Make your own. There are tons of easy patterns available at your local fabric store; don’t be afraid to try one out! A pattern was used for most of the costumes pictured in this post – either as written, or as a basis for me to build upon.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Princess, Jo-Bear, Angel FaceSock Hopper Princess, Angel Face Dorothy, and Three Musketeer Jo-Bear in costumes I made from patterns.

 

However, I do realize not everyone is a seamstress or has a sewing machine, but with a little ingenuity you can still make your own costumes.

When College Boy was a toddler I made him a lion costume from a yellow sleeper with a tail made from an old sock and some yellow yarn, and a “mane” made by hand-sewing yellow yarn to an old hat. I darkened his nose and drew whiskers with my eyeliner. So cheap, so quick, and soooo adorable.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Little Guy LighteningTeacher made this Lightening McQueen costume for Little Guy when he was in the midst of his Cars obsession. It’s pretty amazing to see what can be done with a box and some paint!

 

Be a hoarder. But only with Halloween costumes please! I realize it sounds like a no-brainer, but I know of people who gasp throw away their costumes every year. What a waste! Get a nice Rubbermaid tote or sturdy box and pack costumes away right after Halloween. Make sure they’re clean first, of course.

I’ve saved almost every costume our children have worn since College Boy was a baby. Every year we bring the totes down from the attic and the kids dig through them to see what piques their interest that year.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Z-Man DevilZ-Man’s adorable devil costume was originally worn by College Boy as Mickey Mouse, Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Princess & Cowboy Minions, Peanut Sleeping BeautyHere’s Peanut in a Sleeping Beauty costume I made for Princess when she was 6 or 7. Princess and Cowboy made their Minion costumes from a combination of Goodwill finds and things they already owned.

 

Swap costumes. Instead of buying new, trade costumes with friends and family. Princess and Angel Face traded costumes and accessories with their friends many times, essentially doubling their choices.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Princess and FriendsI’m not even sure who borrowed what this year. Many Halloween afternoons were filled with giggles and belly laughs as the girls tried on different costumes.

 

Use what you have. Put on your creativity hat and dig through your closets. If your child is in a sport, use the uniform as a quick and easy costume.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Jo-Bear FootballOne year Jo-Bear wore his Colts jersey with a dress-up helmet I had for the child care.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Angel Face CowboyAngel Face is a pro at scouring the closets for Halloween costumes. Here she is in her own jeans, Teacher’s shirt, my bandana, a dollar store hat, and a gun/holster from when my mom was a kid.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Angel Face AbbyAngel Face strikes again! For her NCIS Abby costume we only had to buy a lab coat, spiked collar, and black hair spray; the rest of the outfit came from her closet. I used my mad Paint Shop Pro skills to whip up a NCIS ID with her photo, but you can’t see it in this photo.

 

Reuse what you have. When College Boy and Princess were little I made them Peter Pan and Tinkerbell costumes. The next year I paired the Peter Pan tunic with brown pants and hat, then swapped the dagger for a bow to change Peter Pan into Robin Hood. Easy peasy!

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Z-Man Peter PanHere’s Z-Man in the Peter Pan costume I made for College Boy.

 

After College Boy graduated from High School his younger siblings used his graduation gown as the basis for Harry Potter, Hermoine, witch, and vampire costumes.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Jo-Bear Harry PotterJo-Bear as Harry Potter.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Angel Face HermoineAngel Face as Hermoine.

 

Buy a head. I mean “ahead” not “a head”. Costumes go on sale super-cheap after Halloween, so buying next year’s costume after this Halloween can save some serious cash. Keeping your child from changing his mind is another matter entirely…

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - All KidsLittle Guy in a Penguins jersey passed down from College Boy, Peanut in the Sleeping Beauty costume made for a young Princess, Love Bug in a Belle costume Irish Girl purchased on clearance after Halloween last year, Z-Man as Robin Hood in the popular Peter Pan costume, and Caesar Boy in a costume Irish Girl found in a second-hand shop. Does my family know how to save money on Halloween costumes, or what?!

How do you save money on Halloween costumes?

Amy Sue