Quick and Easy Dinners

I haven't had much time to cook lately so I rounded up some of the quick meals I've been making for dinner. I’m pretty much ridiculously stressed out right now. And this totally affects how I feed myself and my family. So I’ve decided to share the recipes for the quick and easy dinners that I have been making that are still tasty but really easy to make. On the nights where we have extra activities like Cub Scouts, I stick to something super simple like pasta, which incidentally, is my kid’s favorite meal that I make. It’s store-bought sauce and meatballs, but they love it so why reinvent the wheel. But on the other days, I try to mix it up between crock and things that don’t take a ton of effort or prep work. There are go-to meals that we make but I try to add in some new things too. My kids are very picky so I try all different flavors to see if I can find something they are in to. And if they don’t like something, I take a break from it, but try it again a few months later.

Our regular favorites:

Salami and Peperoncini Pizza – This pizza was based on my favorite sandwiches and is super easy to make and SO tasty

Quick Teriyaki Stir fry – We are actually having this tonight. It is super simple to make and the boys LOVE it! Which is crazy because there are vegetables in it and it is pretty healthy. It is also great cold for lunch the next day!

Super Easy Chicken and Pasta – My husband requests this one and I am happy to oblige considering it uses store-bought chicken and has a ton of flavor. Did I mention it’s easy?

Tacos or Taco salad: Homemade tortilla chips with seasoned ground beef, lettuce, cheese and hot sauce.

New things I’m trying:

Bacon Cheeseburger Sandwiches – Made these two nights ago and they were INSANE! I skipped her seasoning, but added about 3/4 of a packet of onion soup mix (you know, the powder with dried onions? That.) to the meat. Super yummy. The cheese is a must to sort of bind the meet together, but even if it turns in to a big old mess, it is still super tasty. LOVED it!

Slow Cooker Creamy Bacon Ranch Chicken  –  This is on the agenda for tomorrow. My fingers are crossed that the boys will like it. My oldest has been in to ranch dressing lately and they love spaghetti so fingers crossed! I thought it would be a good way to much up our standard pasta.

Sweet Slow Cooker Sesame Chicken – I am pretty sure my kids will like this one. They seem to like teriyaki (although their tastes literally change by the minute). This will be on our menu next week.

Crockpot Rustic Italian Beef Ragu – I love a good ragu. So much flavor! And this one is done in the crock pot so that means I can busy myself with life and not be stuck over a stove except for cooking noodles. Yeah!

Bacon and Brie Grilled Cheese – By Friday night I’m over cooking from the week, but we are trying to save money and not go out much. I’ve decided Friday nights are sandwich night. Not cold cuts (probably not cold cuts) but sandwiches that are a bit fancier then we send to school in lunches. My kids love bacon so I am going to do a bacon grilled cheese this week. Except I am going to sub the brie out for some extra aged gouda which is closer to parmesan in flavor which I know my boys really like, but will melt a little better. I’m REALLY looking forward to this…

Need more recipe ideas? Follow my “recipes” board on Pinterest. And remember that fluke when I was eating all clean? I still have that board too…

Now, would you be so kind as to share with me what you are eating?  What are your go-to meals?

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Halloween Vibes Playlist

Props from Knott's Scary Farm. I have to say that Halloween is not my favorite holiday. I actually really hate how gross everything is. This year when we went to pick out the kid’s Halloween costumes, we stood at Party City for an hour staring at the costume wall. Either the costumes were totally whack or they were super gory. I’m just not going to have my 5-year-old walking around the neighborhood in something with fake blood splatters. I also don’t love the overtly themed Halloween songs they play every year. Sure, you have to hear Monster Mash, but I’d rather listen to something with a Halloween vibe, that is still good music.

Here are some of my fave songs that I made in to a Halloween playlist for your listening pleasure. It’s a little moody and melancholy with a few goth influences. But your ears will still like it. I’m sure of it.

Image is from my photo walk at Knott’s Berry Farm when I got to go in their prop warehouse and found some of their Halloween Haunt decorations.

Upcycled Milk Jug Planters

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DIY milk jug planters. Every time my kids finish a container of milk my head spins. Those containers have got to be good for other things. I know they can be recycled but they can be so much more useful than that. So I decided to make some of the plastic milk jugs in to planters. And I decided to take my older son with me when I went to the master, his grandfather, to learn the best way to replant plants, since I have the blackest thumb possible. I figured we could keep at least a few of these containers out of a landfill and teach myself and my son something that could come in handy later. Both of my kids have expressed an interest in planting our own food, so this lesson will surely come in to play again. got milk? asked me if I could come up with a craft that would share how milk and healthy habits can be worked in to your everyday living. And I really think these planters do that.

Milk is full of things that growing bodies need to help them in the future. But first we needed a few empty milk jugs. Luckily, this kid LOVES his milk. If he could, he would drink milk for all of his meals instead of eat. I don’t hate that. Milk is full of good stuff that his body needs so he gets it for each meal and one snack a day. And before we knew it, we had 3 empty jugs for us to upcycle in to planters.

Making planters out of empty plastic milk jugs. Grandpa Al runs a nursery out of his back yard and sells cottage garden plants to mom and pop nurseries in and around Orange County (read this great article the Register wrote about him). So when it comes to anything with plants, he is the man. We brought over our plastic milk jugs and he and my son got to work turning what would have been trash in to something useful.  I had wanted to plant some herbs, as I really enjoy using them in cooking, but Grandpa Al doesn’t grow herbs. And while he used to grow heirloom vegetables, he has since changed his focus to cottage flowers. I decided that since I’m such a gardening novice, I would let him show us with his regular plants and then my son and I will be able to purchase some herbs and create an herb garden together. [Read more...]

Brio Tuscan Grille at Irvine Spectrum

Brio Tuscan Grille at Irvine Spectrum. If you’ve noticed, I’ve begun sharing my favorite local (Orange County, CA) spots every other Friday here on the blog. You may want to check out all my posts tagged Orange County, to see where else I have been!

Today I’m sharing about my first time at Brio, one of the new restaurants at The Irvine Spectrum. The Spectrum is like my second home. It is close by, has great shops and restaurants and fun stuff to keep the kids entertained. When I saw that some new restaurants were opening up I couldn’t wait to try them out. So when I won an Instagram contest run by the Spectrum which included dinner at Brio, I was pretty dang excited.

We got our hair done by My Blow LA at the Irvine Spectrum for Style Week OCThe contest was in conjunction with Style Week OC and included myself and my best friend getting our hair blown out at My Blow LA. It was so awesome to get a little pampering done. And I only had one minor heart attach when I realized they probably weren’t using a sulphate free shampoo which can cause a Keratin treatment to wear off sooner. And it was kind of funny to watch the gal try to curl my hair. Since the treatment pretty much straightens your hair, albeit pretty temporarily, it would not take the curl when she tried to use a curling iron. My hair basically laughed at it. We finally got some curl with the straightening iron technique though.

Styleweek OC at the Irvine Spectrum Center.Next we got to sit front row at the fashion show featuring clothes from some of the stores from the Spectrum. It was fun and I saw plenty of things I wanted to run off and buy.

Brio Tuscan Grilled at The Irvine Spectrum. And then it was time for Brio!! The restaurant seems HUGE. And it was quite loud. It seems like a great place to go when you have a large group of people who want to get together for dinner. I would have preferred it to be a little bit less noisy, but our visit was during peak hours on a Friday night so I can’t really complain.  They were running a wait, but since we had reservations, we were seated fairly quickly. You guys this, as well as the other new restaurant Del Frisco’s Grille, seem to be a hit. Both are always busy and they are great new additions to the mall (I’ll share about Del Frisco’s soon! Spoiler alert, I love it too!) The restaurant design is inspired by a Tuscan Villa and is warm and inviting. I can’t wait to dine out on their patio too. I love the fabric they chose for their outdoor chairs.

Brio Tuscan Grille at Irvine Spectrum.The Brio menu is not huge but has something for everyone. The menu is based on northern Italian cuisine and has tons of lighter options for those not looking to consume thousands of calories in one meal. But if you are looking for a super satisfying, hearty comfort food style dish, they have those too.  And their bread basket came with this crazy yummy flatbread that made my heart and my mouth happy.

Delicious bruschetta appetizer at Brio Tuscan Grille, Irvine Spectrum. We started off with the Bruschetta Quattro, featuring four different combinations, that was super tasty. We pretty much inhaled this and I would totally order this again.

Yummy dinner at Brio Tuscan Grille at the Irvine Spectrum.And for our main course, we decided to share two entrees. The kitchen split them up for us which was super nice of them and made it really easy to try two things that both sounded amazing. On the left is the Gorgonzola Crusted Beef Medallions served with mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables. And on the right was the Sweet Potato and Chicken Risotto. Both dishes were fantastic! I would recommend both of them. But now I need to go back and try out some more things that stood out to me on the menu.

Dessert at Brio Tuscan Grille, Irvine Spectrum.To end our night, we tried out the Torta di Cioccolata, which is a warm chocolate cake served with vanilla bean gelato and the Peanut Butter and Chocolate Mousse. Both were crazy good.  I could have eaten about 2 gallons of the peanut butter mousse. The presentation of all the dishes was great and we enjoyed every part of our Brio experience.

Aside from the wonderful food, the staff and service were super friendly and accommodating. I’m absolutely looking forward to another visit.

I was not required to share my visit as part of the contest but I enjoyed everything so much that I wanted to. All opinions are my own and in my opinion, this place is great! Have you been yet?

Brio Tuscan Grille at The Irvine Spectrum 618 Spectrum Center Dr., Irvine, CA  92618 .  phone (949) 341-0380

Fun Party Decor Idea : Carved Watermelons

Talking watermelons. Carve them to create awesome party decor and signage. Carved watermelon. I bet that wasn’t the first thing to pop in to your head when you were planning your last party, was it? But it totally should have been. Pumpkins aren’t the only things that you can carve. And carved watermelons make really great party decor and signage. These can be made ahead of time, really they SHOULD be made ahead of time.  But they are quite easy and will be the star of the show. 

Put your message on a watermelon. Super fun for parties! I asked my friend Carole to create one for our pajama party in Palm Springs. And then, of course, I forgot to print out the phrasing before I left for the trip. But that really didn’t matter. Carole was still able to carve the watermelon.  You will need a watermelon, some simple carving tools – her’s were for carving or cutting clay and purchased from the local art supply store, and the image or words that you want to carve. If you want a specific font, you can easily just print out the words on standard computer paper, just try to make sure that the words will fit on the size watermelon you bought. 

Trace your design on a watermelon to create jaw dropping party signs! Using the straight tool, (I’m going to be honest, I have no idea what any of the tools are called. This one is sharp on the end but straight, sort of like a straight pin but a little bit thicker) begin to poke holes in the watermelon all around the outline of the words. Many pumpkin carving books use a similar technique. 

Carving watermelons is easy to do with the dot method.So here you can see the dots that you can then connect to shape the letters and words. 

Watermelon Carving is pretty easy and creates totally fantastic party signage! Total crowd pleaser! I really love this idea for signage at parties. You can use them on buffet tables, as centerpieces, just about anywhere.  And it works not only with words but also with images.  Carole has carved some pretty amazing things in watermelons. 

Carve watermelons for fun party decor. Next, you will use the tool that looks a little bit like a tunnel or a “u”. With it, you will follow along your dotted line scooping out the speckled green skin. You do not need to go very deep in to the watermelon.  You just want to remove the hard outer skin. 

Fun party sign idea! While it might take a few minutes to do, it is really easy. Once you are done, you want it to have a chance to dry out a bit. We left this one out overnight and by the next morning, it looked like the first image in this post. The carved out portion turns a little bit lighter and it makes the words pop. Aren’t they fantastic!

Carved watermelon for fall decor.  // cupcakesandcutlery.comThis carved watermelon above was the first one Carole carved for me for an outdoor movie photo shoot I did a really long time ago. It shows perfectly how watermelons can live on past summer and slide right in to fall. (this last image is by Sadie James Photography). I feel like this is how I want to carve my pumpkins this year too. Just think of all the creative designs you could do! I’m so grateful to have creative friends who are willing to share their talents with me! Thank you, Carole!