Archive for January, 2011

Panko Crusted Tilapia Nuggets With Dipping Sauce

Monday, January 31st, 2011

I am always looking for new ways to make food and the dinner hour fun for my kids. I also really desire for them to eat healthy and appreciate foods that are good for them. In my quest to continue offering fun and healthy foods,  I was looking to replicate the chicken nuggets my kids love, but with some healthier fare. With a bag of frozen tilapia in the freezer, I thought I would try to create a fun tilapia nugget that was baked, but had the taste and crunch of their fried nuggets.

With that in mind, let me introduce you to my new favorite pantry addition to creating great fried flavor without the grease and frying. Panko is a Japanese bread crumb that is light in texture and offers a coarse crumb texture to your breading.  Panko is made from wheat bread, but has a surprisingly golden color that looks just like that golden color and texture you love from your fried dishes.

While it may sound a little more exotic than our good old breadcrumbs, these are actually available at our local Walmart. They have these in two spots in the store and you can grab them in the Asian food section or the baking aisle. I found the ones in the baking aisle were about twenty cents cheaper so I grabbed them over there. A box of these was $1.88 so they are very inexpensive, but can add a lot of crunch to your dishes that you will soon become addicted to.

The Panko is mixed with Old Bay seasoning for a kick of spice with a little heat in it. You can find the Old Bay seasoning over in the baking spices aisle or by the seafood section of your supermarket. It has a variety of spices in the blend with everything from mustard to cinnamon to ginger.  Basically, it is a fun blend of everything in your spice cabinet that adds a ton of flavor to all of your seafood dishes.

Tilapia happens to be my most favorite fish and we usually eat it about once a week in our house. It is a very mild white fish that even fish haters can appreciate because it doesn’t have a strong fishy taste to it. It also happens to be a great bargain for families and is available at every supermarket. I buy the larger value size bags and can get two meals with leftovers out of those.

When creating your nuggets, just cut down the center line and then chunk them into nugget-like shapes. This can totally be rustic, it adds to the homemade deliciousness, in my opinion!

What did our family think about these? Well, after they picked their mouths off of the floor that mom could whip up fish nuggets, they absolutely loved them!  The dippers in our family were very happy because I served these with a little fun dipping sauce and the non-dippers were pleased that these were flavorful even when they were eaten alone.

The accompaniments to the nuggets was my lemon rice pilaf and steamed edamame (or “little mommies” as my daughter likes to call these). I put both of these into my rice cooker and enjoyed having dinner ready in under thirty minutes.  A dinner that is filled with happy smacks, empty plates, and questions about when I can make it again for them is a dinner success story with a happy ending!

Panko Crusted Tilapia Nuggets With Fancy Dipping Sauce (Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Coarse salt and pepper

2 cups panko (see notes above about where to locate that ingredient)

1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 lbs tilapia fillets, cut into wide strips (see note, above)

1/2 cup light mayonnaise

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving

2 teaspoons prepared white horseradish (we omitted and just added 1/4 teaspoon of Old Bay to the seasoning for a little kick)

To make fish nuggets, cut tilapia fillets in half and then chunk into nugget size pieces.  Preheat oven to 475, with racks in top and bottom third. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil; set aside. Place egg in a wide shallow bowl; season with salt and pepper. In another bowl, combine panko, Old Bay, and oil. Dip tilapia into egg, shaking off excess, then into panko mixture, pressing to adhere. Place on prepared baking sheets.  Bake until lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating sheets from top to bottom halfway through.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, parsley, mustard, lemon juice, and horseradish; season with salt and pepper. Serve fish sticks with sauce and lemon wedges on the side.

Looking for other fun ways to enjoy adding seafood into your diet? Be sure to check out our recipe for  Tilapia with Lots of SpiceBaked Salmon, a deliciously gourmet salmon patty recipe, Balsamic & Rosemary SalmonMarinated Grilled Shrimp,  & Herb Baked Tilapia, just to name a few!

What foods are you trying to get your children to eat more of? What recipes would you like to see here to make healthier versions of the foods your kids love? Feel free to share your own healthy dish makeovers!

Amy’s Notebook 01.26.11

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

These DIY stenciled floors look like a creative solution when you don’t want to splurge on hardwood (@ Under the Sycamore)

This Valentine’s Day tree is a great symbol of family love (@ the crafting chicks)

I love this inspiration for decorating a playroom (@ Centsational Girl)

We are going to have to try this recipe for a healthier chicken parmesan (@ A Southern Fairytale)

This is a great tutorial for sewing a layered cake skirt (@ Prudent Baby)

I love this round-up of great decorating solutions (@ Tatertots and Jello)

This budget-friendly ribbon organizer is so smart (@ Spunky Junky)

I adore this sweet little winter white wreath (@ Peppermint Plum)

These sour cream banana donuts look like a fun Saturday morning treat (@ Inside BruCrew Life)

This fabric Valentine heart garland is so cute (@ How About Orange?)

I love this Anthropology inspired necklace made from a wedding dress (@ Maryjanes & Galoshes)

I have to say that this cereal milk ice cream recipe really intrigues me (@ Cafe Fernando)

This real french onion dip would be delicious for game day food (@ Serious Eats)

We will have to try making these chocolate chip cookies in a muffin tin (@ Cooking With My Kid)

These see-through Valentine hearts are a fun way to package treats (@ Random Thoughts of a Supermom)

This stromboli recipe would be a fun way to switch up our pizza night (@ The Way the Cookie Crumbles)

I like these ideas for weeding through the magazine clutter (@ shutterbean)

These fruit, yogurt, and granola parfaits look like a fun way to start the day (@ Annie’s Eats)

I giggled from the bottom of my toes at this no soliciting sign (@ Blue Cricket Design)

These Valentine’s Day mini donuts and cupcakes are too cute (@ The Farm Chicks)

Great Reads for Moms: January ’11 Edition

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

It is a new year and with that comes new books and a new commitment to read!  This year, you can make a commitment for the year to challenge yourself to reach a reading goal on GoodReads which can really help you reach those reading goals. My hope this year is to squeeze in eighty books. I know it is a lofty goal, but I never have claimed to be an underachiever! Just ask my mother about my commitments to read a hundred books over the summer and only reading eighty during those summer reading programs at the library….Oh, the tears that were shed those cold, cold summers.  In all seriousness,  it is so fun to make a goal and see your progress towards something… especially when that something is leisurely evenings of reading!

If you are looking for a little inspiration this new year, be sure to check our MomAdvice fan page for a weekly check-in on what everyone is reading each week on our Facebook Fan Page. I hope you will swing by on Fridays and share about the books you are working on or request recommendations with one another. So far it is a huge success and I have gotten a few new ideas for my own stack!

Just as a reminder, I read many more  books than are just featured here, but try to feature the ones that are my absolute best picks of the month here. If you want to read more, please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! My username is momadvice and I am always happy to connect with people there too! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there! In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads. Don’t forget to make your own commitment towards a reading challenge this year!

Here are a few book ideas this month to add to your reading pile and I look forward to hearing what you are working on too!

Those That Save Us by Jenna Blum

This book is so haunting, gripping, gritty, and heartbreaking that I have been thinking about it for days since reading it. It is the type of book that you beg your friends to read just so you have someone to talk to about it, and is a tribute to the beautiful storytelling and Jenna Blum, whose writing I have quickly and wholeheartedly fallen in love with.

The author took a great risk by sharing the story of the difficulties that many German people suffered during the Holocaust. As most books take a heartbreaking look at what the Jewish people suffered, this book focused on the survival tactics that many Germans had to employ to survive and stay alive.

The book opens with the funeral of Anna’s husband and the father to Trudy. Following the burial, the ladies rush back to their home to prepare the food for the guests to come and pay their respects, as it is their tradition in their small town. As nightfall comes, they realize that no one is coming to visit them and Trudy’s mother heads to bed without a word. Trudy reflects that the town no longer has to be nice to them and so begins the journey for the reader to discover why they would be shunned by their own community.

The book follows Anna as a youth who is under the thumb of her demanding and unkind father. Anna’s father is a Nazi lawyer who can’t seem to keep anyone on hand to help with the day-to-day maintenance of the home and makes Anna do all of the chores and care for him & his home. When Anna believes her dog to be dying, she heads to a Jewish doctor for help and an unlikely friendship and love blossoms between the two. When the Jewish doctor must go into hiding, Anna keeps him in a hidden place in their home for as long as she is able.

When the doctor is captured, Anna must runaway as she has discovered that she is pregnant. Unfortunately following the birth of her daughter, Anna finds she must go into survival mode and ends up catching the eye of an SS officer who takes advantage of his position and visits her weekly for sexual trysts. When the officer comes, he brings with him gifts for Anna that can help keep herself and her child alive. Anna knows that if she does not give up her body to this officer that she could compromise the safety of both herself and her daughter. She also knows that they would also lose the gifts of food that sustain them. The reader witnesses the spirit of Anna being broken and the effects that this relationship has on her daughter later in her life.

The book alternates between the present and the difficulties that Trudy has with her own identity, believing that she is the love child of Anna & the SS officer and being a professor of German History. Trudy can’t seem to sustain a relationship and has a difficult relationship with her mother. In efforts to reconcile the conflict she feels about her mother, Trudy takes on a video project to document the German perspective on the Holocaust and what happened. You see Trudy becoming sucked into their stories, searching for the evidence she needs to be at peace with her mother’s relationship with the officer.

I can’t say more- it truly is a book worth picking up. This book is a true page turner filled with great twists and bends, with characters that you will truly become attached to. The ending may not satisfy everyone, but it seemed a realistic resolution to a difficult story and followed what one would expect from these characters.

Editor’s Note: This is extremely sexually graphic and violent. As with all books that share about the Holocaust, it is not an easy read, but a memorable angle for discovering the story of survival from the German perspective.

(MomAdvice Rating- 5 Stars out of 5 Stars)

The Dirty Life: On Farming Food and Love by Kristin Kimball

If ever there is a book that truly makes me appreciate the food that is on my dinner table, then it is this book on an unlikely relationship between a farmer and a city girl who take on the daring task of building their own organic cooperative farm together.

This book documents the true life story of Kristin Kimball, a typical city girl who loves her shoes, fashion, and a good bubble bath, as she goes out to interview a man for a piece about farming. A city girl through and through, she becomes captivated not only with the farm life, but with the farmer that she interviews. Although she knows nothing about growing vegetables or how to care for farm animals, she decides to move to 500 acres of land and start a cooperative farm with her farmer, whom she quickly falls in love with.

The story shares the transformation of Kristin as she finds herself transformed by the land, the animals, the fresh air, and a love like she has never known. She shares the daily quips and struggles of farm life with humor, but in gritty (at times a little too gritty for my taste) details about the circle of life and how the food must arrive to one’s table on the farm. There is a true honesty and warmth in Kristin’s stories whether it be about her family’s struggle with her leaving it all for a dirty life on a farm, the story as they pull together a wedding in the middle of a busy farming season, the animals as they try to escape , and even the difficulties with just keeping up with the menial tasks that are such a part of the grueling farm life.

Coming from a lineage of farmers on my mother’s side, I always knew that I would never be cut out for the farm life. This sealed the deal for me that I don’t think I would have the willpower and stamina to keep up with the daily chores of living on a farm, but made me admire the strength of farming families and all they endure to provide food for our tables. Refreshing and written with a splash of humor and a lot of grit, I would highly recommend this book as a fun diversion from your normal reading schedule!

(MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars out of 5 Stars)

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Joyce Maynard is quickly becoming one of my new favorite authors and I found her book, “Labor Day,” to be a delight to read with great twists and character build that had me thinking about the book long after the pages were shut.

Henry is the narrator of this story and tells the story through his thirteen year-old eyes of a Labor Day weekend that changed his and his mother’s entire life. The strange story begins as he stands in a drugstore browsing the aisles, where he is approached by a man who asks if he can catch a ride home with him and his mother. The man appears to be injured, but seems harmless enough to catch a ride back with them. Henry doesn’t know it, but Frank is actually an escaped convict who is wanted for murder and is being searched for. His mother, Adele, is divorced and isolates herself from society, but offers to let Frank stay there for a few days as his injuries heal, in exchange for help around the house.

An unlikely relationship blossoms between the three characters and Frank quickly begins to fill the voids of a partner that Adele has always wanted in her life and the father that Henry wishes he had. Whether it is the simple act of dancing with Adele in the kitchen or throwing a ball with Henry, he fills those voids that they both have been missing. All of this would be perfect provided Frank wasn’t an escaped felon, but living in hiding is not a new thing for Adele, and both she & her son become quickly swept away with Frank.

The story telling in this is so vivid, despite the idea feeling a bit far-fetched, that I found myself rooting for a happy ending with the family that Adele & Henry have desired. As it seem is customary with Maynard’s books, a thoughtful twist is thrown in at the end that can lead to your own thoughtful reflection on what you would do in this situation.

Editor’s Note: Sexuality is in this book, as it is told through the eyes of an adolescent boy.

(MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars out of 5 Stars)

The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum

It is rare to find a great story that contains a mystery, a great romance, and proof of the ties that bind family members, but Jenna Blum has created just that in this gripping novel. Told through the narration of Karena, the book begins with a phone call from a hospital as they tell her that her twin brother has requested that they notify her that he has been admitted. The shocker though is that Karena has not seen her brother in twenty years and Karena has been desperately searching for him ever since.

Unfortunately, when Karena makes it to the hospital, she is told that Charles has already checked out. In a last ditch attempt to chase her twin down and be reunited with him, she decides to join a storm chasing team that is set to tour because the one thing that brings Charles joy in his life is storm chasing. She knows where there is a great storm, she will find her brother there, documenting and charting the storm and its course. Karena hits the road with an unlikely tour group covering the story of storm chasing for an article for the paper she writes for.

So begins Karena’s journey on the road and the reader begins to learn about her brother’s obsession not only with storm chasing, but his downward spiral with mental illness. These two storms fuse together in the middle of the novel as the novel flashes back to their younger years and the incident that has estranged Charles from his family and haunted his life ever since.

Jenna Blum has the ability to seamlessly tie together the stormy mind of the mentally ill with the storms that rage on land. It is a truly beautiful book that I enjoyed thoroughly from beginning to end.

(MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars out of 5 Stars)

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

How to Be an American Housewife is a fast-paced book told from two perspectives of a mother and a daughter and the ties that bind them.

In this beautifully rendered story, Shoko leaves her home in Japan by marrying a young American GI named Charlie, who has been serving in WWIII. Although Shoko is not madly in love with Charlie, she does find him endearing and also sees him as a way to escape Japan and start a fresh new life. What she doesn’t expect is just how difficult it will be to acclimate herself to the American culture and how hard it will actually be to leave her familiar world behind. Burdened with a secret that she carries with her when leaving Japan, she does her best to raise her daughter and adapt to the American lifestyle. Faced with the prejudice from others and the difficulties of mastering the American language, it proves to be a more difficult life than Shoko had envisioned for herself.

Decades later, Shoko decides that she would like to return to Japan and make right her relationship between herself & her brother, as the secret that she has been carrying prevents her from true happiness and peace. She is told by her doctor that her health is deteriorating and that she is no condition to travel.

To make things right between herself and her family, Shoko begs her daughter Sue (Suiko) to travel to Japan in her place and ask for forgiveness for her. The second half of the book chronicles Sue’s journey to Japan for her mother, the secrets that are discovered, and the deepening bonds between not only herself and her own mother, but the bond between herself and her own daughter.

How to Be an American Housewife is a surprisingly strong debut novel that focuses on the relationship and dynamics of mothers and daughters. Each chapter opens with an excerpt on an old book on how to be an American Housewife, written specifically for Japanese brides to understand what an American man would expect from his wife. The excerpts offer clever openings into what Shoko will be struggling with on her journey towards being the ideal housewife. This is a quick and wonderful read that is definitely worth picking up!

(MomAdvice Rating- 3 Stars out of 5 Stars)


Not enough great reads for you? Check out our Books section of our site for monthly recommendations and ideas for making reading a priority again in your busy mom life!

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate the books quickly and easily. Feel free to order a book, but we encourage utilizing the library system and buying me a latte instead.  Then we both would be really happy and we could have our own little book club together! Wouldn’t that just be so much more lovely? Happy Reading!

What has been in your book stack this month? Feel free to share your book recommendations or feedback on any of the books that have been mentioned above! I love getting new suggestions for my book pile!

An Apron Full of Giveaways: American Girl Doll Giveaway Ends at 8PM

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Precious Patterns, $4.99 (for pattern)

Welcome to our Apron Full of Giveaways! I hope everyone is having a great week this week! As we do each week,  here is our round-up of giveaways for our readers. We hope that this is beneficial to you and your family! Please let us know if you guys win anything- I love to hear the success stories!

Tonight (at 8PM EST) our giveaway ends for the  new 2011 Girl of the Year doll, Kanani, from American Girl (valued at $100)!  Kicking off American Girl’s 25th birthday celebration, is the debut of Kanani, the 2011 Girl of the Year, whose story takes place in the lush tropical paradise of Hawai‘i. Through Kanani, girls will discover that everyone has something to share that can make life better for someone else. Head on over to enter to win your very own American Girl Doll! NO ENTRIES HERE PLEASE! Follow the link to enter this contest!

Below are the contest links-if you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Sorry, we aren’t giving away the aprons just showcasing them! Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, “MomAdvice (Kid’s Movies).”

Please let me know if you have any questions and good luck to each of you!

Grilling In: Slammin’ Salmon Marinade

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Slammin Salmon Marinade recipe from

With the new year in full swing, I have been trying to make a conscious effort to get back to healthier eating.

I think our family eats relatively healthy… with the exception that we tend to be carb-loving fools and could really benefit from cutting back on the pasta and bread in our house.

I am trying to incorporate more meat-free nights, embrace those whole grains, encouraging lots of fruit and veggie eating, and adding lots more fish into our diet.

I am hoping to share a few of the ways that we are working on our healthy eating in our house as well as share the recipe success stories from our kitchen.

I love grilled fish and once a week  I have been trying  to prepare a marinade for a quick and easy weeknight dinner.

In the winter months, I rely on our little indoor grill a lot to get that delicious grilled flavor without being outside and braving the cold.

A few holidays ago, I spent my Christmas money on a Cuisinart 5-in-1 griddle at a home goods store.

It was the last one on the shelf and missing the griddle portion of it so I got it for a 75 percent discount.

I ran home with it and couldn’t wait to start making fancy panini sandwiches on it and grilling our food on it.

At the time, we had an electric stove and it was the perfect way to enjoy our grilled foods in the winter.

Now that we have a gas stove, I have longed for a grill pan to rest on top of my burners.

Of course, it isn’t anything I truly need so I continue to give our little Cuisinart a good workout in our kitchen.

It is a handy little gadget that has served us well in the winters and you can’t beat a fancy panini and soup night in these cold winter months.

My new favorite salmon recipe is this Slammin’ Salmon marinade that is perfect for quick cooking and getting dinner on the table in a hurry.

This marinade is rich and flavorful with a good balance of sweetness on the fish. I paired this with my easy microwave lemon broccoli and brown rice for a filling and satisfying dinner.  

Everyone absolutely love this marinade.

My husband & I loved it for the flavor it added to our salmon, my daughter loved it because it is pink, and my son…well, he will eat just about anything.  

This recipe is definitely a keeper for our family.

Below is our modified version of this delicious marinade!

Give it a try and see if you can’t find a new way to appreciate seafood in your house.

Slammin’ Salmon Marinade (Adapted from

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup olive oil
8 (4 ounce) skinless, boneless salmon fillets

Stir balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and soy sauce with salt, brown sugar, ground ginger, paprika, pepper, and red pepper flakes until the salt has dissolved. Stir in garlic, sesame oil, and olive oil until well combined.. Pour marinade into a resealable plastic bag or glass bowl. Add salmon to marinade and gently toss to coat. Place into refrigerator and marinate 2 to 4 hours. Prepare your grill for medium-high heat. Drain excess marinade from salmon fillets. Grill until firm and opaque, about 4 minutes per side (may need shorter cooking time depending on the thickness of your salmon fillets).

Looking for other fun ways to enjoy adding seafood into your diet? Be sure to check out our other recipes: 


Balsamic Salmon


Balsamic & Rosemary Salmon


Marinated Grilled Shrimp

Marinated Grilled Shrimp


Herb Baked Tilapia Sheet Pan Meal

 Herb Baked Tilapia 

What is your favorite way to incorporate fish into your family’s diet?  Feel free to share your favorite recipes and links!


Grilled Salmon Marinade from

Amy’s Notebook 01.19.11

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Th ese baking cup flowers would be a super cute Valentine’s Day treat (@ Skip to My Lou)

These paper plate flowers are inexpensive and such a fun way to dress up a party table (@ Hostess with the Mostess)

This Ballard knock-off table is absolutely beautiful (@ Flamingo Toes)

This slow cooker black bean soup looks like a satisfying winter meal (@ Weelicious)

I love these tips for cleaning out your dishwasher (@ Apartment Therapy)

These tissue rosette kissing balls would be a great way to use up leftover party streamers (@ The Idea Room)

Making peanut butter bird feeders looks like a great winter activity (@ Clover Lane)

This creamy artichoke lemon & chicken dish sounds like all of my favorite flavors in one dish (@ Confections of a Foodie Bride)

These Honey-Roasted Brussels Sprouts would be a delicious side dish (@ Cheeky Kitchen)

This marshmallow & toothpick activity looks like a great winter boredom buster (@ Under the Sycamore)

I love these ten lessons learned from building a kitchen (@ Centsational Girl)

This pajama glam mock slumber party would be such a hit with my little girl (@ kara’s party ideas)

These DIY fabric flowers are so cute (@ How About Orange?)

This bread making kit is such a wonderful gift (@ Saltwater Kids)

I love this DIY cupboard pot rack for simple pot storage (@ Blue Cricket Designs)

An Apron Full of Giveaways: Kanani American Girl Doll ($100 Value)

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

House of White, $55

Welcome to our Apron Full of Giveaways! I hope everyone is having a great week this week! As we do each week,  here is our round-up of giveaways for our readers. We hope that this is beneficial to you and your family! Please let us know if you guys win anything- I love to hear the success stories!

We are back with another exciting giveaway for our readers that you won’t want to miss. Today we are giving away the new 2011 Girl of the Year doll, Kanani, from American Girl (valued at $100)!  Kicking off American Girl’s 25th birthday celebration, is the debut of Kanani, the 2011 Girl of the Year, whose story takes place in the lush tropical paradise of Hawai‘i. Through Kanani, girls will discover that everyone has something to share that can make life better for someone else. Head on over to enter to win your very own American Girl Doll! NO ENTRIES HERE PLEASE! Follow the link to enter this contest!

Below are the contest links-if you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Sorry, we aren’t giving away the aprons just showcasing them! Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, “MomAdvice (Kid’s GMovies).”

Please let me know if you have any questions and good luck to each of you!

Pretty In Pink Strawberry Cupcakes

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and these Pretty in Pink Cupcakes would be the perfect accompaniment to a romantic dinner or a fun school treat for your children to share.  As I have been doing the last few weeks, I wanted to share with you all of the recipes and ideas we used for my daughter’s birthday party. In case you missed the earlier posts, I have a step-by-step picture tutorial for a beautiful Barbie Cake, directions for making elegant tissue paper pom poms, some easy tips & recipes for a fun winter party, and now today I am showcasing  these Pretty In Pink cupcakes that were made for the adults. Tomorrow I will share with you a few of our favorite gifts and that will conclude the never-ending posting schedule of birthday posts.

These delicious cupcakes are made from the same batter as the Barbie cake that I showcased from her party. I wanted a fun treat for the adults and so I created a batch of these cupcakes with a strawberry cream cheese frosting and a fresh berry garnish topper. The cupcakes were displayed in cupcake stands for easy grabbing throughout the evening.

This cake is very moist and flavorful and the vivid pink hue comes from the addition of the strawberry gelatin dessert. While fresh strawberries are not in season this time of year, one package of berries is plenty for your garnish and to be whipped in the cupcake batter & frosting. Although they are more expensive, it is a worthy investment for such a fun and unexpected treat out of our normal berry season.  The cream cheese frosting adds a hint of sweetness with even more delicious strawberry taste that takes this cupcake to the grown-up level.

I hope you will enjoy these delightful cupcakes as much as we have and consider adding them to your Valentine’s menu this year!

Pretty in Pink Cupcakes (adapted from “Cupcakes from the Cake Mix Doctor“)

1 package (18.25 ounces) plain white cake mix

1 package (3 ounces) strawberry gelatin

1 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries with juice (approximately 1 1/2 cups whole berries)

3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup canola oil

4 large eggs

Place your oven rack into the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 2 quart oven-safe batter bowl by greasing heavily with cooking spray. Place the cake mix, gelatin strawberries and their juice,  milk, oil, and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for thirty seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat two more minutes. Pour batter carefully into your prepared batter bowl. Bake the cupcakes until they are lightly golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 20-25 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for five minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake liners, lift the cupcakes up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place them on a wire rack to cool for fifteen minutes before frosting.   Meanwhile prepare the frosting.  (This recipe makes approximately 22-24 cupcakes)

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

This frosting is VERY thin compared to a traditional frosting. You can thicken it up with a little extra confectioners sugar (1/2 cup at a time) if it is too thin to ice your cupcakes with.  I also put the frosting in the fridge overnight and then puddle it on top of the cupcakes and then let it up set up in the fridge again. If you prefer a frosting that you can decorate with or that is thicker, may I recommend my favorite buttercream frosting?

1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature

3 to 3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1/2 cup mashed (and drained of the juice from the mashing) fresh strawberries

Place the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, 30 seconds. Stop the machine. Add three cups of the confectioners’ sugar and the drained, mashed strawberries. Blend the frosting on low until the sugar is incorporated, 1 minute. Increase the mixer speed to medium and blend the frosting until fluffy, 30 to 45 seconds longer, adding up to a 1/2 cup more sugar if needed to make a spreadable consistency.

Place a heaping tablespoon of frosting on each cupcake and swirl to spread it out with a short metal spatula or a spoon, taking care to cover the tops completely. Place in the refrigerator, uncovered, and chill until the frosting sets, 20 minutes. Sprinkle the cupcakes with sprinkles (if desired) and garnish right before serving with a sliced strawberry (Side Note– Do wait until right before serving as the berries will release their juices and cause your frosting to be runny, as mine were shortly after taking this photo!)

Do you have any special Valentine’s Day food traditions? I would love to hear what your favorite foods are!

New Year’s Goals: Banishing the Paper Clutter From Your Home

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

As I shared with you last week, I am working on getting happier this year through the help of, “The Happiness Project,” by Gretchen Rubin.

The first month of her book focuses on boosting energy and has several ways that you can do that.

I have been working on four specific goals for this month.

1. Going to bed on time.
2. Dealing with the nagging list of things to do.
3. Kicking clutter to the curb.
4. Returning to a good exercise routine.

Last week I shared with you my closet transformation. That little transformation helped me see the possibilities that our space could hold if I could let the clutter go. This past week I have taken not one, not two, not even three…No, I have taken SIX car trunks full of clutter to Goodwill to reclaim my home.

As each batch of clutter leaves my home, I am discovering  the potential of my home and the potential for my space to be exactly as I want it. It might not be a space that resembles the pages of Real Simple Magazine, but it brings me one step closer to the home I desire.

Ironically, I asked my husband if he had noticed the house potential peeking through the clutter after my sixth trip to the Goodwill drop-off box.  “Do you even know what is missing?” I asked. He looked around and said, “I guess I will figure it out when I try to find something.” Yes, we don’t even know what is missing which goes to show how little those items had meant to us.

Now that we had begun to see our house through the rubble, it was time to get a few organizing systems into place to get rid of the paper trail that makes its way into my home.

Finding a system that makes sense in your home and that you can maintain is the most important step towards transforming your paper clutter. What works for me might not work for you. Admittedly, I have tried more systems than I can count.

I have realized two things about myself and my paper clutter:

1) My system needs to be convenient- I would love to banish all papers down to to our home office. Walking down to the office though is not convenient though and that is why the clutter continues to build on my kitchen counters.

2) Everything must have a home- Half of the problem for me is not having a home for the papers in my life. I needed something that could house the chaos, yet I could find the papers at a moments notice.

I decided to use a magazine organizer that I had bought years ago that had housed dusty magazines. I bought a set of decorative file folders in the $1 section of Michael’s and created a folder for those troublesome papers.

The file folders you create might be different than mine, but this is what was needed to organize our family papers.

1.  Coupons– This coupon folder holds the newspaper coupons and coupons for places that we might like to dine out. I also tucked any gift cards that we might have in there so that I can grab them when we go out.

2. Emily & Ethan’s School– Each child has a folder where I can put the month’s current newsletter and school calendar.

3. Tax Information– As tax information comes through, I can add it to this folder along with any receipts that I need to keep on hand for tax deductions.

4. Amy’s Work– Check stubs from jobs I have done and reports from my ad network go in here.

5. Recipes/Crafts– I always find things in magazines or recipes that I want to try and end up losing them. Now I have a folder where I can keep these on hand for dinner or crafty inspiration.

6. Receipts– I try to tuck receipts for important items somewhere. What ends up happening though is that they immediately become misplaced. Now I know exactly where they are!

I decided to implement the same system down in my office where my cluttered desk resides.  As a work-at-home mom, I needed organization to do my job well. Again, I had another dusty organizer in my office that needed to be put to good use.

In my work file folders were these categories:

1. Current Projects– Anything that I am currently working on goes into this folder for easy grabbing.

2. Inspiration– I try to keep an inspiration folder on hand. It could be something I see in a magazine that would make the perfect article for our site, a recipe that I would like to try, or ideas from other bloggers that I want to keep in mind.

3. Product Reviews– If I request a product to review for The MotherLoot, the company usually sends a product sheet. Now it is all neatly tucked in a folder and the papers can be easily recycled once I am done with the review.

4. Contracts– This folder contains the contracts that I am under with different companies and can be referenced when needed.

The papers are still all there, but I have reclaimed my counters. What a beautiful thing! I couldn’t be more pleased or feel more organized now that everything has its home.

The next thing I needed to do was organize the kid’s art and special papers that I wanted to keep. I went to Walmart and got a two decorative banker boxes for a total of $6.88.

Each of the kids now have their own box to put their treasures in. These will go in their closets so they can save what they really love and then we will do an editing of the box in the summer for the next school year. It is just a big open box of possibility for them and will keep these papers from being strewn all over the house.

What systems have you found work for your family when it comes to organizing life’s papers? Please share or share links to your organizing systems. I would love some additional inspiration!

Amy’s Notebook 01.12.11

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

I can’t wait to try this recipe for homemade black bean burgers (@ The Farm Chicks)

I love this idea for using up leftover candy canes (@ Pleasant Home)

These individual cupcake stands are absolutely adorable (@ Blue Cricket Designs)

I am dying to knit this big herringbone cowl (@ the purl bee)

This sweet orange chicken would make a delicious weeknight meal (and it is also gluten-free!) (@ Jenn Cuisine)

I want to make this beautiful white wedding cake (@ Confessions of a Cookbook Queen)

This caprese panini would make a fabulous lunch (@ This Week for Dinner)

These tiramisu cupcakes would be a lovely way to end any dinner (@ Confections of a Foodie Bride)

I am in love with these photo coasters for a personalized gift (@ Du Buh Du)

This olive oil granola would make a fun & hearty snack (@ In Praise of Leftovers)

This budget bathroom makeover is fabulous (@ Centsational Girl)

These bakery-style cranberry streusel muffins look like a little bit of heaven (@ Cheeky Kitchen)

These slightly healthier cinnamon rolls would be a fun weekend treat too (@ Cooking With My Kid)

I like this easy and frugal idea for toting leftover soup for your lunches (@ the kitchn)

I love this DIY tiered serving tray for displaying your food (@ Skip to My Lou)

I am bookmarking this felt heart wreath again for a fun Valentine’s Day project (@ The Idea Room)

I am going to have to knit myself a little slip-stitched cozy for my Kindle (@ inspired)

This marshmallow cake border is genius (@ One Charming Party)

I am getting a ton of knitted gift inspiration from this post (@ Soule Mama)