Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cheddar and Italian Cracker Snacks

Cheddar and Italian Cracker Snacks

Who remembers these? Way back in the 80's we were all making ranch flavored pretzel snacks and oyster cracker snacks for the holidays. Nothing new at all, but for this version I've changed up the flavor in a very delicious and slightly healthier way.

In lieu of the usual amount of oil and packet of ranch dressing, I've used a packet of Italian dressing and a new and wonderful find, Cabot Cheddar Shake! Powdered Premium Cheddar Cheese. Wow, is this stuff ever good and addictive.

We, of course, tried it first on popcorn and it took everything we had not to make bowl after bowl after bowl. After that I shook it on potato wedges before baking and fell in love with that, as well. Then the kids reminded me of the ranch cracker snacks and I got to thinking (not always a safe bet) and decided cheddar and Italian seasoning would be awesome. I was right.

These are so easy to make and use far less oil than the traditional version and I have two methods for making them. One is the usual oil and seasoning packet and the other is a lighter option using fat-free Italian dressing. Try both and see what you think. Either way, we like to bake ours until they begin to brown for added flavor.

Cheddar and Italian Cracker Snacks
Makes 10 cups
Hands-On Time: 5 minutes
Ready In: 35-40 minutes


20 to 24 ounces oyster crackers (usually sold in bags of 10 to 12 ounces)
1 packet dry Italian dressing seasoning mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup Cabot Cheddar Shake! Powdered Premium Cheddar Cheese

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

1. Place crackers in a large bowl and pour oil over all. Reach in with your hands (or use a spoon) and mix them up well until all are coated.
2. Sprinkle the Italian seasoning over the crackers and again mix up well until all crackers are lightly coated with seasoning.
3. Sprinkle powdered cheese over crackers and mix well.
4. Spread onto a baking sheet or two so you have an even layer of crackers.
5. Bake for 15 minutes and stir once. Bake for another 15 minutes until beginning to brown lightly.
6. Remove from oven, stir and cool completely. You can add another two tablespoons or so of cheese at this time if desired. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

*You can use 1/3 cup of fat-free Italian dressing in place of oil and Italian seasoning for a lighter version.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Butternut Squash, Potato and Cheddar Mash

In my family we have mashed potato lovers and butternut squash lovers, and those who love both. This dual mash with sharp cheddar is so good you'll want to make it for more than just holidays. It's savory-sweet with a tang from sour cream and cheddar that just puts it over the top on flavor. Serve with your favorite protein and a heaping serving of green veggies.

Butternut Squash, Potato and Cheddar Mash
Serves 8

2 pounds potatoes - peeled, cubed and cooked until tender
2 pounds butternut squash - peeled, seeded and roasted until soft
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 stick butter
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 1/2 cups finely shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese

1. Drain potatoes well and combine with cooked squash in a large pot. Add butter and once it melts, mash well.
2. Add milk, sour cream, salt and pepper and mix with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy.
3. Fold in cheese, mound in a serving dish, sprinkle with extra cheese and serve immediately.

*To cook butternut squash, peel and seed and cut into 1-inch chunks. Lay on a roasting pan and sprinkle with olive oil. Roast at 450 degrees F for 20 - 25 minutes or until soft and just beginning to caramelize.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Kids Quest at Sands Bethlehem Review and Giveaway

We have a winner! With each comment given a number in the order in which they were received, the random number generator gave me #2, which is Bobbie Butz! Congratulations to our winner and thanks to all who entered.

*Please note: This Giveaway is lightning fast! It will end on Thursday, December 4th at 11:59 PM EST so the winner will have time to use the Kids Quest Certificate. See instructions below.

All Smiles at Kids Quest!

I don't know about the rest of the parenting world, but for me the biggest obstacle in going out on dates has been childcare. There are many qualified sitters out there, but with the amount of children we have it's not always easy to get a sitter who's willing to deal with them.

Now that most of them are older and we really only need a sitter for two, that presents its own challenge. Sometimes the older kids are willing to babysit and sometimes they have things going on that keep them from being able to.

Kids Quest is the perfect solution for date nights. It's convenient, the kids are well taken care of, and most of all, they don't see it as having a sitter, but more like having their own night out and it's close to the same cost of an in-home sitter.

Last night we took advantage of the services at Kids Quest and dropped off the 10 and 8 year-old kids. I had registered ahead of time online (very easy!) and so all my information was already there. I signed the kids in, they were tagged front and back with labels that matched a bar coded label put on my own ID. 

The kids removed there shoes (this is a socks-only play area) and off they went. They looked a little apprehensive at first, but by the time I got back for them just under two hours later the first thing Lara said was, "I want to live here!" She had been painting a picture and was up to her elbows in paint - so it's a good idea to send along an old shirt or smock should the kids decide to do crafts.

Ian spent most of his time watching a movie and playing video games and the two of them had their own "dinner" from the Quest Cafe and when I picked them up I paid for their meals and stay. It was a very simple procedure and they were thrilled to be there and having fun while the rest of us went upstairs to Emeril's Italian Table for dinner.

Here is all you need to know about Kids Quest at Sands Bethlehem:
Kids Quest is now officially open to drop-off your children at our exciting new center. You can then enjoy any of the casino property amenities or shop at the Outlets at Sands. 
Play Time For Kids- Free Time For You!
Kids Quest is designed to be a place where kids are physically and mentally engaged with age-appropriate play-events, helping them grow happily! Parents love Kids Quest because they can entrust their children to our care with complete confidence-allowing parents to use their free time to better handle busy schedules, cope with frenetic lifestyles, or just take a break and relax and re-energize. 
Kids Quest Drop In Process
Like Kids Quest-Sands Bethlehem on Facebook
Monday-Thursday 10AM-11PM
Friday 10AM-1AM
Saturday 10AM-1AM
Sunday 10AM-11PM

As for Emeril's Italian Table, this time was just as good as the last visit. Our servers were attentive and professional and the food was excellent. We took 4 of the 7 kids with us and they all said they wanted to go back sometime soon.

This time we sampled the Classic Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken, Linguine Alfredo, Shrimp Scampi and Angel Hair Pasta, Homemade Lasagna, Chicken Parmesan and the Eberly Farms Chicken Plate. Wow. Not only is the food consistently delicious, it doesn't seem to matter what you order, it's always perfection.

The Eberly Farms Chicken Plate - this was fantastic!

Shrimp Scampi with Angel Hair Pasta
Homemade Lasagna

The Eberly Farms Chicken Plate was mine and I was in food heaven after one bite of the brussels sprouts with pancetta. They were creamy and smoky and paired so well with the saffron risotto. The chicken was flavorful and there wasn't one dry bite to the entire breast. 

We're planning to go for Christmas Eve dinner, as well and I can't wait to try something new and wonderful! Now, here is YOUR chance to visit Emeril's Italian Table and make use of the services at Kids Quest, as well. 

**Simply leave a comment here and you're entered to win! Remember, this contest ends on Thursday, December 4th at 11:59 PM so enter SOON!**

Here is what you will receive, and let me tell you, the Sands goodies are so fun to have - the umbrella is quality and smart looking, the water bottle has a unique design and the kids absolutely love the puzzle box.

1 Emeril's Italian Table $75 Gift Certificate (expires 7/31/15)
2 Kids Quest Certificates (expires 12/30/14)
1 Sands Bethlehem Umbrella
1 Sands Bethlehem Puzzle Box
1 Sands Bethlehem Eco Water Bottle

*Please note: I was given gift certificates directly from Sands Bethlehem specifically for the purpose of reviewing Kids Quest and the restaurant and I was more than happy to oblige. Please note that the benefit of having my kids time at Kids Quest and my meal paid for does not in any way influence my review.