Treat Yourself Sweetly and Support Ronald McDonald House Charities, Too

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with McDonald’s. All opinions remain 100% mine.

What’s better than a bowl of vanilla soft serve? How about vanilla soft serve blended into a thick, creamy shake?  But, what if that shake had a purpose? Even better! From March 11-17, you have the perfect excuse to head to a participating McDonald’s and indulge in any McCafé Shamrock product. For each McCafé Shamrock product sold during this time, McDonald’s will donate 25¢ to Ronald McDonald House Charities®.

These proceeds will help programs right here in New Orleans like the Ronald McDonald House®  which opened in 1983. Located on Canal Street, this 15 bedroom house serves as a home-away-from-home for an average of 85 families with children in the hospital each month. In addition, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile provides free immunizations for children in New Orleans and surrounding parishes and local McDonald’s owner/operators offer college scholarships to students in financial need who have demonstrated academic achievement, leadership and community involvement. I love that my purchases can directly benefit families in my own community!

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Looking for more ways to help? Support Ronald McDonald House Charities year-round by donating your change in the RMHC Donation Box or purchasing a $2.99 Happy Meal at participating McDonald’s in the greater New Orleans area. McDonald’s donates 1¢ to RMHC for every Happy Meal and Mighty Kids Meal sold. Check out this short video to see how these programs help those in need:

Head to a participating McDonald’s in the greater New Orleans area (let them know you are coming on Twitter!) and grab a Shamrock Shake for a cause!

Empowering Kids to Make Balanced Choices

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with McDonald’s. All opinions are 100% mine.

Let me walk you through a typical weekend conversation in my home:

Scenario 1: Kids claim to be starving. Kids offered a balanced snack of fruit and yogurt from our home refrigerator. Kids turn up nose and claim to no longer be hungry.

Scenario 2: Kids claim to be starving. Kids offered a trip to McDonald’s, get dressed and are in the car in record time. Kid 1 orders a Happy Meal and selects a Cutie as the side. Kid 2 orders a Happy Meal and orders Go-GURT as their side. Mom watches in disbelief (but is secretly happy for the minor victories in life).

McDonald's Happy Meal Box
McDonald’s, in partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, has committed to increasing customers’ access to fruit, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. As part of McDonald’s ongoing commitment to help make balanced choices fun and easy for families, I am happy to let you know that Cuties are back at McDonald’s for a limited time in Happy Meals and a la carte as a seasonal, fresh fruit side choice! I would say they have been quite successful because McDonald’s has served more than 2 billion packages of Apple Slices since 2004 and 59 million California- grown Cuties to date.

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Right here in New Orleans, there are 90 locally owned and operated restaurants proudly serving our community. Right now, your child can enjoy a Happy Meal for just $2.99 at participating McDonald’s in the greater New Orleans area. Don’t forget to grab a Cutie for yourself, too!

Want to try it for yourself? Enter below for a chance to win a $50 McDonald’s gift card!

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Work Smart, Not Hard with Cascade Platinum Action Pacs

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with Cascade. All opinions remain 100% my own.

Over the course of my life, my Dad has given many tidbits of advice. But the one that stands out the most (and I hear myself repeating to my own children) is, “Work Smart, Not Hard.” In my teen years, as most teenage girls do, I ignored most of his advice. But this one line really stuck with me before starting any project or homework assignment. Now, I still repeat this to myself before planning my day.

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A few months ago, I had the opportunity to watch this saying in action by learning how the scientists at Cascade developed the Cascade Platinum Action Pacs. This brand started over six decades ago and has been continually improving the product to provide the best consumer experience. Now you can work smart by skipping the sink (that’s right….NO pre-rinse or soak needed) and letting Cascade Platinum do the rest!

Cascade Platinum Action Pac
Of course, there are three things that contribute to the success of your dish load: the detergent, the dishwasher and the user.  Do you know how to properly load the dishwasher in order to give the detergent its best chance of success?

How to properly load the dishwasher

  1. Plates go on the bottom rack and should be separated by the prongs allowing water to reach each dish. Make sure the plates are not touching each other. Pro tip: Make sure tall items are not blocking the sprayer!
  2. Glasses should be placed on the top rack with the open side facing down.
  3. Utensils should be placed on the bottom rack in the provided holder but make sure there is space between each. If detergent can’t get to it, the utensil will not get clean!
  4. Don’t block the detergent dispenser with large bulky items.
  5. Place plastic items on the top rack to avoid melting.

Following these easy tips will allow Cascade Platinum to do the rest and minimize your time in the kitchen. Work smart, not hard!

 

Cuties are Coming!

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with McDonald’s. All opinions remain 100% mine.

I would love to tell you that each and every evening when my family arrives home from school or work, we sit down together for a well planned, technology-free, delicious dinner together. But, that would be a total lie. The reality is that we are a family of four on the go running from school to work and from dance class to the gymnastics mat. Because my husband and I work full time and have two daughters highly involved in extra-curricular activities, dinner can be a challenge. Luckily, there is a McDonald’s exactly halfway between their school and the dance studio.

McDonald's Happy Meal with Cuties

While convenience is of the utmost importance, I still want to be sure that I am feeding my girls a balanced meal to help get them through their busy schedules. I loved when McDonald’s introduced apple slices as a Happy Meal option in 2004 and now I am thrilled to learn that Cuties® will be available for a limited time this Spring both in Happy Meals and a la carte! Because we are often eating in the car on the way from one activity to another, I love that my daughters can slip the Cutie in their backpack and have fruit as a snack between classes.

Cuties California Clementines

Did you know that Cuties are an excellent source of vitamin C and deliver 1⁄4 cup of fruit? Plus, the Cuties offered at McDonald’s are supplied by Sun Pacific, a family-owned fruit grower in California and they generally take less than two weeks to arrive at the store once harvested in the field.

While our busy lives call for much planning and organization, I am thankful to have options such as McDonald’s Happy Meal with Cuties that won’t break the bank. In fact, participating McDonald’s in the New Orleans area are offering Happy Meals for just $2.99! See you at the drive-thru!

Cuties® is a registered trademark of Sun Pacific.

Improving my Cooking Skills with Morton Salt’s #NextDoorChef

This post was written by Experimental Mommy in partnership with Morton Salt. All opinions are 100% my own.

Being a New Orleans native, I am truly spoiled with the number of quality restaurants in my backyard. I have heard of acclaimed local chef Nina Compton‘s new restaurant, Compere Lapin, but regrettably, I have not yet made it there to sample the fare.  Imagine my surprise when this past Monday, I got the chance to meet Chef Compton in a literal backyard restaurant!

Next Door Chef: New Orleans
Have you heard of Morton Salt’s Next Door Chef? I was fortunate enough to join a number of guests at the filming of the next episode which was set right here in New Orleans. In this episode, a New Orleans resident is paired with Chef Compton to learn how to prepare a remarkable meal using different types of salt. The local’s home (and backyard) was transformed into a fully decorated pop-up restaurant and we were served an amazing meal along with tips on how to transform our own home cooked meals to gourmet dishes by using the correct type of salt.

Different Types of Morton Salt
At the event, I learned more about the benefits of using Morton Kosher and Sea Salt, versus the standard table salt when cooking. Did you know that you should use Morton Kosher Salt when rimming drink glasses like the Americano cocktail we sampled at the event? Or use Morton Coarse Sea Salt to add an artistic “pop” you and your dinner guests can see and taste? The larger than table salt crystals provide contrasting texture.  Turns out a lot of us are using table salt for almost all cooking purposes, which is a huge miss in the kitchen. But don’t forget to use the conversion chart if you decide to try out other types of Morton Salt in your recipes!

Next Door Chef cocktail
I can’t wait to share more about the cuisine we sampled and the tips we learned, but because I know you are all prepping for holiday cooking, make sure you check out Morton Salt’s Next Door Chef: Chicago (aired on November 10th) which was focused on improving your cooking techniques for the holidays. The second installment set in Nashville will debut in the Spring but I am super excited that the summer episode will showcase my hometown, New Orleans, which is known for amazing Cajun/Creole inspired cuisine.

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In the meantime, if you decide to host your own “Next Door Chef” party or have a recipe idea using Kosher or sea salt, post your photos on social media using #NextDoorChef.

Celebrating Friendsgiving with Cascade!

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with Cascade. All opinions remain 100% mine.

I am a lucky girl. In my 42 years, the fact that I have more blessings than I can count on my fingers and toes makes me wonder what I did to deserve it. Somewhere along the way, I learned that it is critical to my happiness to surround myself with people that lift me up, stand by my side, and love me unconditionally. Fortunately, I have a circle of friends that are like no other.

These women are fierce.

Mothers. Wives. Business owners. Scholars. Entrepreneurs. Teachers. Executives. Volunteers. Care-givers. Doctors. Nurses.

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I am beyond humbled that these women choose to be my friend! In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to celebrate our friendship and host a “Friends-giving” dessert party.  In the middle of the Thanksgiving hustle and bustle, I wanted to gift them each one hour to sit, relax and recharge before heading back to prepare for the day ahead.

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Because we are all chocolate lovers, I decided to make a “Molten Chocolate Pudding Cake” and serve with Vanilla Ice Cream. We had a whole hour to indulge our sweet tooth and just catch up with each other and laugh about old times. One word….heaven. There is something about giggling with your besties that recharges your soul, right?

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Thankfully, I didn’t have to spend time on the dishes because I was armed with Cascade Platinum! Did you know that your dishwasher actually works harder for you when you skip the pre-wash? In order to get the most optimum clean and shine, remember to skip the sink and use Cascade Platinum to save time and energy on your dirty dishes.

The dessert I made definitely left a sticky mess on the baking pan and mixing bowls. But, Cascade Platinum ActionPacs provide 3X more film-fighting power to clean through stuck-on food in one wash, making it the best clean you can get. Sounds too good to be true, right? My guests were definitely skeptical.

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After teaching them the correct way to load a dishwasher (we even taught the kids!), we simply inserted one Cascade Platinum ActionPac and let the magic happen. To all of our amazement, the dishes came out SPOTLESS with absolutely NO pre-rinsing. Thanks Cascade Platinum for giving me back valuable time to spend with my amazing circle of friends!

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Want to try it for yourself? Print this $0.50 off Cascade Platinum coupon to save on the best clean you can imagine! Plus, enter below for a chance to win a year supply to Cascade Dishwasher Cleaner and cascade Platinum samples (five winners will be randomly chosen)!

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Heating Up Dinner Without Heating Up the House #SeetheLite

This review and giveaway was made possible by iConnect Influencer Management and Litehouse Foods. I was compensated for my participation in this campaign, but all opinions are 100% mine.

With the heat here in New Orleans hitting 97 degrees, we have been getting quite creative with ways to stay cool. A dip in the pool, a mister fan in the backyard, a delicious sno-ball for dessert and absolutely NO turning on the oven mid-day.

While the heat has not stopped our summertime picnics, finding recipes to feed the masses without heating the house has been a challenge. Not to mention, I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is outside enjoying the pool. Thankfully, my household has finally seen the light this July thanks to Litehouse Foods.

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I had the opportunity to try the Litehouse Foods Homestyle Ranch dressing over the 4th of July holiday, and this creamy ingredient helped me infuse big flavor with minimal time in the kitchen. All of our guests loved the Southwestern Pasta Salad but more importantly, my girls are eating better with a dressing that stays fresh from the refrigerator section.

What You Need:

  • 1/2 cup Litehouse Foods Homestyle Ranch Dressing
  • 1 chopped red pepper
  • 1 cup fresh corn
  • 1 cup fresh salsa
  • 1 package of pasta
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, cubed

How to Make It:

  • Prepare pasta per package instructions.
  • Cool pasta and add pepper, corn, salsa, cheese and ranch dressing.
  • Combine together and cool for one hour.

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Want to try it? Enter my giveaway for two FREE Litehouse Foods coupons below and if you make it, let me know how much you loved it! Enjoy!

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Girls Night Out at SoBou New Orleans

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with SoBou in New Orleans. All opinions remain 100% my own.

Earlier this week, I was smack in the middle of the chaos of hosting my own blog conference. For those of you that have ever planned a live event, wedding, conference or birthday party, you know how overwhelming and downright stressful they can be. Fortunately, I run this conference with some of my very best friends so when the event is over, I look forward to regrouping with the team and enjoying just being together.

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This year, we had the opportunity to do just that at a much needed team dinner at SoBou in New Orleans. As you can imagine, New Orleans has no shortage of restaurants but SoBou has been on my bucket list for a while now.  As any good New Orleanian knows, any establishment created by the Commander’s Family of Restaurants has to be top notch.

As we developed the SoBou concept, cocktails and the warmth of a saloon or tavern environment were very much on our mind, but our saloon had to have serious food – dishes you find yourself craving. For us, the food is always center stage, but stage right are the cocktails and stage left is the wine.

SoBou definitely grabs major points for ambiance. We were seated in The Apothecary and I was instantly entranced by the wall of glass bottles. The decor, while feeling upscale, is welcoming and not intimidating in the least.

Our waitress could not have been more attentive and personable (and patient). She led us through the menu, suggested her favorite dishes and offered her expertise on the wide array of cocktails. What I loved about the SoBou menu is that it offers a “Small Bites” section which goes way beyond the typical saloon appetizer. While the bites may be small, the flavor is certainly big. Can you say Sweet Potato Beignets? These menu items are perfect if you want to have a few cocktails and try a wide variety of flavors.

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Moving from the small bites, our table chose a few different dishes from the “Big Bites” section but I will admit that Ellen’s Chili Brined Pork Tenderloin looked absolutely amazing. But if your party is super hungry, SoBou also offers Family Style meals to pass around the table, too!

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Between the drinks, appetizers, entrees and dessert (we had the Bananas Foster on the Half Shell), we dined in SoBou for almost three hours. But it was honestly the shortest three hours of my life because they were filled with laughter, delicious food and impeccable service.  If you are looking for not only a meal, but an experience, head to SoBou in New Orleans!

Learning to Love Veggies with Litehouse Foods #SeetheLite

Litehouse Foods is an iConnect: Influencer Management client.

I don’t typically eat vegetables. Well, not willingly anyway. So when I was invited to Philadelphia last week to learn how to lighten recipes for the July 4th weekend with Litehouse Foods, I was excited that their yummy dressing would be involved. Because frankly, I knew the veggies were coming.

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Knowing a food demo would be given by a registered dietician, I was correct in assuming our good ol’ green friends would be key to the menu. But much to my surprise, the cauliflower buffalo bites demonstrated looked nothing like a vegetable!

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If you’re still with me-I could easily pretended to be a veggie-lover so how about some props for honesty?–and I can’t get past the fact than my favorite veggie is now considered a starch (freakin’ corn) then check this out. Litehouse Foods has an entire recipe section on their website for “buffalo” foods that pair nicely with Litehouse Blue Cheese dressing.

AND I ate (and enjoyed) kale salad at the dinner. Perhaps there is still hope for me yet?

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I also learned that Litehouse Foods dressings can be found in the refrigerator section where “it belongs.” I tried both their Blue Cheese and Ranch dressings and later discovered why they were so good. One word. Buttermilk!

The event was a great way to catch up with new bloggers and meet with representatives from the brand which is always a pleasure. While the company is owned now by employees, Litehouse Food began as a family-owned business in Idaho. I love a brand with roots that makes it obvious the product is a quality one that is created with love.

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Thank you Litehouse Foods for the opportunity to learn about your dressings and for allowing me to spread the word. And for having cookie dough desserts on the menu.

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Guest post by Cecelia Mecca. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @CeceliaMecca.

Fourth of July Dessert: Banana Split Cake

If my house was burning down, there are a few things I would grab. Family first of course, and then pictures, but I’d likely risk my life for my cookbooks. I have dozens of them, and I love them all. Down South, we have “Church cookbooks” which consist of recipes from all the old Grannies and Mee-Maws in the church. These are my favorites (Sorry, Emeril) because every single recipe submitted is good. No, really. Think about it….if were asked to submit a recipe for something, you’d send in the one everyone loves, right? So, I have six of them from six different churches, and I use them all the time. Recently, I had to make a dessert and decided to consult the church cookbooks and guess what I noticed? Every single one of them had a recipe for Banana Split Cake. Every. Single. One.

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Don’t believe the church Grannies? Listen to me. Banana Split Cake could go down as one of my favorite desserts ever for several reasons. One, you don’t have to turn on the oven. Two, it’s easy ingredients and easy to make. Three, it feeds a crowd, perfect for your 4th of July BBQ. Last, did I mention it’s delicious?

Now, the weird thing is about all the church lady versions of the Banana Split Cake is that each one has raw eggs in it. And, I have no shame in admitting that I have eaten it (and made it) that way many times and I am still alive to tell about it and eat other things that are bad for me. But, salmonella, blah blah blah so I decided to play with a few different versions of it, omit the egg, and eliminate the possibility of someone spending a weekend camped out in the bathroom. This way works just fine and you’ll never miss the raw egg. That’s the weirdest sentence I ever typed.

Take a look at the ingredients:

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 stick melted butter
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 8 oz Cool Whip, thawed
  • bananas (about 4)
  • jar of maraschino cherries
  • 1/2 – 1 cup chopped pecans (or any other nuts you like)
  • 20 oz can crushed pineapple, drained

Directions:

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1. Mix graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 stick melted butter until well combined. Resist temptation to eat all of it right out of the bowl -you need it for the crust. Press this mixture into the bottom of a greased 9×13 pan. Put in the fridge while you do the rest so the crust firms up.
2. With an electric mixer, blend cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Resist temptation again to eat all of it right out of the bowl, but you have my full permission to lick the beaters. No eggs, remember?
3. Spread the cream cheese mixture you didn’t eat on top of the graham cracker crust.
4. Slice the banana into circles (thickness is up to you, but not too thick) and line those puppies up like soldiers on top of the cream cheese layer.

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5. Spread the crushed pineapple on top of the bananas.
6. Spread the Cool Whip on top of that. If you want to be all fancy pants and use real whipped cream you can but the church ladies will tell you Cool Whip works just fine.
7. Sprinkle the chopped nuts on top and add the cherries.
8. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

If you want to mix it up a little, you can. You can use cut up strawberries with the bananas and pineapple, or in place of the cherries. You can also omit the nuts and add chocolate chips or drizzle chocolate syrup but I promise it’s better without chocolate and I can’t believe I just said that. Serves about 12 people.