Crock pot carnitas

It is so peaceful out right now. Even with the wind, there’s something about the quiet right before a storm that’s both eerie and relaxing all at the same time.

Beautiful.

This weekend was one of those weekends that somehow miraculously ended up being the perfect balance of work and leisure.

Friday was zoo day with all four kids. The weather was amazing for it! We went the opposite route we usually take, which put us by some animals that we rarely take the time to see (wolves, kangaroos, and bears. Oh my!).

Saturday will go down in infamy as the day that I single-handedly fixed the dryer. All by myself! If you follow me, you may already know that a few days ago, my dryer stopped heating. I woke up feeling particularly determined and capable that day, and decided that instead of calling my dad (my usual SOS call when anything breaks), I would fix it myself. Pulled up a video online, dismantled the entire thing, and found the problem- a blown heating element. So, after many a call to local stores to discover the part out of stock, I gave in, ordered it online, and hung a clothesline in the yard. In retrospect, I had been meaning to hang the line for a while. So it’s good that it’s finally up. I love the smell of line dried linens, don’t you? Anyway, the piece came on Saturday. So I installed that bad boy, put everything back together, and turned it on.

SUCCESS!

Like new for $25 and a diet coke. Not too shabby.

This weekend saw lots of bumming around in between yard work and laundry catch up. We took a ride out to Elegant Farmer for cheese curds and their caramel apple pie in a bag (it’s THE best), and ended up down by the lakefront today. Enjoyed the weather and a picnic lunch.

Batman. Ina Batman hoodie. Who'd've thunk?

Batman. Ina Batman hoodie. Who’d’ve thunk?

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I love it when a weekend falls into place.

So this upcoming week brings two of my personal favorite holidays.

First up – Star Wars Day.

I’m a huge nerd at heart. Always have been. Always will be. Needless to say, May 4th, Star Wars Day, is one of my favorite unofficial holidays. Right up there with Pi Day (3/14…get it?) and Talk Like a Pirate Day (that one’s some time in September). A Star Wars movie marathon will be in order, likely with drinks from Hans Solo cups and snacks like Death Star-fruit, wookie cookies, and light sabers (chocolate dipped pretzel rods. Easy peasy).

Immediately following Star Wars Day is an excuse to eat my favorite kinds of food: Cinco de Mayo. Ole! Since my kids are little, we’ll be celebrating in this year, complete with margaritas after bedtime. And churros. Can’t forget those.

So today, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, I thought I’d share my recipe for crockpot carnitas. Since this year’s celebration falls on a Tuesday, this slow cooker version will be the perfect way to celebrate when you finally make it home from work. Low-maintenance and delicious.

Tacos, anyone?

Tacos, anyone?

I used just a small pork tenderloin to make this recipe. Because the meat is shredded, a little goes a LONG way. Hubby and the kids and I ate ourselves full, and I still have enough leftovers to make taquitos tomorrow. If you think you’ll want more though, you could easily just buy a bigger tenderloin and not have to change anything about this recipe.

Undressed

Undressed

A word about shredding. There are two ways you could go about this. You can use the tried and true fork method. Pull the meat with the two forks. It’ll shred nicely since it’s been slow simmering in that delicious citrusy broth. Or, if you’re like me and think that’s tedious…throw it in you KitchenAid mixer. Paddle attachment. Low speed. 20 seconds. Boom. Done.

Shredded with the KitchenAid

Shredded with the KitchenAid

This pork is great in anything- tacos, taquitos, enchiladas…I even like it on Tex-Mex salads or just on buns as a sandwich.

Adios, taco!

Adios, taco!

So enjoy the next two days. Nerd out. In Spanish. Then relax on Wednesday. Revenge of the Sixth…you’re allowed.

Crockpot Carnitas

1 to 1 1/2 pound pork tenderloin

2 small yellow onions, quartered

3 peeled garlic cloves

1/2 can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

1 cup water

1 Tablespoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients except pork tenderloin into crockpot. Stir until mixed. Add pork tenderloin.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Shred with fork or in mixer. Serve warm.

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Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Can we just take a minute and talk about what a beautiful Friday it was? I didn’t even care that¬†my dryer is still broken (no not because of my fixing skills…the part is on order). Laundry went out on the clothesline. Kids went to the zoo and ran around the yard. I got some yard work in and saw the sunshine without needing a jacket.

Beautiful, beautiful Friday.

So before I gear up to start doing all things Mother’s Day inspired, I figured I should probably finish up with the appetizer recipes from Bug’s 2nd birthday. Which brings us without any further ado to *drum roll please*………

Chicken parmesan meatballs.

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OMG.

Can we talk about how great chicken parmesan is on its own? All of the comfort of a plate of spaghetti with this delicious cheesy perfectly seasoned piece of chicken…not much could improve on it.

Except to make it into a meatball.

I did this as an appetizer along with the sriracha meatballs. That being said, this would be GREAT as a main dish as well. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I do!

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Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

1 lb chicken breast or ground chicken

1/3 c. Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

1 egg

1/3 c parmesan cheese + more for serving

1/4 c. spaghetti sauce + more for serving

2 tsp italian seasoning

salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

If using chicken breast, cut into chunks and process in food processor until coarsely chopped and resembling ground meat.

In a large bowl, mix together meatball ingredients by hand until just blended. Add more breadcrumbs if mixture is too moist.

Form meatballs by hand or with small cookie scoop, making meatballs uniform in size. Place on parchment paper on cookie sheet. Bake meatballs for 15-20 minutes or until cooked though.

Toss with extra spaghetti sauce and serve immediately or keep warm in crockpot.

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Mom vs. Dryer

Woke up thinking it would be a nice, easy day. No extra kids. Just my two. We were gonna do some chores, go for a walk to the park, and wait for Hubby to get home with our newest family member (we’re bringing home a new cat today that a friend can’t keep).

Of course it didn’t work out that way.

5:45 am. Go to remove the comforter I had thrown in the dryer last night so that laundry can begin. Except it’s still wet.

Uh oh.

Turn it on another cycle and confirm my suspicion – my dryer has no heat.

So much for easy.

I guess I’m feeling extra stubborn today, but I’m determined to fix it myself. My dad would come fix it instantly of course when he gets off of work. But I don’t want to wait. And, more importantly, I want to feel like I did it.

Thank goodness for Google.

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So Batman and I found a repair tutorial and got to work dismantling the dryer.

I don’t know if you’ve ever taken one apart, but there’s a ton of screws. And it’s a lot dustier than I thought.

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I was cruising along fine until a bracket decided to fight me. My mom got that pic in frustration. Dryer- 1, me-0.

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It was quite the victory when I got the bracket I needed out. Take that heater element housing unit.

Dryer-1, me-1

And now….it’s half time. Because I need to find a multimeter to go any further. And because Bug decided she was impatient and would make a cake by herself.

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But mostly because it’s supposed to be my easy day. And I want to take a walk with my kids to the park, dammit.

Back at it later. Wish me luck!

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Best Behavior (FREE PDF chart printables)

My kids are READY for summer.

My house, on any given day, generally has at least 4 children. All under the age of 5. So it can get a little sketchy by the time the warm weather rolls around as they get sick of sharing with each other. So today, we started charting our behavior.

First up-

Rainbow Behavior Chart

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This one’s pretty basic. 6 words describing their behavior. Increasing in goodness. Each child has their own clothes pin that can be moved up and down to show where they’re at. Red means it’s time for a time out and a do over to try again. Pretty simple and self-explanatory for preschoolers. We find it effective here because the kids get a visual of where they’re at and like to strive to be on the top of the chart.

Sweet Things Jar

This is where their good behavior earns a reward. We took a big mason jar and set it on the counter. The idea is to fill the mason jars with little pom-pom balls. They can do this one of two ways here.

First is finishing out the day on the top half of our rainbow behavior chart. For my kids, this means by bedtime. For my borrowed littles, it’s when their parents come to pick them up.

The second way they can earn their poms is by doing “sweet things” for each other. Any time I see them doing something extra nice, like sharing or helping one another, they can add a pom-pom to the jar.

Once the jar is full, they will have earned a trip to a play zone of their choice. We’re working for Monkey Joes this time around.

Chore Chart

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The “R” bugged me too. It’s been fixed.

Batman is to the point where we feel he’s ready to start having some more responsibilities. Enter his chore chart. He’s only 4, so his list is pretty simple. Each day he has some basic things to accomplish, like tooth brushing, helping with dishes, and earning top behaviors on his rainbow chart (see how they all tie in?). He gets stickers in his squares every time he accomplishes his task. At the end of the week, if his chart is all filled, he earns $1.50. He wants to save his money for more Lego Mixels!

I’ve attached the PDFs to both of my charts here. Feel free to customize for your child and utilize! ūüôā

PDF Chore chart

PDF Behavior Rainbow

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Easiest Pasta Salad Ever

When I dropped Batman off at playschool today, he was in tears.

I’m not talking a lone tear glistening down his cheek as he wistfully glanced back over his shoulder and waved. Oh no. We’re talking full-blown freak out. This was totally new for him. Maybe he was tired from Bug’s birthday this weekend?

I knew it was going to be tough when he got up this morning. Hubby had left for work early, and Batman was in tears.

“What’s wrong, buddy?”

Batman-“Daddy *sob* didn’t say good-bye to me *sobsob* and I didn’t get to give him a hug and kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiss.”

So, we called Hubby at work and that seemed to be the end of it.

Until we got to playschool.

Besides Rose, Ari the other little girl that I regularly watch while her parents are at work. (Ari, Rose, and Batman all go to the same playschool 2 days a week). Today, while we were all climbing out of the van, Ari asked to hold my hand. So I shifted Bug on my hip and grabbed her hand. Any other day, this act would have been acceptable….

Not today.

Batman was again in tears. “I wanted to hold your hand!” He was heartbroken. No amount of reasoning or rearranging so that everyone could hold hands could bring calm to the injustice he felt was done to him. For the first time, I walked into school with a crying little boy.

Now, I know that I have been INCREDIBLY lucky to have thus far avoided a public meltdown. Batman was just not really a crier with stuff like this. So when it happened today, I was completely unprepared. We sat down at the tables in the lobby and I tried¬†everything¬†to calm him down enough to go to class. Hugs. Reasoning. Distraction. Flat out bribery. Nothing was working. Rose’s mom stepped in and tried to help. Nothing. The boy was inconsolable. By this point the lament had switched to “but mommy I don’t want to miss you”. Ooofta. Right in the feels. Eventually, the teacher and I were able to get him to walk to the bubbler and make his way into the classroom.

So I left. Fast. Before he changed his mind.

I felt terrible. Like I had abandoned him in his time of need. What sort of monster does that?

I knew, of course, that rationally I had done the right thing. Emotionally though? Train wreck. So I called to check on him right when I got home. The teacher presumably thought I was nuts…I only live 3 minutes away by car if I don’t hit any street lights. The verdict? He was perfectly fine. Tears and mom completely forgotten and schooling everyone on how he learned that cheetahs are the fastest land animal but peregrine falcons are even faster.

Now there’s my Batman.

Okay, so: pasta salad.

Cool, tangy goodness.

Cool, tangy goodness.

I love this pasta salad because 1) it’s delicious, and 2) it takes no effort beyond chopping and stirring to achieve such deliciousness. It’s a great dish to make while you’re running around making 10 other things for a picnic or a party. It’s pasta salad, so it’s enough to feed a crowd, and since it’s not mayo based, it’s perfect for any outdoor events where you might otherwise worry about spoilage.

The dressing that I use in this recipe is Olive Garden’s Italian dressing. It’s delicious. I buy it from Sam’s club in a two pack. If you can’t find it, feel free to sub in another Italian dressing, but this one is worth the hunt.

Zucchini and tomato pair perfectly

Zucchini and tomato pair perfectly

The veggies I added were what I happened to have on hand. Really though-throw in any damn veggie you like. When I have it, I love to throw in broccoli and yellow squash as well. Anything that’s in season or on sale, go for it. It’ll be just as fantastic.

Easiest Pasta Salad Ever

1 box farfalle pasta

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1 zucchini, quartered and chopped

1 can black olives, sliced

1 large carrot, shaved into bite sized pieces

1/4 c. +1/3 c. Olive Garden Italian Dressing

1/4 c. shredded parmesan cheese

Black pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to directions on box. Drain and toss with 1/4 c. dressing. Cool to room temperature.

Toss pasta with vegetables, parmesan, and dressing and pepper to taste. Chill before serving.

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Sriracha Chicken Meatballs

I LOVE appetizers. How could you not really? They’re the best part about birthday¬†parties. And sporting events. And showers. And nights out. Really, anytime there’s an opportunity for an appetizer- gimme.

Every time I go out to dinner with my mom, she always asks: “Appetizer or dessert?”

Uh…appetizer. Duh. I never understood people who chose dessert. I guess I never had that strong of a sweet tooth. I can easily pass on a plate of cookies or a piece of cake. Put a tray of taco dip in front of me though and it’s all over.

So yesterday was Bug’s 2nd birthday, and due to a combination of forgetfulness, laziness, and, let’s be real, a tight pocket-book this week, I decided to experiment using ingredients I had in the house.

I had 2 pounds of chicken breasts.

I didn’t really want to cut them up into pieces or shred them into a filling. My head immediately went to meatballs. I’m Italian. I can’t help it. Start with what you know, right? I was craving spicy, so sriracha chicken meatballs sounded perfect! I’m a terrible judge of spicy though- I like it HOT. So, to appease those with tamer palettes, I decided to split the chicken up and make another flavor- chicken parmesan. I told you- Italian. It’s a right history and gene pool I’m up against. There’s no point in fighting it.

Delicious.

Delicious.

So since I was using what I had at home, I started by figuring out how to get my chicken to be more ground in consistency. I don’t have a meat grinder (hey Hubby- hint hint- they make one for the Kitchen Aid. Please and thank you!), but I DO have a food processor. So I cut the chicken into chunks and gave it a whirl in there. Is it¬†technically¬†ground? No. It’s more of a coarse chop. But who cares! It worked! And probably was a better cut of meat than would be in the ground stuff from the store. So I went with it. Feel free to just buy ground though. I would have. But I’m poor this week. Darn bills.

You could easily play around with the spice level of this recipe by leaving out the chili powder or skipping the sriracha in the crock pot step. Or amp it up with more sriracha. I would have for myself. But I had to be a good hostess and share.

Little tasty angel bites all in a row.

Little tasty angel bites all in a row.

I didn’t want to though. They were yummy. I had them reheated for lunch today. Just as good.

I served them with ranch and blue cheese dressing. They were a hit! I made my meatballs a bit smaller than I would for regular old spaghetti meatballs since they were an appetizer. So slightly less than a small cookie scoop full. This made me roughly 35 meatballs with 1 pound of meat. Feel free to make them bigger; just give them a little more time to bake, and be prepared to have them fought over.

Sriracha Chicken Meatballs

1 pound chicken breast or ground chicken

1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

1 egg

1/4 cup sriracha sauce + more for serving

2 Tbsp ranch dressing + more for serving

1 tsp chili powder

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

If using chicken breast, cut into chunks and process in food processor until coarsely ground.

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients until just combined. Add more breadcrumbs if too moist.

Form meatballs by hand or with cookie scoop, being sure to keep them uniform in size. Place meatballs on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake 15-20 minutes until cooked through.

Place in small crockpot with 1/3 cup sriracha and 1/2 cup water. Toss to coat. Keep warm until ready to eat. Serve with side of ranch or blue cheese for dipping.

Makes approx 35 meatballs.

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Bug Turns 2

How is it Monday already?

This weekend was busy, busy, BUSY! Bug turned 2 on Saturday! Which still just seems crazy to me. It just sneaks up on you, you know? I feel like she should still be this little teeny baby. But she’s not. She’s this vivacious, spirited, strong-willed, sometimes sassy, beautiful little girl.

I hit the kid jackpot. Twice.

So yesterday was her party.

I don’t know why, but I completely spaced on the fact that I should probably make food said party until the morning of. Duh. Not really sure what my brain was doing with that one. So, it being 6am when I came to this realization, I wasn’t feeling ambitious enough for the whole shoes/pants/grocery store thing, and I decided to see what I could make with what I had in the house.

Kinda like Chopped.

But in jammies.

It’s how I roll.

I was quite impressed with myself. And my cupboard stocking. With no game plan and no recipes, by 10 AM I had made:

Mexican Hummus (if hummus and guacamole had a baby, this would be it)

Pasta salad

Grilled cheese and tomato soup shooters (these admittedly weren’t prepared by 10am. But the brain child happened by then, so I’m counting it)

Chili dip (with mix from Chugwater Chili¬†that my friend picked up for me on a trip to Wyoming. It’s delicious)

Chicken parmesan meatballs

Sriracha meatballs.

BAM.

Everything turned out delicious. The meatballs especially. I’ll post the recipes later today.

All of my family brought an app as well, so we had quite a spread going. It was delicious. I love parties where we don’t worry about an official meal. It’s more laid back. And really, the apps are always my favorite part. But you always worry about filling up on them and not getting to dinner. Problem solved!

Bug loved her party. She was spoiled: Lots of regular clothes and princess dress up clothes, Toy Story toys (she’s obsessed with Buzz Lightyear), books, and Little People. The cake turned out great (also Buzz at her insistence). By the end of the night, she had passed out in her princess dress and I was ready to pass out on the couch.

Buzz Lightyear to the rescue!

Buzz Lightyear to the rescue!

Yellow cake with white chocolate buttercream and raspberry filling. Yum

Yellow cake with white chocolate buttercream and raspberry filling. Yum

Back to reality today.

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Birthday gifts….

Bug got a 7 piece percussion set from Rose for her birthday. I’ve had two 4-year-olds and a¬†2-year-old holding a jam session in my living room all morning and all I can think is¬†Why does Rose’s mom hate me?

Headache-in-a-kit!

Headache-in-a-kit!

The polite thing to do would be to include an apology note in the wrapping. Along with xanax and a bottle of wine. Lol.

Oy vey!

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Daddy Love

I just had to share this bit of adorable with you all today.

My babies

My babies

That would be my kiddos, Batman and Bug, clinging to Hubby’s legs as he attempts to leave for work. They giggle as he walks across the kitchen with them held fast to his feet. They love their daddy so much.

Thank Heavens for good fathers. They raise great kids.

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Crockpot Swedish Meatballs

Okay you guys…I’m a little freaked out.

My house is SO. QUIET.

Hubby took Batman to his taekwondo class tonight, and on a whim, he decided to take Bug with him, too.

Do you know what this means? I am alone. COMPLETELY ALONE. In my house! Not in the car running errands…not for half of my shower…not getting dressed upstairs while chaos ensues downstairs…GENUINELY alone. All by myself, in my own house. This¬†literally has not happened¬†ONCE since having kids. For real. I may have had some alone time in a room, or the kids may have been somewhere, but I’ve never been genuinely alone – without kids AND hubby – since Batman was born.

It’s amazing.

And I hate it.

But mostly,¬†I don’t know what to do with myself.

Well, except for the wine. That part is under control. “Hello, Red…we meet again”.

I¬†should be cleaning. Or taking the dog for a walk. Or relaxing in the tub. SOMETHING. But after they left, I poured some wine, sat on the couch, and I’ve just been absorbing the silence. IT’S SO WEIRD. I can’t even will myself to move for fear that I might be hallucinating and my center of gravity shifting may make reality come crashing back in.

Wow.

So today was really strange weather. I swear…I saw snow. What’s up with that?! And then it turned to sleet and rain. Overall it was just gloomy.

GREAT crock pot meal weather.

So today I decided to make it my meat day for the week. I had meatballs in the freezer and had been craving Swedish meatballs ever since I had mentioned it a few weeks back. What better excuse, right?

I’ll admit – growing up, I only had two experiences with Swedish meatballs: Lean Cuisines and IKEA. You’ll never hear me speak ill of either one. They were DELICIOUS. The Lean Cuisine’s got me through many a high school work shift, and the drive to Illinois was always made worth it by the IKEA meatballs alone. So, when I’m looking for a little break, and a little comfort and stress relief, gimme the meatballs.

Mmmm...creamy, creamy comfort.

Mmmm…creamy, creamy comfort.

This recipe isn’t super authentic. I think there’s jam in the regular Swedish meatball sauce. And probably more nutmeg. But it tastes pretty true to what I remember, so I like it. You will too. Promise.

I do a couple of things differently here.

First, I don’t really care for cream of soups in a can. Don’t get me wrong, they’re GREAT in a pinch, and certain recipes just scream for them. But I’m not crazy about all of the sodium, ESPECIALLY if I’m using something like onion soup mix already in my recipe. So I make my own. It’s REALLY easy. It takes all of 5 minutes, and it’s basically just a roux that you add milk and broth to, along with whatever flavoring you’re going for. In this case, since I already had mushrooms and Lipton soup mix in the recipe, I made it plain with a little pepper and nutmeg. You won’t miss the can. At all.

I like to sub in whole wheat flour when I can. Sometimes that’s hard. It really has a different flavor profile, and can sometimes feel like it’s wrecking the dish. NOT the case here. You can’t even tell. You can ABSOLUTELY use all-purpose flour in this recipe if you prefer, but I like to do myself a favor and get it in when I can.

This is another one of those meals that my kids just gravitate to. I think it’s the egg noodles. They’re so creamy and inviting in the sauce. Of course, this dish would work awesome with any short noodle or mashed potatoes. I’m partial to the wide egg noodles though, and strongly recommend the same. It reheats awesomely in the sauce too, so make the whole bag of noodles and have enough for lunch the next day. Maybe. It’s that good, you might not.

Whoops.

Whoops.

In my excitement to eat the yumminess, I completely forgot to snap a picture until after the fact. As you can see, it was enjoyed. Only enough left for Hubby to take a small bowl to work tomorrow. I’m jealous. I wanted to keep it for myself. Always the good wife….

Crock Pot Swedish Meatballs

Frozen meatballs, purchased or homemade (find recipe here)

1 can low sodium beef broth, divided

3 Tbsp salted butter

3 Tbsp whole wheat flour

1/2 cup 2% milk

1/2 tsp nutmeg

8oz light sour cream, divided

1 packet Lipton beefy onion soup

1 8oz package mushrooms, sliced

1 Tbsp whole wheat flour

pepper to taste

Egg noodles, prepared as directed

First, make the cream soup. Melt 3 Tbsp butter in sauce pan over medium high heat. Whisk in 3Tbsp flour, cooking 1-2 minutes until thick. Stir in 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup beef broth, stirring and cooking another minute until thick. Stir in nutmeg. Remove from heat.

In crock pot, whisk together remaining beef broth, cream soup, Lipton soup packet and all but 1/2 cup of the sour cream.

Toss sliced mushrooms in 1Tbsp flour to coat, then add to crock pot. Add frozen meatballs. Cook on high for 4-6 hours. Switch heat to low, stir in remaining sour cram, and let cook for additional 30 minutes. Serve over egg noodles.

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