Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Noodles in Peanut Sauce

The original recipe calls for a teaspoon of crushed red pepper and is called Spicy Soba Noodles with Chicken in Peanut Sauce.  However, to make it kid-friendly, I didn't add the crushed pepper.  I also omitted the chicken since I was serving it with the pork.

Noodles in Peanut Sauce
Recipe adapted from Spicy Soba Noodles with Chicken in Peanut Sauce, posted on the Cooking Light message boards by little_bopeep
Cooking Light, September 2000

1 carrot, peeled
1/3 cup reduced-fat peanut butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 pound fettuccini, cooked
6 tablespoons sliced green onions
6 tablespoons chopped unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts

1. Shave carrot lengthwise into thin strips using a vegetable peeler; set aside.

2. Combine the peanut butter, honey, soy sauce, garlic, and chicken broth in a small bowl;stir with a whisk until smooth.

3. Combine carrot, peanut sauce, and noodles in a large bowl; toss to coat. Sprinkle with onions and peanuts.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.  The kids liked the noodles but picked out the carrots and scallions. 

Garlic Sesame Pork Tenderloin

Today was a slowcooker day.  I made Garlic Sesame Pork Tenderloin in the slow cooker and served it with Peanut Noodles and Oven Roasted Broccoli (recipes to follow). I found two of these recipes over on the Cooking Light message boards.  Thanks to little_bopeep for posting the Garlic Sesame Pork Tenderloin recipe (originally posted by amcleod).  I cooked the pork on low for five hours but it was way overcooked for my liking.  I shredded it up as best as I could so it could gather up more of the sauce.  I even marinated the pork overnight, but didn't find it absorbed much of the flavor.  The sauce had great flavor though. 

Garlic Sesame Pork Tenderloin
Cooking Light Message Boards - little_bopeep (originally posted by amcleod)

1 t honey
4 T soy sauce
2 T sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T brown sugar
1 T dry sherry (I usually use whatever wine I have open)
3-4 scallions, chopped

Whisk all ingredients together. put in ziplock bag w/the pork tenderloin and marinate 3 hours + (sometimes I do it overnight, just depends on how organized I am).

Cook on high for two hours and low for another two, or if you have time, low for five hours. Flip it over halfway through.
Family Rating: One thumb up. 

Children's Book Review: Today I Will Fly

Today I Will Fly! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)

Today I Will Fly! (An Elephant & Piggie Book)
Written by: Mo Willems
Published by: Hyperion
64 pages
Ages 4-8

Gerald is careful. Piggie is not.
Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can.
Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to.
Gerald and Piggie are best friends.

Today, I Will Fly! is the funny introduction to the characters. Piggie is determined to fly. But Gerald the elephant knows that's impossible--isn't it?

* I was first introduced to Mo Willems' Elephant & Piggie Book series during story time at our local library this summer.  There were kids of all ages there and they all seemed to enjoy the story (of course I can't think of which book it was in the series at the moment!). 

This series is great for beginning readers.  The font is large and the drawings are simplistic.  There is repetition of words throughout the story and I like how the dialogue bubbles are different colors for the different characters (gray for Gerald, pink for Piggie, of course!). The story is enjoyable for kids as well as adults.
Family Rating: two thumbs up!

Chicken with Balsamic Onions and Mozzarella Potatoes

I've been on an onion kick.  First the onion tart, and now chicken with balsamic onions.  I didn't put the onions on the chicken that I gave the kids.  However, my son did ask to try some and he actually liked it!  He had a couple of bites of just onion!  Now I love Rachel Ray recipes.  Out of the tons of recipes that I've made of hers, I can probably count on one hand the number of recipes that I didn't like.  However, I often have problems with her "30 minute" meals.....the main problem being that it usually takes me, your average home cook, a lot more than 30 minutes to make!  This recipe calls for 15 minutes of prep and 30 minutes to cook.  I have to say that this recipe was true to the timing and we were eating about 45 minutes after I started cooking.  I made some modifications to the original recipe.  First, I halved the potato recipe.  Two pounds of potatoes seemed way too much.  I had no parmesan cheese in the house, so I substituted with mozarella.  It was eh, and don't think I'd do it again.  The original recipe called for placing the cooked chicken on the fresh spinach.  I cooked it all up and added some feta that I had left over from the onion tart.  Wasn't too bad.  My recipe is below.

Chicken with Balsamic Onions and Mozzarella Potatoes
Adapted from Every Day with Rachael Ray, October 2011

1 lb. red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper
3 1/2 tbsp. EVOO
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (5 oz. each)
1 medium red onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
5-oz. pkg. baby spinach, loosely packed
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup feta cheese

1.Preheat the oven to 400°. In a large pot, combine the potatoes and salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and cook until fork-tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain and return the potatoes to the pot. Toss with 2 tbsp. butter, the mozzarella, season with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.

2.Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. EVOO over medium-high heat. Season the chicken and cook, turning once, until golden-brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a baking dish; roast until cooked through, about 10 minutes.

3.In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tbsp. each butter and EVOO over medium heat. Stir in the onions and vinegar and season with salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized, about 15 minutes. At the end, stir in 1/4 cup water and scrape up any browned bits.

4. In another small skillet, heat 1/2 tbsp. of EVOO over medium heat.  Add the garlic, and saute for a minute or two.  Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Remove from heat, and sprinkle with feta.

5. Serve chicken with balsamic onions on top alongside the potatoes and spinach.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review: Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier & Healthier for Less

Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less

Suddenly Frugal:  How to Live Happier & Healthier for Less
Written by:  Leah Ingram
Published by: Adams Media, 2010
240 pages

Many people know one or two things they can do to save money, like cutting back on vacations and meals out, but beyond that, they’re stumped. When they look at their current lifestyle, they have no idea where they can trim the fat without sacrificing their quality of life.

That’s exactly what this guide will do. It will help you identify small, painless changes you can make to your daily habits that can add up to big savings—while bringing you closer as a family. By grouping these money-saving tips into a room of the house or errand on a to-do list, you can immediately put your suddenly frugal plan into action—and instantly begin saving money.
 By pinpointing the dollar amount associated with each cost-saving step, financial whiz and mom Leah Ingram will inspire you to embrace—and enjoy—your new frugality.

* Having quit my job, there is definitely a sudden need to be frugal in my house.  I have to say, that we were living quite frugally before I decided to quit working, which is one of the reasons it was possible for me to do so.  Although I already knew about most of the frugal tips that Ingram gives in this book, this would be a great read for someone new to the frugal way of living.  She gives cost breakdowns and tips on cutting spending in all areas of living. 

Mom Rating: two thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: I'm So Not Wearing a Dress

I'm So Not Wearing a Dress
Written by:  Julie Merberg
Illustrated by:  Mai Kemble
Published by: Downtown Bookworks, 2010
32 pages

Shelby likes to play sports in her favorite red sneakers. She likes to dig for worms with her best friend, Nate. She does not want to have tea parties with her next door neighbor, Sophie. And when she is asked to be a flower girl in her aunt's wedding, she knows one thing for sure: SHE IS SO NOT WEARING A DRESS!

A spunky heroine, adorable illustrations, and a totally charming story will appeal to the many, many girls who prefer baseball caps to tiaras.

* This was an okay story about Shelby, a tomboy, whose parents try to get her to wear a dress for her aunt's wedding .  Her neighbor Sophie, is of course the complete opposite and girly to the extreme.  My daughter is a complete girly-girl and couldn't really relate well to Shelby.  Unfortunately, Sophie isn't portrayed very well in this book and isn't savvy enough to distinguish a mud cake from real chocolate. The compromise at the end was cute, but overall, this book was not a big hit. If you have a girl who loves to get messy, dig for worms, and hates wearing dresses, this would be a great read!

Family Rating:  So-so.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Meatless Monday: Onion Tart

I've been eyeing this recipe for awhile and finally decided to make it.  I knew the kids wouldn't eat it, so tonight I did make something different for them.  I had some crescent rolls that I needed to use, so I rolled up some pepperoni and mozzarella inside them and served them with some veggies for the kids.  This tart was delicious and so easy to make.  You do need a little over an hour to make it though, which can make it a little tough as a weeknight dinner.

Onion Tart
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light, April 2011


1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large sweet onions
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 (14.1-ounce) package refrigerated pie dough (such as Pillsbury)
1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded reduced-fat Swiss cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, salt, and pepper; cook 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Roll dough out on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle feta cheese in center, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border; top with onion. Sprinkle with Swiss cheese. Fold piecrust border up and over onion mixture, pleating as you go, leaving a 6-inch-wide opening. Combine egg and 2 tablespoons water; brush over dough. Bake at 425° for 25 minutes or until golden. Cool for 10 minutes.

Mom & Dad rating:  2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: The Very Cranky Bear

The Very Cranky Bear
Written by:  Nick Bland
Published by: Scholastic, 2008

This is a great picture book for children. It is the story of four friends trying to get out from the rain and the cold. Unfortunately they take refuge in a Bear's cave. Bear is not happy that they have invaded his home. Lion, Zebra and Moose try to make bear happy by making him like them; Sheep on the other hand gives of himself.

* This is a really cute story told in rhyme.  I like the ending and the lesson that children learn at the's okay to be "plain" and everyone has something to give.

Family Rating: Two thumbs up!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Weekend Chef: Sweet Potato Chicken Curry

So, I'm filing this one under The Weekend Chef since my husband did most of the cooking.  I did a little prep work but he was really responsible for cooking this.  I was meaning to make this recipe last week(to use up the rest of the sweet potatoes that I had gotten at Shoprite for a really good deal!) but never had the time.  We got back from Maryland late last night and haven't been to the grocery store yet.  So I recommended that we make this for dinner tonight since I had all the ingredients on hand.  As my husband starts cooking around 6:30 he asks, "Did you read this entire recipe?!"  Oops, he got me.  I didn't actually read through the entire thing. This recipe involves cooking, simmering for an hour, and then cooking uncovered for 30 minutes!  So, the kids got soup and grilled cheese and we ended up eating dinner around 8:30!  This is definitely NOT a weeknight meal!  It's a great fall dish, and if you leave out the chicken, would make a great vegetarian meal.  The kids probably wouldn't have eaten it anyway, because the red pepper gave it a nice kick!

Sweet Potato Chicken Curry
Cooking Light, November 2009

2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups vertically sliced onion
1 1/2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled sweet potato
3/4 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Combine curry powder, coriander, turmeric, salt, black pepper, red pepper, and bay leaf in a small bowl.

2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove chicken from pan. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion to pan; cook 10 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Increase heat to medium-high; return chicken to pan. Cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Stir in ginger and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add curry powder mixture; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour. Stir in potato and chickpeas. Cook, uncovered, 30 minutes. Add peas; cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice. Discard bay leaf.

Parent Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Introducing The Weekend Chef

My husband enjoys cooking.  Unfortunately, he gets home at 7 pm, which doesn't really give him time to make the family dinner.  When I was working he definitely did his share of helping out when he could.  He'd prepare burgers or meatloaf the night before, so I could throw them in the oven when I got home from work.  Other times, he would get the slowcooker set up before he left for work.   Now that I'm home and can cook every night, he hasn't been in the kitchen that much.  His cooking has been pretty much relegated to the weekends, which is too bad, because he is a really good cook!  Hopefully, I'll be able to share with you recipes that he creates and cooks on the weekends!    

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Recipe Repeat: Apple-Cheddar Turkey Burgers

I made these burgers for dinner Wednesday night, before we headed down to Maryland.  I've made them once before and they were a big hit.  They were easy to make and very flavorful.  Beware that these are not the neatest things to eat.  They are pretty big with all the "stuff" on them, which ends up falling out.  The kids couldn't get the whole sandwich in their mouths!  I eventually ended up eating this with a fork and knife! 

Apple-Cheddar Turkey Burgers
Recipe adapted from EveryDay With Rachael Ray, September 2008

1 pound ground turkey breast
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 apple, such as granny smith, cut into 12 slices
8 slices extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup whole-berry cranberry
4 english muffins, split and toasted

1.In a bowl, combine the turkey and poultry seasoning. Form into 4 patties, pressing your thumb into the center of each to prevent it from bulging.

2.In a large skillet, heat the EVOO, 2 turns of the pan, over medium-high heat. Add the patties and cook for 6 minutes on each side for medium. Top each with 3 apple slices and 2 cheese slices, tent the pan with foil and cook until the cheese melts, 1 to 2 minutes.

3.Place the cooked patties on top of the english muffin bottoms.  Top with the sliced cranberry sauce and cover with the top muffin.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up!  (My son ate all the "stuff" but didn't eat much of the burger)

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

Happy belated Thanksgiving!  We went down to Maryland to visit my sister and her family.  My parents and brother also came down and it was nice to see my 6 month old niece again! I was laptop free for the past three days, thus the belated post.

I don't think that I've ever hosted Thanksgiving but I do usually end up helping to cook, and this Thanksgiving was no different.  I helped make a lot of the veggie side dishes.  Kudos to my sister for hosting an awesome Thanksgiving dinner!  I am especially thankful for my wonderful family and am grateful that we were all able to spend the holiday together.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book Review: Good Enough is the New Perfect

Good Enough Is the New Perfect

Good Enough is the New Perfect:  Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood
Written by:  Becky Beaupre Gillespie & Hollee Schwartz Temple
Published by: Harlequin, 2011
320 pages

We're the generation destined to have it all—a great job, the perfect family and the time to enjoy both. But between the conference calls and soccer practices, do you feel like you've lost track of what really makes you happy? And are you finding out the hard way that you can't do everything?

The truth is that you can have it all.

The secret is creating an "all" that you love.

Join a growing new wave of mothers who are learning to let go of the little things and focus on what they really want out of their career, their family and their life. Through their groundbreaking research, Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple have discovered a paradigm shift in motherhood today: more and more mothers are losing their "never enough" attitude and embracing a Good Enough mindset to be happier, more confident and more successful. Filled with inspiring firsthand accounts from working mothers and drawn from the latest research, Good Enough Is the New Perfect is a true roadmap for the incredible balancing act we call motherhood.

* I read this book after I decided to quit my job.  Based on this book, I've been a Never Enough, "a high-achiever with a strong need to be the best at everything." I've always been hard on myself to be perfect, regardless of how impossible it is.  As I've slowly adjusted to life as a stay-at-home mom I've had to recreate my definition of what success means to me.  It definitely wasn't a high paycheck in a job that I hated, where the family was always tired and stressed out.  I've had to be okay with knowing that I have earned a degree from an Ivy League University and have a Masters degree and am not using either.  I am enjoying this time that I have with my children and hope to eventually find a job that will offer me the flexibility to continue to be home part-time with my kids.   

For working moms, this book is inspiring.  Many women have shared their experiences on how they have found happiness and success working and being a mother.  The authors talk about a "New Perfect" which is an attitude that "includes a thought-out approach to work, marriage, parenting - and even ideas about how we use technology, how we define success, and what it takes to make us truly happy."     

The authors specifically targeted a certain population when surveying working mothers - "those who had the privilege of an education and a certain amount of choice regarding work....Almost all of the survey respondents were college-educated and relatively secure financially."  Unfortunately, there is a  huge population of working women out there that don't have the freedom that so many of us other mothers have.  For them, it's a lot harder to "have it all."

Rating: 1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: Hot Rod Hamster

Hot Rod Hamster!

Hot Rod Hamster
Written by: Cynthia Lord
Illustrated by: Derek Anderson
Published by: Scholastic Press, 2010

Old car, new car, shiny painted blue car
Rust car, clean car, itty-bitty green car.
Newbery Honor-author Cynthia Lord and New York Times bestselling illustrator Derek Anderson put the pedal to the metal in this endearing, rhythmic, rip-roaring race to the finish line where a hamster creates a sizzling hot rod with a little help from his new furry friends and YOU!

* This was a cute read about a hamster getting ready for a race.  As he gets his car ready for the race he asks the reader what they would choose, which involves child interaction with the book.  It also shows that just because you're little doesn't mean you can't be fast.  This was also a winner because my 3 year old son loves all things cars, racing.

Family rating: 1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: Fancy Nancy: Our Thanksgiving Banquet

Fancy Nancy: Our Thanksgiving Banquet

Fancy Nancy:  Our Thanksgiving Banquet
Written by Jane O'Connor
Published by: HarperFestival, 2011
24 pages

This is going to be the best Thanksgiving ever!

There is a gigantic turkey, Grandma's secret stuffing, green beans, and authentic cranberry sauce, the kind that doesn't come out of a can. And desserts? There are almost too many to count.

Join Nancy and her entire family as they celebrate Thanksgiving in this brand-new storybook, complete with more than thirty swanky stickers.

* My 5 year old daughter is a huge Fancy Nancy fan.  Unfortunately, I've found that once an author gets children hooked on a character (ex. Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious) they then churn out way too many books after that, which aren't up to par with the original.  Surprisingly, this was one of the better Fancy Nancy books we've read in awhile.  It addresses the issue of the "kids" table at Thanksgiving nicely. 

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: Beauty and the Beaks: A Turkey's Cautionary Tale

Beauty and the Beaks:  A Turkey's Cautionary Tale
Written by Mary Jane and Herm Auch
Published by:  Holiday House, 2007
32 pages

Beauty and her friends think Lance is the most conceited bird in the hen yard. From the moment the turkey arrives on the farm, he spends his time swaggering around the Chic Hen beauty shop, boasting that he is the only bird invited to a special feast. Determined not to let Lance ruffle her feathers, Beauty practices her favorite eggsercise—flying—and accidentally discovers just what kind of guest Lance will be at the feast. Can Beauty come up with a plan to save Lance before his life eggspires?

* I think this book is geared for kids a little older than my 3 and 5 year old.  The use of "egg" words got a little redundant after a bit.  The authors made the characters out of clay and hand-sewed the outfits.  The kids loved the pictures, especially the hens getting their "nails" painted. I personally found some of the hens a little scary looking.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Children's Book Review: Gus, The Pilgrim Turkey

Gus, The Pilgrim Turkey
Written by Teresa Bateman
Publisher:  Albert Whitman & Company, 2008
32 pages

Gus loves being a turkey, that is, until his friends tell him about Thanksgiving. Pilgrims—no problem; feast—NO WAY! So Gus heads south, the way birds do, to escape being part of someone's dinner.

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, we have been reading a lot of Thanksgiving books to the kids.  There's definitely been a common thread to many of the books, where the turkey tries to escape being eaten for Thanksgiving dinner, and this one was no different. It was cute in some parts, especially when Gus travels to the South Pole and meets the penguins.  It also shows children the meaning of the word pilgrim in a different context to what they are used to. 

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Libby's Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

This year I definitely didn't cook with pumpkin as much as I would have liked to.  I saw this recipe, which was originally for a bread and decided to make muffins instead.  I halved the recipe, only making 12 muffins.  I prefer to make muffins because I can freeze some and they make for a quick, easy breakfast on a busy morning.  I also used dried cranberries instead of fresh.  Next time, I would definitely try to use fresh cranberries.  The dried cranberries that I used had an overly sweet taste.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Children's Book Review: Aliens Love Underpants

Aliens Love Underpants
Written by:  Claire Freedman
Published: Barron's Educational Series, 2007
32 Pages

"Aliens love underpants, in every shape and size,But there are no underpants in space, so here's a big surprise..."

You probably thought aliens came down to Earth with a view to taking over the planet - but, no, they simply want to steal your pants!

This zany, hilarious tale, delightfully brought to life by Ben Cort's vibrant illustrations, is sure to enchant and amuse the whole family. With a madcap, rhyming text, perfect for joining in, this story is fantastically fresh and funny - you'll laugh your pants off!

*Last week I had volunteered at my daughter's book fair.  While there, I of course perused all of the books.  The title of this book definitely caught my eye!  I put it on hold at our library and picked it up today.  This was a funny story, told in rhyme, with great pictures.  It definitely made for an enjoyable read that the whole family loved.  An added plus - there are more books written in this series!  We'll definitely be checking those out soon!

Family Rating:  2 thumbs up!

Potato and Blue Cheese Gratin

Today is my husband's birthday.  My birthday is in September.  This year we decided on a joint birthday present, a Canon T2i, and a joint celebratory dinner, Chef Anita Lo's Annisa, down in NYC.  These were both done in October, since it's the half-way point of both of our birthdays.  His request was that the kids help make his birthday dinner.  Well, they partially helped with the dessert, which we'll get to later.  But by dinner time they were off playing, and we were on our own to cook.  He requested steak and potatoes.  He was in charge of cooking the meat and I cooked the potatoes.  I have made the following recipe several times.  It is so simple yet so delicious!  We only put the blue cheese on half the potatoes since my daughter isn't a fan of blue cheese.  Just an FYI, these don't taste the same the next day, so if you want to have a little more, go for it!

Potato and Blue Cheese Gratin
Gourmet, December 2005

Tender, rich, and browned on top, this easy potato gratin gets loads of flavor from a very minimal amount of blue cheese that is added at the last minute.

1 1/2 lb medium yellow-fleshed potatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese (1 oz)

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.

Peel potatoes and slice 1/8 inch thick, then toss with cream, garlic, salt, and pepper in skillet. Cover with foil and roast until potatoes are very tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and preheat broiler. Remove foil and sprinkle potatoes with cheese. Broil until top is browned, 2 to 3 minutes.

Family Rating: two thumbs up!  The kids loved these!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Children's Book Review: Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus


Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus
Written by: Barbara Park
Published: Random House Children's Books, 1992
80 pages
Ages: 6+

Remember when it was scary to go to school? 'Cause it was your first day and you didn't know anything. Meet Junie B. Jones, kindergartner. She's so scared of the school bus and the meanies on it that when it's time to go home, she doesn't.

This is the first in a series of 30 books about the main character, Junie B. Jones. She's beginning her first day of kindergarten and has lots of concerns.  When I taught 3rd grade the kids loved to read this series so I was always buying them for the classroom. I will admit though, that I never actually read any of them myself!

 Around last March we started reading this book as a family read-aloud. I picked it because I thought my daughter would be able to relate to Junie B. Jones, since she was starting kindergarten in September, and it was easy enough for her to read.

Warning:  You will either love the books or hate them!  We love them.  Some people have problems with the language used, as seen right in the title "stupid smell bus." For us, this is a review of what's appropriate language and what's not. The events in the books are great discussion starters, where we ask our daughter, "What would you do?"  Or, "do you think Junie B. made a good decision?" The series continues with Junie B. going into first grade and eventually second grade. 

Junie B. Jones says and does things that have my husband and I laughing out loud.   Reading a chapter a night aloud is part of our bedtime routine. My daughter, my husband, and me taking turn reading a page aloud while my son listens and looks at the pictures!  We are currently reading Junie B. Jones First Grader at Last:  Toothless Wonder.  I don't know what we'll do when we finish reading the series! 

Family rating:  2 thumbs up!

Shrimp and Bok Choy Stir-Fry

The original recipe called for Napa cabbage.  After going to two different grocery stores, I finally found it.  However, there was only one, wilty looking cabbage left.  The produce guy told me he'd be getting more in tomorrow, but I wasn't going to go back to the store again! The bok choy looked decent so I decided to give it a try in this recipe instead.  This meal was quick and easy to make. It can definitely be a work night dinner. 

Shrimp and Bok Choy Stir-Fry
adapted from Food Network Magazine, September 2011


1 large egg white
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 1/4 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sherry
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 scallions, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, finely grated
1 pound bok choy chopped
Cooked white rice, for serving (optional)

Whisk the egg white, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1 teaspoon soy sauce in a large bowl until frothy. Add the shrimp and toss to coat. Refrigerate 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the hoisin sauce, vinegar and the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 teaspoons cornstarch in a small bowl, then whisk in the chicken broth. Set aside.

Drain the shrimp. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat, then stir-fry the scallion and garlic, about 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and stir-fry until almost cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add the bok choy and stir-fry until wilted and the shrimp are just cooked through, about 2 more minutes.

Stir the hoisin sauce mixture, then add to the wok and simmer, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Serve with rice, if desired.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.  My son took a couple of bites and decided he was done, while my daughter ate everything.  She (and we!) discovered that she likes bok choy! 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

For The Love of Reading....

My 5 year old daughter reads on about a 3rd or 4th grade reading level.  As a former teacher, people would always comment that "you must have worked a lot with her."  I honestly can't say that I did.  I wasn't sitting down studying sight words every night and going over letter sounds.  I think part of it is nature (can your child genetically get your love of reading?! Since I love to read so much) and part of it is nurture - just the way we've raised her.  It will be interesting to see if my 3 year old son becomes an early reader as well.  He also loves books, so I think we're off to a good start.  Some of the things that we've done include:

* Reading every night.  Since our kids were babies, my husband and I have read to them every night before bed.  As part of our before bed routine, 3 stories are read.  My daughter gets a pick, my son gets a pick, and mommy and daddy share a pick.  In future posts I'll share some of our favorites!

*Visit the library.  My house is overloaded with books.  We still make weekly trips to the library though.  The kids get to play with puzzles, read books there, and pick books to take home.  Over the summer, and beginning once my son finishes daycare, we go to storytime.  We also borrow movies, CDs, and even Wii games.

*Play children's music. My children love to sing and dance.  We have an ipod of kids music that was played in the car constantly when they were younger.  As annoying as children's music can be (and there are some really annoying songs out there!) a lot of it rhymes and provides learning opportunites for kids.  My parents bought my kids personalized name CDs for Christmas a couple of years ago.  Only over the past year or so did they really get into them, and then they were on repeat over, and over.  And as much as they wanted to make me pull my hair out, it introduced my 3 year old son to rhyming and counting to 20 - great learning skills! 

*Reinforce what they are learning in school.  My daughter's preschool teacher was excellent!  She gave my daughter sight word flash cards to go over at home.  We would go through five or so of them a night.  But more importantly, we would apply them to our night time reading.  If she recognized the sight word "I", then when we were reading a book, I would have her read "I" every time we came to it.  Then I would compliment her on her great reading.  Every few days I'd add another word for her to read. This helped her make the connection that words have meaning and are not just printed on cards for her to memorize.

*Choose the TV programs they watch.  I am NOT one of those parents that don't believe kids should watch TV.  When I was pregnant with my son, the Wiggles were my lifesaver.  I'd get home from work and take a much-needed 20 minute nap while my daughter was entertained.  I am selective in what my kids watch though.  We've moved on from The Wiggles, Sesame Street (though I may get my son back into this one, now that he's going to be home all day with me), Blues Clues, and yes even that annoying purple dinosaur, Barney.  Now our current faves include The Fresh Beat Band, Super Why, Dora, Diego, and The Cat in the Hat.  I'll go through the tivo each week and pick 2 shows to record each day.  When they get home from school they get to take turns picking which show they're going to watch that day.

These are some of the ways that we promote reading in our house.  Please feel free to share some other ideas!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Philly Cooking Creme: Creamy Chicken Pot Pie

I don't know if you can even call this recipe semi-homemade!  The Philadelphia Cooking Cremes were on sale at the grocery store recently.  We picked up a couple, since I kept seeing different ads with recipes for using them.  I figured they would come in handy on a busy work night.  Well, since there aren't any more busy work nights for me, I figured I'd use one and make room in the fridge!  The recipe was quick and easy, you just have to leave enough time for it to bake in the oven.  Unfortunately, this isn't the type of recipe that you can pre-make the night before so it's ready for the oven when you get in. 

Right out of the oven. 

Creamy Chicken Pot Pie

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 48 minutes
6 servings

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, corn, green beans, peas), thawed, drained
1 tub (10 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Savory Garlic Cooking Creme
1 ready-to-use refrigerated pie crust (1/2 of 14.1-oz. pkg.)

  1. Heat oven to 400°F.
  2. Cook and stir chicken in large nonstick skillet on medium heat 5 to 6 min. or until chicken is lightly browned. Add vegetables; cook 1 to 2 min. or until heated through. Stir in cooking creme; spoon into 9-inch pie plate.
  3. Cover with crust; seal and flute edge. Cut several slits in crust. Place pie plate on baking sheet.
  4. Bake 25 to 30 min. or until golden brown.

Family Rating: The kids didn't love it, but they did eat all of what they were given, so that automatically gives it a 1 thumb up!

Book Review: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Cinderella Ate My Daughter       Title:  Cinderella Ate My Daughter
       Author:  Peggy Orenstein
       Publisher: Harper, 2011
        244 pages

       Summary from  The acclaimed author of the groundbreaking bestseller Schoolgirls reveals the dark side of pink and pretty: the rise of the girlie-girl, she warns, is not that innocent.

Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source—the source—of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.

But, realistically, how many times can you say no when your daughter begs for a pint-size wedding gown or the latest Hannah Montana CD? And how dangerous is pink and pretty anyway—especially given girls' successes in the classroom and on the playing field? Being a princess is just make-believe, after all; eventually they grow out of it. Or do they? Does playing Cinderella shield girls from early sexualization—or prime them for it? Could today's little princess become tomorrow's sexting teen? And what if she does? Would that make her in charge of her sexuality—or an unwitting captive to it?

Those questions hit home with Peggy Orenstein, so she went sleuthing. She visited Disneyland and the international toy fair, trolled American Girl Place and Pottery Barn Kids, and met beauty pageant parents with preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. She dissected the science, created an online avatar, and parsed the original fairy tales. The stakes turn out to be higher than she—or we—ever imagined: nothing less than the health, development, and futures of our girls. From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable—yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents can effectively counterbalance its influence in their daughters' lives.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a must-read for anyone who cares about girls, and for parents helping their daughters navigate the rocky road to adulthood.

* My 5 year-old daughter is a girlie-girl.  She loves all things pink and princess.  I think that is what drew me to this book.  I will agree with Orenstein, in that there is definitely an overcommercialization of the Disney Princesses.  Every time you turn around there's a new Princess logoed item on store shelves.  And I have to admit that I've helped support the commercialization.  Our house is littered with dress-up clothes, lip gloss, and dolls all from the Disney Princess line. 

And I don't really have much of a choice as to whether I want to introduce my daughter to some of the tween pop icons or even the Disney Princesses for that matter.  My daughter was 3 1/2 and we were in the grocery store when she noticed a display and said, "there's Hannah Mobanna!"  I didn't understand what she was saying but looked where she was pointing.  "Oh, Hannah Montana!  How do you know who Hannah Montana is?"  She explained that a girl in her daycare/preschool has a Hannah Montana bag.  That particular girl also has an older sister.  Going back to the whole merchandising of popular characters, our daughters will and are being exposed to it all around them. Whether it's classmates or just shopping in the store, it's all around. 

For now, I say, let my daughter enjoy her princess phase.  When I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she tells me a teacher (we'll need to talk about that one!) and a doctor.  She doesn't tell me she wants to be a princess when she grows up.  While Orenstein's reading her daughter the original Grimm's fairy tales, I'd rather not introduce my daughter to the grisliness of those stories for now. There's plenty of age appropriate literature with strong female characters. I say let my daughter believe in fairy tales and happy endings for now. I think she'll find out on her own, way too soon, that that's not "real life".

I think the message of Orenstein's book is summed up in the last line.  We should help our daughters, "see themselves from the inside out rather than outside in, we will go a long way toward helping them find their true happily-ever-afters."  Unfortunately, I didn't have to read 192 pages to realize this.  I think that's what every parent strives for.  Regardless of what is being merchandised to our daughters, ultimately, I believe it's the parenting skills that will determine determine the futures of our daughters.  We can't necessarily control our daughters' exposure to things, but we can limit it and have important discussions about it.

Overall rating:  thumbs down.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Supper Club: Roasted Parsnip and Vanilla Chocolate Soup

So I was perusing the Foodnetwork website and this soup recipe looked interesting.  I've never tried any of Robert Irvine's recipes, although I've seen him cook on Dinner Impossible numerous times.  Overall, it was a little too sweet for me.  I had made the french bread on Friday night for the croutons for this soup.  I used vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean. I couldn't make myself spend $17 for a tiny bit of vanilla bean. The one plus of making this recipe was that my daughter was helping me take the roasted parsnips off the pan and she tried them for the first time and liked them! 

Roasted Parsnip and Vanilla Chocolate Soup - Dinner: Impossible  Episode:  Robert & the Chocolate Factory

Total Time: 1 hr 40 min.

Prep:35 min.
Cook:1 hr 5 min.
Yield:6 to 8 servings


2 pounds parsnips (about 4 or 5 large parsnips)
1/4 cup canola oil (2 tablespoons to brush on parsnips and 2 tablespoons to brush on bread for croutons)
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick or 1/2 cup)
1 large white onion, chopped
2 quarts chicken stock
1 whole vanilla bean, preferably Tahitian (sold 1 or two to a jar in the spice section of the store) or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (preferably from real vanilla bean as opposed to artificial flavoring)
Salt and pepper
1 epee loaf French bread
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
1 cup vanilla white chocolate chips (recommended: Hershey's Premier White Chips)
1 cup heavy cream
1 fresh lemon or lime, halved crosswise (1/2 to squeeze into batch of soup and 1/2 to cut into wedges to serve to guests)
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill leaves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Peel parsnips, and cut into 1-inch chunks, brush lightly with oil and place on a baking sheet lined with heavy duty aluminum foil (for easy cleanup). Roast until the parsnips begin to soften (as tested with a knife blade) and until the tips begin to turn golden brown. This takes about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for a few minutes while you start the other ingredients in the stockpot. (Leave oven on for toasting of croutons.)

Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a large stockpot and gently saute the onion until translucent. (This takes about 10 minutes, but the more important thing is that they look translucent.) Add the chicken stock, slice open the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the pot and add along with the vanilla pod itself. Increase heat to medium, add the roasted parsnips, and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper, cover and let cook until the parsnips are completely tender, about 20 minutes.

Once you have the soup underway, toast the croutons in the oven which is already preheated to 400 degrees F. Cut the epee loaf into 3/4-inch thick slices. Brush the bread with oil and place on a foil lined baking sheet (important for cleanup purposes). Sift dark cocoa over the bread and toast briefly in the oven, just to make crispy. Remove and set aside.

Stir the white chocolate chips into the soup and cook for a further 5 minutes, to allow them to melt and to integrate flavors.

Remove soup from heat, discard vanilla pod, and stir in heavy cream. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. (Remember, when using an immersion blender, the blade end has to be immersed, or it will make a big mess.) Squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice into the pot and stir to combine. (Note: If you hold the sliced end of the fresh lemon or lime against your palm while you squeeze in the juice, the seeds are likely to stay in the rind.)

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with fresh dill. Serve with lemon wedges and dark chocolate dusted croutons.

Family Rating: so-so.  A lot of work for just okay. 

Supper Club: Spicy Cocoa Sloppy Joes

My husband and I have belonged to our supper club for almost 5 years now. Each month we choose a theme and each couple takes turns hosting. This month the theme was chocolate!  We tried to make it as kid-friendly as possible, since four children were going to be at the event this time (usually, kids are not included).

One of our club members does not eat beef or  pork and we recently had mole and chili.  Thanks to Cookieee over at the Cooking Light message boards for the recipe idea for the main dish that I decided to make. I substituted ground turkey for the beef.  Although it was super simple, the dish was tasty and was received well. Can be served on hamburger buns for easy, weeknight dinner.

Spicy Cocoa Sloppy Joes

1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 to 1-1/4 cups chopped onion
1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1-1/2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1-1/4 teaspoons salt

1. Cook ground beef and onion in large skillet on medium heat until beef is browned and onion is tender. Drain excess fat.

2. Stir in ketchup, cocoa, mustard, chili powder, pepper and salt. Heat 10 to 15 minutes on low heat or until hot. Serve in buns. Cover; refrigerate leftovers. About 4 servings.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Friday, November 11, 2011

5-Ingredients: Cannoli French Toast

Breakfast is my kids' favorite meal of the day!  So, they get very excited and I know they will eat all of their dinner when I make Breakfast For Dinner (BFD).  Even better is when there are only a few ingredients! I've had this recipe ripped out waiting to be made for over a year now! I have to say that this recipe was definitely easy to make.  However prepping the bread did take a little time (cutting the crusts off, rolling them out).  Another plus, the ricotta filling was the perfect amount for the 12 slices of bread and there was enough egg (with a little bit left to make a mini bite of scrambled eggs!) to coat all of the bread.  I added some chocolate chips to the ricotta mix.  I only had semi-sweet ones, but mini ones would have worked even better!  This was a hit!

Cannoli French Toast
Every Day With Rachael Ray, October 2010

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
12 slices sandwich bread

1.Sift 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl, then stir in 1 cup ricotta cheese. In a medium bowl, beat together 2 eggs and 1/2 cup milk. Trim the crusts off 12 slices sandwich bread and, using a rolling pin, roll out the bread to flatten. Add 1 tablespoon of the sweetened ricotta to each slice, fold over and pinch the edges together. (The edges will seal during cooking.) In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Working in 3 batches, dip the stuffed bread slices in the egg mixture and transfer to the skillet. Cook, turning once, until puffed and golden, about 3 minutes. Dust with more confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Family Rating:  2 Thumbs Up!!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Recipe Repeat - Spaghetti with Parmesan and Bacon

I normally don't make the same recipe twice.  I have so many recipes that I want to try that I'd rather make something new than something I've already made.  For some reason though, I've saved all the torn-out recipes from magazines that I've already tried.  These go back several years!  So, in cleaning out my binder I've decided to go back and remake some of the more promising recipes. I used Ronzoni Garden Delight spaghetti.  My kids don't taste a difference and they get the extra veggies.  I also used a pound of bacon.  We all LOVE bacon in our house and can never have enough!

Spaghetti with Parmesan and Bacon
Cooking Light, April 2003

1 pound uncooked spaghetti
12 bacon slices, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs
1 cup frozen petite green peas, thawed
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/2 cup hot cooking liquid.

While pasta cooks, cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings in pan. Discard remaining drippings; set bacon aside. Add garlic to drippings in pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

Combine milk, salt, pepper, and eggs, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add reserved hot cooking liquid to milk mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add pasta, milk mixture, and peas to skillet; cook over low heat 3 minutes or until sauce thickens. Add bacon and cheese; stir to combine.
Family rating:  1 thumb up.

I QUIT! Here's to new beginnings!

"I am going to quit my job!”  Never would I believe that those words would come out of my mouth and within the past six months my husband has heard me utter these words twice!  Being a full-time working mother has finally taken its toll on me.  Due to circumstances that I had no control of my teaching position was eliminated and I was forced to take a middle school special education teaching position if I wanted a job.  Already having spent a year teaching 5th/6th grade students and coming home stressed and in tears, (I applaud all of you middle school teachers!) my husband and I decided together that it wasn't worth it for me to put myself through that again.  I resigned from my teaching career at the end of the school year.

So being the worrier that I am, I felt that I needed to get another job immediately.  What do I do, when teaching is the only career that I've really had?  I received my Masters in May and was in the classroom that September. 

Healthcare seemed like a good choice.  It's a field that's always in need of workers.  But where do I begin when I have no experience? So I got an entry level job in a local physician's office.  I spent a little less than two months working long hours which basically covered the cost of my 5 year old daughter's before and after school care and my 3 year old son's daycare.  Ultimately, I felt like I was sacrificing my famiy life for a "job" that I didn't feel was helping to prepare me for a new "career."

So here I am halfway through my first week of being a stay-at-home mom.  I got to attend my daughter's Kindergarten music show on Monday.  She gets to ride the bus to and from school which she's so happy about.  The kids don't have to be woken up at 6:30 in the morning and as a result are more well-rested and don't have before bed melt-downs.  I'm able to get the house cleaning and errands done during the day and we'll hopefully be able to enjoy more family time on the weekends now. 

Best of all, I don't have to stress about dinner. I've always tried to cook healthy dinners and I've always loved to try new recipes.  Working full-time it's always been difficult to do.  We finally got a nice camera that takes awesome pics so I can showcase some of the recipes that I've been trying out! 

Monkey Bars

Somehow, bananas always seem to get too ripe before being eaten in my house.  I usually throw them in a ziploc bag and keep them in the freezer until I need the freezer space or think that they need to be thrown out.  After a recent grocery shopping trip my husband, annoyed, after doing the "freezer shuffle" pulled out a bag of ripe bananas and declared that he was, "going to do something with these."  I jokingly said, "you mean I will do something with them."  But I guess I wasn't joking.  I whipped these up on Monday afternoon after searching for a banana recipe that I hadn't tried yet.  Overall, these were a hit!  I didn't have buttermilk, so I used regular 1% milk.  I omitted the walnuts and to make these kid-friendly, I used the apple juice instead of rum. These were delicious and super-moist! 

Monkey Bars 
Cooking Light October 2001

1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum or apple juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana
3 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine the raisins and rum in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high for 1 minute, and set aside. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and the next 3 ingredients (flour through salt) in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Set aside.

Combine brown sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add banana and next 3 ingredients (banana through egg whites), beating well. Add the flour mixture, beating just until combined. Stir in raisin mixture and walnuts.

Spread the batter into an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until golden. Cool the bars completely on a wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!