Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

I don't think I've gone out to celebrate New Year's Eve since I've had my daughter over five years ago.  I've been to my share of clubs, house parties, and even brought in 2000 down in Times Square in the city.  However, I hate that so many people drink and drive tonight and prefer not to be on the road with them.  As I've gotten older, it's also been harder for me to stay up until midnight!  So we'll be having a quiet New Year's Eve tonight, which suits me just fine! 

I also don't make New Year's resolutions because frankly, I just can't keep them!  My husband and I have said that we are going to try to eat healthier.  This really falls on me now to uphold since I do the grocery shopping and cooking! No dieting, no joining a gym (although I am going to try to start exercising a little bit more, now that the holidays are over and I'll hopefully have the time!).  Finally, I would like to try to learn something new this year.  Not sure yet what it will be, but I'll be thinking about it.  I've realized that I've become pretty complacent and have gotten too comfortable.  I need to mix things up a little bit.  So, wait a second, maybe I am attempting to make resolutions......

Happy New Year to you and your families!  Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2012!  See you next year!

 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Slow Cooker: Smothered Buttermilk Chicken

Today seemed like a good day for the slow cooker.  Like I mentioned in my previous post, the kids had a playdate today and I'm going to be going out in a little bit to have dinner with one of my girlfriends.  I wanted my husband and kids to be able to have something healthy (but also quick and easy!) for dinner.  I've had this recipe bookmarked for some time now, which was found while perusing the cooking light message boards.  I'm finally beginning to learn the cooking speed of my slow cooker.....it cooks things very fast! Even on low!  So, even though this recipe calls for cooking 6-8 hours on low, the chicken was done in 4 1/2 hours.  That's when I added the gravy mix and the buttermilk mixture and cranked the temp up to high.  It probably could have cooked on low longer, to meld the flavors a little more, but I was being super cautious since I've felt the slow cooker has been overcooking meals.  I also used cut up chicken parts that my husband had froze when he was making homemade chicken stock last weekend, instead of the boneless thighs.  I of course had to take a tiny taste of this dish when I served it to the kids and I thought it tasted good.  Kind of like a pot pie without the crust, although I did serve it with mashed potatoes and biscuits!  My daughter thought it was okay and my son wouldn't even try it.  I'm giving it a one thumbs up though since I thought it was tasty and it was quick and easy!
Smothered Buttermilk Chicken
Found on the Cooking Light Message Boards, posted by mrswaz (originally found in Pillsbury's Slow Cooker Favorites)

Ingredients:
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
3 medium carrots -- sliced
1/3 cup onion -- chopped
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf
1 package roasted chicken gravy mix
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons flour
1 cup frozen peas

Directions:
In a 4 to 6 quart crock pot, combine chicken, carrots, onion, water, butter, salt, pepper and bay leaf; mix well.

Cover; cook on low setting for 6 to 8 hours. High setting for 3 to 4 hours.

ABout 20 minutes before serving, stir gravy mix into crock pot. Remove and discard bay leaf.

In a measuring cup, blend buttermilk and flour until smooth. Stir flour mixture and peas into chicken; mix well.

Cover, increase heat to high; cover and cook an additonal 25-20 minutes or until peas are cooked.

Serve with rice or biscuits.
NOTES : **You can use frozen bone in chicken thighs as well. Just turn up the heat to high for the first hour, then down to low for the remaining 6 hours. Before stirring in gravy mix, remove the skin from the chicken. The chicken will fall apart and meld nicely with the rest of the dish- just be sure to remove the bones before serving.

The Perils of Playdates

It's not very often that my children have playdates.  With my former work schedule, weekday playdates were out and the weekends were often reserved for errands, cleaning, and family time. Plus, my children usually play so nicely together, that they often amuse themselves and are content.

I got married and had children much earlier than my friends.  So playdates with them are very rare because of the age difference of our children.  Plus, I enjoy being able to go out, sans kids, and being able to have uninterrupted adult conversation every once in awhile!  Summer and holiday vacations from school make for fun get-togethers with former teacher colleagues and their kids.  

Today my kids had a playdate with one of my former colleague's daughter.  My daughter is always shy when first seeing someone she hasn't seen in awhile, but will soon warm up.  The three kids were playing nicely until.....crying.  My son wasn't hurt, but the girls were tugging on him and he didn't like it.  I told him next time he needs to use his words.  Time for snack!  I was very lenient today on the amount and kinds of sugary snacks my kids could have since we had a guest.  Don't think that's going to happen again!  After snack, the giggling and playing resumed. More crying....our guest was hurt, accidentally by my son.  He was told he needed to apologize.  There were negative words exchanged, "this is my house so I'm going to play what I want" by my daughter.  It's hard when there's an odd number of kids and they want to play different things.  All went well and our guest left happy. The kids were so hyped up (a.k.a. sugared up!) when she left and our house was a mess!  I made them take some time to clean up which had my poor daughter in tears.  "But I didn't make the mess by myself!"  My son and I helped her to clean her room up, while I explained that this was part of a playdate.  I asked if she had fun, which she told me she did.  So, I explained that when you have a guest over you need to clean up when they leave. Tears were wiped away but the kids are exhausted.  My son didn't eat dinner which got me annoyed, since I let him have so many snacks.  And now they were told that they need to play quietly and will maybe watch a movie later....if they stay awake!

Playdates are great for kids to practice their social skills.  However, I think things will go smoother as they get older and make their own friends.  I'm going to get ready now to go out to meet one of my girlfriends for dinner, for an "adult" playdate of my own!    

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Children's Book Review: The Perfect Christmas

The Perfect Christmas

The Perfect Christmas
Written by:  Eileen Spinelli
Illustrated by:  JoAnn Adinolfi
Published by: Henry Holt and Company, 2011
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
Family one: exquisite pastries, a beautifully trimmed tree, and festive cello music. Family two: an artificial tree, rock hard candy, and custom kazoo carols. Full of silly humor, this cheerful picture book proves that no matter how you celebrate Christmas, it’s the spirit of the holiday that counts the most.

* My daughter's eyes lit up as soon as I began reading this book when she realized that one of the main characters shared her name, Abigail. I liked how the book showcased that families can celebrate Christmas differently - fancy and....not so fancy.  However, there's something magical about snow on Christmas that touches everyone.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.




Pierogi Casserole

I love pierogies!  My husband made homemade pierogies, once,  a long time ago for a supper club dinner that we had.  If we want pierogies, I'll usually buy the frozen kind, since they're so quick and easy to cook.  I saw this recipe and thought I'd try to make it, since it seemed easier than making home-made dough.  The casserole tasted like a pierogi but unfortunately, it did take awhile to make.  For the amount of time it took, we decided that the frozen ones were just fine for us! I omitted the bacon since I served it with kielbasa.  I also mashed the potatoes with the sour cream, cheese, and onion and just layered the combined potato mixture between the cooked lasagna noodles.

Pierogi Casserole
Allrecipes.com - Seanna Chauvet

Ingredients:

5 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 (16 ounce) package lasagna noodles
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Directions:
1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

2.Place the potatoes in a large pot with water to cover over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender. Remove from heat, drain, then combine with the milk and 6 tablespoons of butter, mash and set aside.

3.Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Saute the bacon, onion and garlic in the butter for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the bacon is fully cooked.

4.Cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions and cool under running water.

5.Place 1/2 of the mashed potatoes into the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Top this with 1/3 of the cheese, followed by a layer of lasagna noodles. Repeat this with the remaining potatoes, another 1/3 of the cheese and a layer of noodles. Then arrange the bacon, onion and garlic over the noodles, then another layer of noodles, and finally top all with the remaining cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6.Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve with sour cream and chopped fresh chives.


Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up! (tasted great, but a lot of work!)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Children's Book Review: It's Christmas, David!

It's Christmas, David!

It's Christmas, David!
Written by:  David Shannon
Published by: The Blue Sky Press, 2010
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
Readers of all ages will vividly remember trying to peek at hidden gift packages; writing scrolls of wish lists to Santa; and struggling to behave at formal Christmas dinner parties. Always in the background, we know Santa Claus is watching, soon to decide if David deserves a shiny new fire truck or a lump of coal under the tree. From playing with delicate ornaments to standing in an endlessly long line for Santa, here are common Christmas activities--but with David's naughty trimmings. A surefire hit that is destined to be an annual classic.

* Our family are huge "David"fans.  We've read and own all of the other David books in the series, and some other David Shannon books. Although we took this book out from the library, we may have to add it to our own collection before next Christmas.  David is always getting into trouble and in this book, it's all things related to Christmas - having trouble patiently waiting in line to see Santa, trying to eat the Christmas cookies, playing with the breakable ornaments....many things that my kids could relate to. The twist at the end had me worried for David! This is a great Christmas book reinforcing the good manners needed for the holidays.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: I Love You, Little Monkey

I Love You, Little Monkey

I Love You, Little Monkey
Written by: Alan Durant
Illustrated by:  Katharine McEwen
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
Little Monkey is being naughty. So Big Monkey gets very angry and Little Monkey ends up very sad. But even though Big Monkey doesn't always like the naughty things Little Monkey does, one thing is clear: Big Monkey loves Little Monkey.  Always.

* Ever since I can remember, we have always called our son our little monkey.  This book was chosen from the title alone.  As we were reading, the story, the lines:  "Do you love me when I'm naughty?" asked Little Monkey.  "Of course I do," said Big Monkey.  "I may not like the naughty things you do, but I love you always...." prompted my daughter to say, "Just like me!"  As I've mentioned, we've been having some behavior issues with her, but we always tell her that we love her on her very best and very worst of days.  It was cute that she recognized Little Monkey was being naughty but Big Monkey still loved him.  The kids and I enjoyed this book a lot!

Family Rating: two thumbs up.



Slow Cooker: Crockpot Applesauce Chicken

When I saw this recipe I had to try it.  My kids LOVE applesauce.  And it's made in the slow cooker?!  Even better.   The recipe calls for chicken breast halves or thighs.  I ended up using chicken quarters that I had in the freezer.  I think because they were frozen in a block when I put them in, there was extra liquid, which made the sauce very runny.  The kids ate it but I thought it tasted kind of bland.

Crockpot Applesauce Chicken
from blog:  crockpot365.blogspot.com
http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/09/crockpot-applesauce-chicken-recipe.html

Ingredients:
--4 frozen chicken breast halves or thighs (I used 2 of each)
--1 1/2 cups of applesauce
--1 T dried onion flakes, or 1 yellow onion, chopped finely
--1 T apple cider vinegar
--1/4 tsp cinnamon
--1/2 tsp black pepper
--2 cloves garlic, minced
--1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional, I used them, and added more to the adult servings)

Directions:
A 3 or 4 quart crockpot is the best size for this, but I did use a 6 quart. If your pot cooks fast, err on the lower end of cooking time.

I decided to up the applesauce a bit from Amiyrah's original recipe and omitted the water. I live life on the edge.

Put the frozen chicken pieces into your crockpot. Add the onion (if you are using the dried onion, wait and add it to the applesauce). In a bowl, mix the applesauce, vinegar, garlic, and spices together. Pour on top of the chicken.

Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours, or on high for 3-4.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.  The kids ate it.  I wasn't that big of a fan.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Children's Book Review: I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat Back
Written by:  Jon Klassen
Published by: Candlewick Press, 2011
40 pages

from goodreads.com:
The bear’s hat is gone, and he wants it back. Patiently and politely, he asks the animals he comes across, one by one, whether they have seen it. Each animal says no, some more elaborately than others. But just as the bear begins to despond, a deer comes by and asks a simple question that sparks the bear’s memory and renews his search with a vengeance. Told completely in dialogue, this delicious take on the classic repetitive tale plays out in sly illustrations laced with visual humor— and winks at the reader with a wry irreverence that will have kids of all ages thrilled to be in on the joke.

* There are many things that I liked about this book.  The print is pretty simple and stands out on the page.  Some of the text is repetitive which is good for beginning readers.  My daughter noticed and enjoyed that as bear talked to the different animals, their responses were in different colors. This made it easy for us to read aloud the book together.  She read the bear and I read the other animals. The ending had a surprise twist which had to be explained to my five year old. It did lead into a discussion about taking things that don't belong to you and lying about it. However, in this case, the consequence was a little harsh!

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Merry Christmas, Splat

Merry Christmas, Splat

Merry Christmas, Splat
Written by: Rob Scotton
Published by: HarperCollins, 2009

from goodreads.com:
It's the night before Christmas, and Splat wonders if he's been a good enough cat this year to deserve a really big present. Just to make sure, he offers some last-minute help to his mom and, in typical Splat fashion, he messes up completely! That night Splat stays awake hoping to see Santa Claus. But when Splat misses him, he's sure his Christmas is ruined—along with his hopes for a really big present. . . .

Everyone's favorite furry cat is back in a Christmas story perfect for any child anxiously awaiting Santa's arrival.

* While volunteering at my daughter's school book fair, several young kids were interested in the Splat the Cat books that they had available.  I put this one on hold at the library, since we've been on a holiday-themed reading kick, and we've never read any Splat the Cat books.  As an introduction to Splat the Cat, this book wasn't bad.  Splat is a lovable cat (who my kids pointed out looked similar to Bad Kitty) who tries to make sure he gets the really big Christmas present that he wants from Santa.  Just in case he wasn't good enough this year, he tries to help his mother get things ready for Christmas....but only seems to make things worse. Of course though, there's a happy ending to the book. The kids enjoyed this book enough that I'll check out some other Splat the Cat books.

Family Rating: one thumb up.




Children's Book Review: A Christmas Tree for Pyn



A Christmas Tree for Pyn
Written by:  Olivier Dunrea
Published by: Philomel Books, 2011
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
Christmas is coming. In the craggy rocks on the snowy mountainside, tiny Pyn has her heart set on decorating her very first Christmas tree. But, "No Christmas tree," Papa says. Still, Pyn won't take no for an answer. She knows that a Christmas tree is just the thing their cottage needs to make the season festive and cheery. Pyn is determined to find the perfect Christmas tree - no matter what.

With this story of the love between a father and daughter, Olivier Dunrea captures the true spirit of Christmas.
 
* Olivier Dunrea has written several other children's books, none of which I have read before.  Warning, this is a pretty lengthy read and did not hold the interest of my three year old son.  My daughter and I weren't sure how to pronounce the main character's name. I was reading it "Pin" and she read it as "Pine".  Papa is a bit gruff and makes her call him by his first name, Oother.  Mom is not in the picture and we never find out why, though I think she passed away.  So, overall, I have to say that we just weren't big fans of this book.  Possibly a better read for older kids.
 
Family rating: So-so.

Belated Merry Christmas!

A very Belated Merry Christmas!  I hosted Christmas dinner this year and we visit family on Christmas eve.  So, it was a very busy couple of days!  My husband also took off today and the next couple of days so we've been trying to spend some much needed quality family time!  Plenty of recipes and book reviews are coming though!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Meatless Monday: Zucchini Angel Hair Pancake

With all of the Christmas leftovers, I haven't cooked in the past day or two.  I actually made this last week, when my computer had a virus and I couldn't post anything. To make this more quickly, I didn't let the zucchini drain for 20 minutes.  It sat while the pasta cooked and I got the other ingredients mixed together.  It was definitely a bit difficult to turn the pancake over and mine ended up breaking a bit.  I read reviews on the cooking light website after that recommended using a cookie sheet to help flip it over.  I thought that this was tasty as is, without the sauce.  But I did serve sauce on the side for the kids to dip it in.  As usual, my daughter ate it and my son didn't.


Zucchini Angel Hair Pancake
Cooking Light, August 2011

Ingredients:

3 cups shredded zucchini
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 (8-ounce) package angel hair pasta, broken into 3-inch pieces
1/2 cup lower-sodium marinara sauce
1 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon butter

Directions:
1. Place zucchini in a colander, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss well. Drain for 20 minutes, tossing occasionally. Press zucchini between paper towels until barely moist.

2. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.

3. Bring marinara to a simmer in a small saucepan; keep warm.

4. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup, and level with a knife. Combine remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, flour, and the next 9 ingredients in a large bowl. Add zucchini and pasta to bowl; toss well.

5. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini mixture to pan, pressing down. Cook for 5 minutes or until bottom is lightly browned. Carefully turn pancake over; cook 5 minutes or until bottom is lightly browned. Cut into 8 wedges. Serve with marinara.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Peppermint Crunch Brownie Bites

I saw these brownie bites on the two peas & their pod blog and knew I would have to make them.  These were a cinch to make because I cheated and used boxed brownie mix and added 1/4 teaspoon of mint extract to the batter! They are made in a mini muffin pan, so they're bite-sized. You can eat a bunch and not feel too guilty! I'm sure that Maria and Josh's recipe is amazing, but I was a little short on time.


Peppermint Cruch Brownie Bites
From food blog: two peas & their pod
Find the original recipe here:
http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/peppermint-crunch-brownie-bites/

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up! (chocolate and mint, of course it's a hit!)

Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Rods

We will be going to my cousin's house tomorrow evening for Christmas Eve.  Normally, we don't exchange presents with each other and just get presents for the kids.  Since I had some extra time, not working and all, I decided to make a mixed variety of chocolate covered pretzels to give as a small gift to family members tomorrow.  I was excited to find one box of Wilton's Holiday Sprinkles set left on the shelf at my local Michael's store yesterday. Even better, I got to use my 50% off coupon and got the set for $5!  I already mentioned that my husband took off today and he was nice enough to help me make these.  I dipped the pretzels in the chocolate and then he sprinkled on the toppings. 







Ingredients:
2 -16 oz. bags of pretzel rods
12 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 oz. of white chocolate chips
4 crushed candy canes
red/white sugar crystals (from sprinkle set)
red/white/green nonpareils (from sprinkle set)

Procedure:
I put the semi-sweet chocolate chips in a microwaveable-safe bowl and melted in the microwave in 30 second increments, using 50% power.  I coated 2/3 of the pretzel rod with the melted chocolate, using  a spoon to help spread it out.  My husband then sprinkled on the crushed candy canes on one set, and the red/white sugar crystals on another set, placing on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper after he was done.  We then refrigerated for approximately 20 minutes, until the chocolate hardened.  Another set we just put in the refrigerator after I dipped in the chocolate.  After they hardened, we put some melted white chocolate in a sandwich bag, cut off the tip, and drizzled over the hardened semi-sweet chocolate.  The last set of pretzels we dipped in melted white chocolate (using the same microwave method we used for the semi-sweet chocolate) and sprinkled with the nonpareils.  The total number of pretzels made depends on how many "whole" (non-broken) pretzel rods come in the bag.  Altogether, we ended up with 58 whole pretzel rods.

Once all of the chocolate was hardened, I put 2 of each pretzel in a cellophane bag and wrapped with ribbon, as seen in the above pic.

We made "tester" pretzels with all of the broken pretzel rods and the family sampled all of the different pretzels. The rest of the pretzels I am saving to serve with dessert on Christmas day.

I am already planning on making these for some of the staff at my daughter's school for NEXT Christmas. 

Beef-Broccoli Stir-Fry

My husband took today off from work to help get ready the house ready for Christmas, since we're hosting.  He actually made dinner tonight while I finished up some last minute baking (posts and pics to come!).  Tonight's dinner was quick, easy, and tasty! Great for a week night dinner. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of bottled fresh ginger.  I'm not a big ginger fan, so my husband grated a tiny bit of the fresh piece of ginger that we keep in our freezer.  He also used the Sriracha, which made the broccoli too spicy for my daughter, but which my son loved.  So, he ate her broccoli and she ate his steak! 


Beef-Broccoli Stir-Fry
Cooking Light, March 2011

Total Time: 20 Minutes

Ingredients:
2 (3 1/2-ounce) bags boil-in-bag long-grain white rice
2 tablespoons dry sherry, divided
2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce, divided
1 teaspoon sugar
1 pound boneless sirloin steak, cut diagonally across grain into thin slices
1/2 cup lower-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha (hot chile sauce) or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 tablespoon bottled ground fresh ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
4 cups prechopped broccoli florets
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup sliced green onions

Preparation:
1. Cook rice according to directions.

2. While rice cooks, combine 1 tablespoon sherry, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, sugar, and beef. Stir together 1 tablespoon sherry, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, broth, cornstarch, hoisin, and Sriracha.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef mixture; sauté 3 minutes or until browned. Remove beef from pan. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan. Add ginger and garlic; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add broccoli and 1/4 cup water; cook 1 minute. Add onions; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth mixture and beef mixture; cook 2 minutes or until beef is thoroughly heated and sauce is slightly thick. Serve beef mixture over rice.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Basic Corn Muffins

Muffins are a great breakfast for the kids.  They are quick and easy on busy mornings. Even better, if I make a big batch I can freeze some. I usually serve them with fresh fruit and yogurt.  I was due to make some muffins and I had all the ingredients for these corn muffins.  They weren't bad for a basic corn muffin.

Basic Corn Muffins
allrecipes.com - Doug Matthews

Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients:
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup milk

Directions:
1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease muffin pan or line with paper muffin liners.

2.In a large bowl, mix together corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add egg, oil and milk; stir gently to combine. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.

3.Bake at 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up. 

Children's Book Review: The First Day of Winter

The First Day of Winter

The First Day of Winter
Written by:  Denise Fleming
Published by:  Henry Holt and Co., 2005
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
Alive with swirling snow and lots of outdoor fun, the first ten days of winter bring special gifts for a special friend. This cumulative tale will have children chanting along as they discover all the trimmings needed for the most perfect snowman ever!

* As today was the first "official" day of winter, I felt it was appropriate to read my children this book.  We had fun singing the story together to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and finding the different items on the snowman.  This story can be used to reinforce counting and numbers by having kids count the "9 big black buttons" and so on. 

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.




Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Children's Book Review: Freckleface Strawberry

Freckleface Strawberry

Freckleface Strawberry
Written by:  Julianne Moore
Illustrated by: LeUyen Pham
Published by: Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children's Books
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
If you have freckles, you can try these things: 1) Make them go away. Unless scrubbing doesn't work. 2) Cover them up. Unless your mom yells at you for using a marker. 3) Disappear. Um, where'd you go?Oh, there you are. There's one other thing you can do: 4) LIVE WITH THEM!

Because after all, the things that make you different also make you YOU. From acclaimed actress Julianne Moore and award-winning illustrator LeUyen Pham comes a delightful story of a little girl who's different ... just like everybody else.

* A friend of mine recommended that I read this book to my daughter awhile ago and I never got around to picking it up from the library.  The Manhattan Movement and Arts Center down in NYC is the theater where Freckleface Strawberry, the musical (based on the book) is performed.  My husband and I discussed possibly taking the kids to see the show, but of course I'd need to read the book to them first.  I don't think that I've read many celebrity written children's books (I do love Jamie Lee Curtis' books!) so I wasn't sure about Julianne Moore as an author.  I was pleasantly surprised by this sweet book.   Freckleface Strawberry is a great book that celebrates being yourself rather than what you look like. Not only was Freckleface Strawberry finally able to accept her freckles, but she realized that her friends missed her when she went into "hiding."  Although it was a cute story, I think we're going to wait a little while before possibly going down to the city to see the musical.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Chicken Piccata with Orzo

I've made different recipes for chicken piccata before and this one wasn't my favorite.  The sauce was a little too thin but had good flavor.  This was really quick and wasy though, which makes it a quick and easy weeknight meal.

Chicken Piccata with Orzo
Cooking Light, November 2010

Ingredients:
1 cup uncooked orzo
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
4 (4-ounce) chicken cutlets
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chilled butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon capers

Preparation:
1. Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain. Stir in rind.

2. While orzo cooks, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from pan; keep warm. Add wine; cook 1 minute or until liquid almost evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add broth and lemon juice; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes or until reduced to 1/2 cup. Remove from heat; add butter, stirring until butter melts. Stir in parsley and capers. Serve over orzo.

Family Rating: so-so. 

Chewy Chocolate Cookies

My daughter's Kindergarten class is having a holiday party tomorrow and I was asked to bring in cookies.  I have to admit, I was trying to avoid running out to the grocery store in the cold and rain today, so I was looking for a cookie to make that I had all the ingredients for.  I found this recipe while perusing through my cookbooks.  Before today, I had never made cookies from boxed cake mix, but have been wanting to try them. I figured, they are for five year olds and they're chocolate.  I don't think they'll care too much either way!  They didn't turn out too bad.  My husband thought that they tasted too cakey, before he was told that they were made from cake mix!  He recommended making them smaller and putting creme or marshmallow between, a.k.a. whoopie pies.  That does sound good!  I also made my cookies too big.  The recipe says they make approximately 5 dozen, but I barely got 30 made. I made two modifications - one I used regular chocolate cake mix and two, I used white chocolate chips.  These were so quick and easy, I'm thinking of buying another box of cake mix and trying the whoopie pies!


Chewy Chocolate Cookies
Cooking Light, April 1998

Ingredients:
1 (18.25-ounce) package light devil's food cake mix
2 tablespoons stick margarine or butter, softened
2 tablespoons water
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Cooking spray

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; beat at medium speed of a mixer 2 minutes. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool on wire racks. Store in an airtight container.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up (were super quick and easy, pretty tasty, but true home-made cookies are better.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Children's Book Review: If You Give a Dog a Donut

If You Give a Dog a Donut

If You Give a Dog a Donut
Written by:  Laura Numeroff
Illustrated by:  Felicia Bond
Published by: Balzer & Bray, 2011
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
If you give a dog a donut, he’ll ask for some apple juice to go with it.

When you give him the juice, he’ll drink it all up.

Then, before you can say “Woof” . . . Dog is off on a backyard adventure!

The exuberant dog who first appeared in if you give a pig a party is now the star of his very own book. Written in the irresistible “If You Give…” tradition, if you give a dog a donut is another home run from the beloved team of Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond.
 
* Not only have we read most of the Numeroff's other books in her "If you give a...." series, but we own several of them.  Unfortunately, I think they are getting overdone and we all felt like this book was blah.  The illustrations are cute and the kids found them enjoyable to look at, but the overall story wasn't really interesting. 
 
Family Rating:  so-so.

Children's Book Review: Eight Wild Nights: A Family Hanukkah Tale

Eight Wild Nights: A Family Hanukkah Tale

Eight Wild Nights:  A Family Hanukkah Tale
Written by:  Brian P. Cleary
Illustrated by:  David Udovic
Published by:  Kar-Ben Publishing, 2006

From the book jacket:
When veteran poet and humorist Brian Cleary turns his clever pen to Hanukkah, chaos erupts.  As the extended family gathers to celebrate, dreidel players turn to poker, latkes are served with ice cream, and Grandpa regales the crowd with the story of a "different" eight-day miracle.  A hilarious tongue-twisting holiday gift for all ages.

* This "humorous" book is told in rhyme.  The humor is aimed towards an older audience, than my 3 and 5 year old, but possibly not towards adults.  (Or at least I didn't find it very humorous!).  Ultimately, it shows that even if family can be loud and sometimes annoying, they help make the holiday special.

Family Rating: so-so.

Children's Book Review: Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Hanukkah

Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Hanukkah: With Light, Latkes, and Dreidels (Holidays Around the World)

Holidays Around the World:  Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes, and Dreidels
Written by:  Deborah Heiligman, Consultant:  Rabbi Shira Stern
Published by: National Geographic, 2006
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
In Celebrate Hanukkah Deborah Heiligman welcomes readers to a holiday celebrated by Jewish communities around the world.

The vivid photography of National Geographic illustrates the joyous celebrations of Jewish people around the world—including Ghana, Uganda, India, Israel, Peru, the United States and Poland, as they light menorahs, spin dreidels, and make latkes.

The richly informative back matter details many facts, such as the story of U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman, who brought a menorah and a dreidel on his Space Shuttle mission in 1993. Hoffman observed the traditional spinning of the dreidel, but wisely left the menorah unlit in the proximity of several thousand liters of rocket fuel! Also included are the author's sure-to-please latke recipe, Hanukkah blessings, and a Hanukkah song. 

A note from Rabbi Shira Stern, the book's consultant, sets the holiday in its global religious and cultural context.

* It is hard to find children's books that describe and explain holidays so that a 3 and 5 year old can understand them.  Although this book is geared toward 1st through 4th graders, I was pleasantly surprised to find this book understandable to my 5 year old daughter.  The text is short and simple, yet informative.  At the end of the book there are instructions on how to light the menorah and the prayers to say, a recipe for latkes, and instructions on playing the dreidel game. The photographs are beautiful and show how children in different parts of the celebrate Hannukah. There are also book and websites listed in the back if you want to find out more about the holiday.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up.

Hanukkah Dinner: Crispy Cornish Game Hens with Spiced Cranberyy-Honey Glaze

I think I've made cornish game hens once before.  They were on sale at the grocery store and I thought that they would make for a special Hanukkah dinner.  I did not add the red pepper to the glaze to make it kid-friendly.  The glaze turned out more like a cranberry relish/sauce. My daughter loved it though and even put some on one of her potato latkes.


Crisp Cornish Game Hens with Spiced Cranberry-Honey Glaze
Cooking Light, November 2006

Ingredients:

Hens:
2 (1 1/4-pound) Cornish hens
1 teaspoon thyme, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced

Glaze:
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, thawed
1/4 cup cranberry juice
1/4 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
Cooking spray

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 425°.

To prepare hens, remove and discard giblets and necks from hens. Remove skin; trim excess fat. Split hens in half lengthwise. Combine thyme, salt, black pepper, and 2 minced garlic cloves. Rub surface of hens with thyme mixture.

To prepare glaze, heat 1 teaspoon oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 minced garlic clove, and cook 1 minute. Add cranberries, juice, honey, cinnamon, and red pepper; bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes or until slightly syrupy.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add hens, breast side down; cook 3 minutes. Place hens, breast side up, on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Brush hens with half of glaze. Bake at 425° for 25 minutes or until a thermometer registers 165°, brushing occasionally with remaining glaze.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up. (Our skin didn't end up crispy and our glaze ended up more like a sauce than a glaze.)



Hannukah Dinner: Potato Latkes

I am Catholic, but my husband is half Jewish.  Our children are being raised Catholic, however, we do go to celebrate Hanukkah and Passover with his mom's side of the family.  This year, we won't be visiting his mom's family until sometime in January.  I thought that we should celebrate the holiday, even if it is just the four of us.  So, tonight we made potato latkes and Crisp Cornish Game Hens with Spiced Cranberry-Honey Glaze for dinner.  Then we lit the menorah and played dreidel with m&ms and pennies. Hopefully, later this week we'll make some sufganiyas (jelly doughnuts) and possibly some blintzes.  My daughter has also requested we make more latkes, since she loves them so much!

Potato Latkes

Ingredients:
4 cups peeled and shredded potatoes
1 small grated onion
2 eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons matzo meal
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying
sour cream or applesauce optional

Directions:
1. Squeeze the excess water out of the potatoes before placing in a bowl. (we used our clean hands!)
2.In a medium bowl stir the potatoes, onion, eggs, matzo meal, and salt together.

3.In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot. Place large spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil, pressing down on them to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Place on paper towels to drain.  Serve hot with either sour cream or apple sauce.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up! Who doesn't like crispy, hot latkes?! (except my son!)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Children's Book Review: Sometimes I'm Bombaloo

Sometimes I'm Bombaloo (bkshelf) (Scholastic Bookshelf)

Sometimes I'm Bombaloo
Written by: Rachel Vail
Illustrated by:  Yumi Heo
Published by: Scholastic Press, 2002
32 pages

From goodreads.com:
Sometimes, Katie loses her temper.Sometimes she uses her feet and her fists instead of words. When Katie is this mad, she's just not herself. Sometimes, she's BOMBALOO.Being BOMBALOO is scary. But a little time-out and a lot of love calm BOMBALOO down and help Katie feel like Katie again!

* Sometimes I'm Bombaloo is a great book for helping children relate to their feelings. In the beinning, the main character, Katie, names a lot of things that she can do.  It was fun being able to ask my own children if they could do the same things as Katie, which gave them a connection to the main character.  The kids could identify that being "Bombaloo" was feeling angry, and yes, they've felt that way before.  The book also helps validate that it's okay to feel "bombaloo" once in awhile, but it's also important to take some time out to think about why they feel that way.  I felt this book was really relevant for my daughter, who has been having some attitude/emotional issues recently.  Especially the ending, where Katie realizes that her mother knows that being "Bombaloo" can be scary for Katie, and that she still loves her. 

Family rating:  2 thumbs up.



Children's Book Review: The Wild Christmas Reindeer

The Wild Christmas Reindeer
The Wild Christmas Reindeer
Written by: Jan Brett
Published by:  G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1990
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
Little Teeka thinks she has to be firm with the reindeer to get them ready for Santa's important flight, but when her bossy yelling only gets their antlers tangled up, Teeka soon tries another way.

* I've already posted about how much I love Jan Brett's books.  The Wild Christmas Reindeer is one of her earlier works. Although it's an oldie, it's definitely a goodie! It tells about Teeka, a young girl that Santa asks to help get the reindeer ready to fly on Christmas Eve.  As hard as Teeka tries to prepare the reindeer, they do not want to cooperate.  Will they be ready to fly on Christmas eve?  Teeka learns a lesson in dealing with the animals.  The side panels illustrate a second story as the elves mark the days in December as they prepare for Christmas.  The illustrations are as detailed and beautiful as Jan Brett always makes them.

Family Rating:  two thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Santasaurus

Santasaurus

Santasaurus
Written by: Niamh Sharkey
Published by:  Candlewick Press, 2004
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
Christmas is coming to Dinosaur Town, and Ollie, Molly, and Milo are writing their letters to Santasaurus. Ollie wishes for a dinobot. Molly asks for a dinocycle. All Milo wants is to meet Santasaurus and fly in his sleigh. Later there's Christmas shopping with Momosaurus — "What hustle and bustle and squoosh!" — and plenty of wrapping and decorating on Christmas Eve. But when nighttime comes, will Santasaurus make Ollie's, Molly's, and Milo's wishes come true?

*My son has recently shown an interest in dinosaurs and this looked like a good holiday story featuring them as characters.  Milo gets to meet Santasaurus and goes on a sleigh ride with him.  The dinosaur family has a great Christmas.  This book has bright, colorful illustrations and is a cute Christmas read.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Beef and Mushroom Sloppy Joes

One of the best things about this recipe was that I was able to get the kids to eat mushrooms.  I only gave them 1/2 of a sandwich each since I served french fries and veggies with the sloppy joes.  3/4 of the way through eating her sloppy joe my daughter asked, "Is there eggplant in here?" "No," I said.  "Is there mushrooms?" I told her, "Maybe." "Because I taste something squishy," she said.  When I admitted to there being mushrooms in them she continued to eat, which was very surprising!  I did make their sandwiches before adding the hot sauce.  However, more hot sauce was needed to taste it.  This was another quick and easy recipe, definitely doable for a weeknight dinner.

Beef and Mushroom Sloppy Joes
Cooking Light, June 2011

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces ground sirloin
2 (8-ounce) packages presliced cremini mushrooms
1 cup prechopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup no-salt-added tomato paste
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
4 (2-ounce) Kaiser rolls or hamburger buns, toasted

Preparation:
1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add beef; cook for 4 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.

2. While beef cooks, place mushrooms in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until finely chopped. Add mushrooms, onion, and garlic to pan; cook for 3 minutes or until onion is tender. Add tomato paste and next 5 ingredients (through salt) to pan; cook 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and liquid evaporates. Stir in pepper and hot sauce. Spoon about 1 cup beef mixture on bottom half of each bun; top with top halves of buns.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Corn and Cheddar Waffles

Yeah, the computer is back up and running, virus-free, thanks to my awesome husband!  Catching you up on the recipes that I've made recently.

My husband had his office holiday party this past Wednesday night.  I wanted to make something quick and easy for dinner since it was just me and the kids.  Breakfast for dinner is always a hit, and I know that they will eat well.  I served these waffles with breakfast sausage and fruit.  It was super quick and easy to prepare.  We put maple syrup on our waffles, which sweetened them.  However, the recipe also recommends serving them with salsa for a Southwestern version.

Corn and Cheddar Waffles
All You Magazine, August 2011

Cook Time: 7 Minutes
Prep Time: 10 Minutes

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 large egg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup fresh corn kernels (from 1 large ear) or 1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 cup grated Cheddar


Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 200ºF and preheat waffle iron. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and sugar. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together milk, egg and butter. Pour milk mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in corn and cheese.

2. Mist waffle iron with cooking spray. Pour batter onto grates and spread to edges with a spatula. Cook until waffles are golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate, loosely cover with foil and keep warm in oven. Repeat with remaining batter, misting grates with cooking spray before each new batch.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chicken Yakisoba

This recipe is definitely quick and easy for a weeknight meal.  The recipe calls for the chicken to be marinated for 30 minutes.  I cut the chicken up and put it in the soy sauce while my daughter was doing her homework and then gave them showers while it marinated.  I think marinating the chicken overnight may make it too salty from the soy sauce.  The marinade did give the chicken added flavor, but if you don't have that kind of time, I recommend skipping it.  Unfortunately, this was the kids' first time trying soba noodles and they didn't like it at all!  I tried telling them it was Japanese spaghetti but my daughter was put off by the "black dots" on the noodles.  I told her to eat with her eyes closed so she didn't have to look at them.  She did eat enough for a treat, but she didn't really enjoy it.  My son on the other hand tried one bite and refused to eat.  My husband and I thought that it tasted pretty good though!

Chicken Yakisoba
Cooking Light, March 1998

Ingredients:
7 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, divided
1/2 pound skinned, boned chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
2 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
2 cups vertically sliced onion
1 cup (2-inch) julienne-cut carrot
6 cups coarsely shredded napa (Chinese) cabbage
1/4 cup sake (rice wine) or dry sherry
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups cooked soba (about 9 ounces uncooked buckwheat noodles)

Preparation:
Combine 3 tablespoons soy sauce and chicken in a zip-top plastic bag; seal and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes or until done. Remove chicken from skillet; keep warm. Add 1 teaspoon oil, onion, and carrot to skillet; stir-fry 2 minutes. Add cabbage; stir-fry 2 minutes or until cabbage begins to wilt.

Combine 1/4 cup soy sauce, sake, ginger, sugar, and salt. Pour sake mixture over cabbage mixture. Add chicken and soba; toss well to coat. Cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated.

Mommy & Daddy Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.  (quick, easy, and pretty good).



Children's Book Review: Where's My T-R-U-C-K?

Last book review for the day!  We read so many books in our house that I've been a little behind! I'm returning a bunch of books to the library today and bringing home a bunch more! 

Where's My T·R·U·C·K?
Where's My T-R-U-C-K?
Written by: Karen Beaumont
Illustrated by: David Catrow
Published by: Dial Books, 2011
32 pages

from goodreads.com?
Tommy's not himself today. He's lost his T-R-U-C-K! And no matter what Mom, Dad, sis, brother, and Grandma offer, it's just not as fun as his best red truck. The family dog isn't as picky, and sharp-eyed readers will wonder what happens to the cast-off toys Bowser gets his mouth around. Meanwhile, Tommy tears through the house and yard to hilarious and poignant effect, only to discover, in a grand moment of triumph, sneaky Bowser's secret stash. Hooray! Tommy's found his T-R-U-C-K! Come on Bowser, let's go play!

A welcome addition to the community of strong-willed but endearing picture-book protagonists, Tommy proves you can be in a funk and still be a sweet kid.

* Karen Beaumont has written several other children's books, a couple of which we've already read.  This book, told in rhyme, is about Tommy, a young boy who loses his favorite toy truck.  While his family tries to suggest different things for him to play with, Tommy goes on a search for his truck.  There's a satisfying ending and after seeing where the truck was hidden, it's fun to go back to the story and see what else was taken.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Yum Yum! What Fun!

Yum Yum!: What Fun!
Yum Yum! What Fun!
Written by: Mara Bergman
Illustrated by: Nick Maland
Published by: Greenwillow, 2009
32 pages
ages 3-7

from goodreads.com:
CREAK, CRACK, CREAK, CRACK.

There's a mysterious noise in the house, but Katie and James and their little dog, Harry, are too busy cooking up something delicious to notice.

CRASH! BASH! CRASH! BASH!

Everyone heard that noise! What could it be? Katie and James and their little dog, Harry, are happy to share their snacks with anyone who drops by...but what if this boisterous surprise guest wants to snack on them instead?

YUM, YUM!

* I picked this book off the library shelf based on the title and cover.  Since I love to cook and like to get my kids involved in helping me, the cover with the kids in chef hats stirring something in a bowl caught my interest.  My daughter suggested that I read the story and she'd read the "big words" (onomatopoeia).  The story has some rhyming, onomatopoeia, and animals.  There are two stories going on at the same time in this book, the text presents one story while the illustrations present another.  While we read the book aloud, we were able to talk about what was going on in the pictures and what animals were arriving.  Overall we just weren't big fans of this story. 

 
Family Rating: so-so.

Children's Book Review: A Bad Kitty Christmas

A Bad Kitty Christmas
A Bad Kitty Christmas
Written by: Nick Bruel
Published by: Roaring Brook Press, 2011
40 pages

from goodreads.com:
A HILARIOUS NEW HOLIDAY PICTURE BOOK ABOUT EVERYONE'S FAVORITE NAUGHTY FELINE "Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the city, not a creature was stirring...Except for BAD KITTY." A greedy Bad Kitty didn't get all the presents she wanted for Christmas, but after she goes on a Christmas caper across town and through multiple alphabets, she makes a new friend, finds an old friend, and learns the true meaning of Christmas. Or not. Nick Bruel's first picture book about Bad Kitty since the uproarious Poor Puppy in 2007 is full of rhyming mayhem... and Christmas cheer.


* Nick Bruel introduced readers to Bad Kitty in 2005 and she now stars in seven books, some picture books, some chapter books.  A Bad Kitty Christmas blends a Christmas story and several alphabet lists, which my daughter was quick to notice and point out.  I thought that some of the alphabets were stretched a little bit to make them fit the story.  The vocabulary was slightly advanced for young kids, and I spent a lot of time having to stop and explain what different words meant, while reading this aloud to my kids. Make sure you have plenty of time to read this one, because it is pretty lengthy and is not a quick, bedtime read!  Overall though, I thought the story had a good message and it was a nice holiday read.  I also didn't realize until reading the book jacket that Nick Bruel is a local author, who lives in Tarrytown, NY!   
 
Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.  Good story,  but a little long with difficult vocabulary for my kids.

Children's Book Review: Super Fly Guy

Super Fly Guy
Super Fly Guy
Written by:  Tedd Arnold
Published by: Cartwheel Books, 2006
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
FLY GUY is off to school.
Will he make trouble?
Or will he save the day?

* Tedd Arnold has recently written the 10th book in the Fly Guy series.  This was the first book of the series that we've read.  In Super Fly Guy, Fly Guy goes to school with Buzz and ends up helping out in the cafteria. The storyline is not so great, although I can see the appeal for younger kids.  Who doesn't like gross, stinky garbage?! The illustrations are great and it's a "chapter" book (if you call 3 small chapters a chapter book!) with large print which is good for beginning readers.

Family Rating: one thumb up.  (the kids liked it, the adults didn't).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Meatless Monday & Recipe Repeat: Cheesy Noodles with Corn

I made this recipe awhile back, long before I started making notes and rating the recipes that I cooked.  So, I didn't actually remember if we had enjoyed this the last time I had made it. I thought it would be a winner because it's basically mac and cheese with corn.  My daughter ate all of hers, my son ate about half. This is fast and easy to make for a weeknight meal.  I'm sure it would taste good with some chopped ham added in, if you didn't want to make it a meatless meal.  There are so many other mac and cheese recipes out there that I won't be making this one again, since we didn't LOVE it.

Cheesy Noodles with Corn
Cooking Light, January 1998

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups 1% low-fat milk
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 (16-ounce) loaf light processed cheese, cubed (such as Velveeta Light)
4 cups cooked wide egg noodles (about 6 1/2 ounces uncooked pasta)
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 (10-ounce) package frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
 Cooking spray
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 450°.

Place flour in a medium saucepan. Gradually add milk; stir with a whisk until blended. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook 6 minutes or until thick; stir constantly. Add pepper and processed cheese; cook 2 minutes or until cheese melts. Stir constantly.

Combine cheese sauce, noodles, onions, and corn in a bowl. Spoon into a 2-quart casserole coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until bubbly. Broil 3 minutes or until lightly browned.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cinnamon Roll Sugar Cookies

So I mentioned in a previous post that my Red Velvet Blossoms were not cookie contest worthy, in my opinion.  This year it worked out that the Christmas party and my supper club's cookie exchange were on the same weekend.  I found this recipe while perusing some food blogs and they looked really good!  They are really good!  However, my dough turned out to be very sticky and really difficult to work with and roll.  The flavors were definitely there, so my husband, who helped me make these, and I made them as pretty as we could, despite our difficulties with the dough! Disapppointingly, we didn't even place at the cookie competition :(  Will have to try again next year!


Cinnamon Roll Sugar Cookies
food blog:  Picky Palate http://www.picky-palate.com/

Ingredients:
2 Cups sugar
1 Cup butter, softened
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Cup sour cream
6 Cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons softened butter, (slice 2 Tablespoons 6 times totaling 12 tablespoons)
1 1/2 Cups packed light brown sugar, divided into 1/4 Cups
1 1/2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon, divided

Frosting:
8 oz softened cream cheese
1/2 Cup powdered sugar
2-4 Tablespoons milk, to thin icing

Directions:1. In an electric or stand mixer, cream the sugar and butter. Add eggs, vanilla and sour cream until well combined. Slowly add in the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until well combined.

2. In 2 batches, place in plastic wrap in a disc shape and chill for at least 2 hours for best results.

3. Once chilled, cut each disc into thirds and roll into a 1/8 inch thick oval, about 12 inches X 5 inches. Spread each rolled pieces of dough with 2 Tablespoons softened butter, 1/4 Cup packed brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Start rolling from the long end closest to you, rolling into a log shape. Using a sharp knife, cut 1/2 inch pieces of dough then placing onto a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 9-11 minutes. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes before removing from baking sheet.

4. To prepare frosting, beat the cream cheese until softened and smooth, slowly add powdered sugar and milk until desired consistency. Frost cookies then place in refrigerator until ready to serve. These are 100 times better chilled, trust me!!

Makes at least 6 dozen

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Fish-and-Taters Casserole

This recipe caught my eye because I already had frozen fish sticks in the refrigerator.  I made this on a night when my husband wasn't home for dinner, thinking it's better for the kids than making the usual fish sticks and french fries. Well, I should have just made fish sticks and french fries!  My kids REALLY like fish sticks and wanted more fish sticks, but not the potatoes.  With this being a casserole, I gave them seconds of everything and told them to eat what they wanted out of it.  The kids liked it and ate the tomatoes and capers!  This recipe can be made ahead of time and reheated (directions below).  Beware, this is a pretty carb heavy meal though!

Fish-and-Taters Casserole
Everyday With Rachael Ray, October 2011

Ingredients:
2 lbs. yukon gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 can (28 oz.) tomatoes with basil, drained
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. capers
2 tbsp. EVOO
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
18 frozen fish

Directions:
1.Preheat the oven to 400°. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish. In a pot of boiling, salted water, cook the potatoes until partially cooked, about 5 minutes; drain.

2.Meanwhile, in a large bowl, break up the tomatoes with a spoon. Stir in the garlic, capers, 1 tbsp. EVOO and the thyme; season with salt and pepper.

3.In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan and remaining 1 tbsp. EVOO. Arrange half of the potatoes in the bottom of the baking dish; season with pepper. Top with half of the tomato mixture and half of the fish sticks. Repeat the layering. Top with the breadcrumb mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until golden, about 20 minutes.

FREEZE: Double-wrap (in plastic wrap and foil) the cooled gratin and freeze for up to 2 weeks.

THAW: in the fridge overnight.

REHEAT: Preheat the oven to 400°. Unwrap the foil, discard the plastic wrap and re-cover with the foil. Bake until heated through, 35 to 40 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes to recrisp the topping.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up. (everyone ate it, but probably wouldn't make again.)


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Red Velvet Blossoms

Our friends host an annual Christmas party with a cookie contest.  We won first place last year with these Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies from Martha Stewart: http://www.marthastewart.com/334691/chocolate-peppermint-cookies.

So while I was perusing the Cooking Light Message Boards searching for a cookie to make for this year's party, these jumped out at me.  I love red velvet cake and these looked delicious, and holiday-ey.  So, there I was making the cookie dough Friday when I went to add the red food coloring and discovered the two little drops left in the red food coloring bottle.  The oven was turned off, the dryer was stopped and my son and I made a quick trip to the grocery store to pick some more food coloring up.  I was surprised to discover that McCormack makes a large bottle of just red food coloring!  (I guess it's one of those things you don't notice unless you're looking for it!).  So home we went and finished preparing the cookie dough for these cookies.  Unfortunately, I didn't get the "red" enough look that I was looking for.  They looked nice, but I found them a little too crunchy, probably due to overbaking on my part.  I may retry making these to get them a little softer.  I didn't think these cookies "worthy" enough for the cookie contest so I had to search for a different cookie.  That recipe will follow in another post.

Red Velvet Blossoms
Found on the Cooking Light Message Boards, posted by Choctini
Original recipe from Cuisine at Home

Make these cookies as vibrant or deep red as you choose by simply adjusting the amount of food color.

Makes: about 3 dozen cookies
Total time: about 45 minutes

Ingredients:
WHISK:
1 1⁄2cups all-purpose flour
1⁄4cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1⁄2tsp. baking soda
1⁄4tsp. table salt

COMBINE:
1⁄2cup vegetable or canola oil
1⁄2cup packed brown sugar
1⁄2cup granulated sugar
1egg
1Tbsp. liquid red food color
1tsp. distilled white vinegar

FREEZE: 32white chocolate “kiss” candies (such as Hershey’s Hugs)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.

Combine oil, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a bowl with a mixer on medium speed until creamy, 3 minutes. Add the egg and mix to combine.

Mix in food color and vinegar until fully incorporated.

Add flour-cocoa mixture to sugar mixture; mix to combine.

Scoop dough with a #100 or #60 scoop (1–2 tsp.) onto prepared baking sheets.

Bake cookies until puffed and edges are set, 10–12 minutes.

Freeze candies (while baking cookies) to prevent melting when inserted into cookies.

Remove cookies from oven and insert one candy into each cookie. Let cookies stand on baking sheets 2 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Family Rating:  so-so.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Video from Santa

Last year a friend sent me the following link from the "Portable North Pole."  It's a great site that lets you personalize a video to your child from Santa.  You can decide if they are naughty or nice, upload a profile pic of your child and some important events from the year, and let Santa know the present that they really want this year.  It's super cute and will let them know that Santa's watching them all year and knows how they've been behaving. The message gets sent to your e-mail (unless your child has their own e-mail address) and the sender is "Santa Claus." 

 I spent some time last night creating videos for my kids.  I'm going to wait until this weekend to show them , when my husband can enjoy seeing their expressions with me!  Our  daugher has really been giving us a difficult time these past few days with her rudeness and bad attitude.  I told Santa she's been naughty for her video message.  In her message Santa gives her a warning that there's still time to change her behavior.  I'm hoping that this will be incentive for her to change her attitude over these next few weeks!  Check out the link below:

http://www.portablenorthpole.tv/home

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday Shopping

The holidays are quickly approaching and I still haven't finished my Christmas shopping.  I love being home and able to shop during the week, when stores aren't very busy.  Luckily for me, my son has been super cooperative on our daily errands.  Unfortunately, I still haven't finished shopping which gets me stressed out. 

Thanks to a former teacher colleague, I've borrowed her idea that Santa only brings one present to the kids.  But it's the one present that they really want.   We did this for the first time two years ago and it has worked out wonderfully.  It's been a little harder this year, when looking at the toy catalogs, both kids circled pretty much everything!  I don't think my kids, ages 3 and 5, are at an age where they really want something in particular.  So, my husband and I have decided and already bought their "Santa" presents and have been trying to hype those up! 

Since my kids get so many presents from the family my husband and I try not to go crazy buying them a lot of presents.  It's really hard having my son with me all day though because I can't buy anything for him! 

Growing up, my family always made Christmas lists.  This way, we were sure to get something that we actually wanted or could use.  We still operate like this which helps make shopping a little easier.  It's still hard when I want to try to find the "perfect" present for everyone, especially those not in my family who don't make lists.   

Ultimately, I have resigned myself to stop stressing over the shopping.  I remind myself what the holiday is really about.  I will be spending the holiday with loved ones and that is the greatest gift of all.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fish Tacos with Honey-Cumin Slaw and Chipotle Mayo

This recipe wasn't originally on the menu.  I had some sour cream that I wanted to use and thought that fish tacos sounded good.  Only after making dinner last night did I realize that I didn't use the sour cream!  I did find another recipe though for later in the week to use that sour cream! The only changes I made to the recipe were that I omitted the cilantro (will eat it, but I'm not a huge fan) and didn't add the cayenne pepper to the mayo.  I tasted it and thought that it was spicy enough without. And of course, I thought that we had panko in the house, but when I went to cook I couldn't find it, so I used plain bread crumbs.  The fish still got a nice golden brown crust on it. (My husband later told me that we definitely had panko in the house....I guess I just didn't look hard enough!)  Even without those ingredients these tacos were delicious!  However, they were a bit time-consuming (all of the breading and frying of the fish and making two sauces!) and required a lot of clean-up (lots of dishes were used!).  I wouldn't categorize this as a quick weeknight dinner.  However, if you have a little time to make this, it is well worth it.

Fish Tacos with Honey-Cumin Slaw and Chipotle Mayo
allrecipes.com - by Scarey76

Ingredients:
1 pound tilapia fillets, cut into chunks
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
1 tablespoon adobo sauce from chipotle peppers
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups panko crumbs
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 cup vegetable oil for frying
2 cups 3 color coleslaw blend
1 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
8 (7 inch) flour tortillas, warmed

Directions:
1.Place the tilapia chunks in a flat dish and pour 1/2 cup lime juice over the fish. Cover, and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

2.Meanwhile, make the honey-cumin sauce by whisking together 1/3 cup lime juice, honey, vegetable oil, and ground cumin a small bowl. Set aside until needed.

3.To make the chipotle mayonnaise dressing, place the mayonnaise, chilies, adobo sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cayenne pepper together in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Cover, and refrigerate until needed.

4.To bread the fish, place the flour, eggs, and panko crumbs in three separate shallow dishes. Season the fish with salt and pepper to taste. Dip the fish pieces first in the four, coating evenly, and shaking off any excess. Dip next in the eggs, and last in the panko crumbs, patting the pieces to help the breadcrumbs hold. Set the fish aside on a plate.

5.To cook the breaded fish, pour 1 cup vegetable oil into a skillet to 1/4 inch deep. Heat the oil to 365 degrees F (185 degrees C) over medium heat. Cook the fish, turning until all sides are golden brown, and flesh is easily flaked with a fork. Drain on paper towels. Brush the fish with the honey-cumin sauce.

6.Mix the coleslaw and cilantro together in a bowl. Reserve 1/4 cup of the chipotle mayonnaise dressing, and pour the remaining dressing over the coleslaw mixture. Toss to coat evenly with the dressing.

7.Place the tortillas on a flat surface, and spread each with 1 tablespoon reserved chipotle mayonnaise dressing. Divide the fish between the tortillas. Top with the cilantro coleslaw.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!  I brushed the honey-cumin sauce on the fish for the kids, but didn't give them the slaw or mayo.  It definitely had too much a kick for them.  They both ate all of their tacos and my daughter even asked, "Mmm, what's this tangy, sweet sauce?"  I served this with yellow rice and frozen, steam-in-a-bag veggies.

Children's Book Review: Strega Nona's Gift

Strega Nona's Gift

Strega Nona's Gift
Written by:  Tomie dePaoloa
Published by: Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group, Inc.
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
In Strega Nona's village, the holiday season is a time of celebrations - and nothing says celebration like a feast! All the kitchens are bustling from the Feast of San Nicola, when the children choose the food, to the Feast of Epiphany, when someone gets to be king or queen for the day. Even the animals share in the holiday spirit, and when Big Anthony smells the delicious treats Strega Nona is cooking for them, he decides that just a taste couldn't hurt, right? Wrong! Big Anthony gets his just desserts, while Strega Nona surprises everyone with a special gift.

Starring two of Tomie dePaola's best-loved characters, this funny story features beautiful art, introduces young readers to Italian holiday traditions, and lands Big Anthony in yet another silly predicament that will delight fans young and old.
 
* Tomie dePaola has written over 200 books and has won numerous awards, including the most recent 2011 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his "substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children."  Strega Nona's Gift follows Strega Nona and Big Anthony in another adventure.  Check out Tomie's first book in the series Strega Nona if you have not been introduced to these two well-known dePaola characters. 
 
This book was a great holiday read.  It was very informative, as I had no idea that there were so many Italian holiday feasts!  Big Anthony also learns from a mistake that he's made and makes amends. 
 
Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: Not All Princesses Dress in Pink

Not All Princesses Dress in Pink

Not All Princesses Dress in Pink
Written by:  Jane Yolen & Heidi Y. Stemple
Illustrated by:  Anne-Sophie Lanquetin
Published by: Simon & Schuster, 2010
32 pages

From goodreads.com:
Celebrate girl power with acclaimed author Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple, and mischievous illustrations by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin!

* Like I've mentioned before, I seek out princess books to read to my own "princess."  Jane Yolen has written over three hundred books, including the "How Do Dinosaurs...." series that our family loves.  This book showcased lots of activities that princesses do, besides wear pink.  Among many things, they get dirty, play sports, and fix things.  It sends a positive message to girls that they can do anything and still wear "a sparkly crown."  My daughter loves reading and listening to all books so I'm not sure how much of an impact this book had on her.  I definitely plan on re-reading it to her though before it gets sent back to the library.
 
Mommy Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Meatless Monday & Recipe Repeat: Broccoli and Cheddar Skillet Flan

Going through my folder of recipes that I've cooked before, I found this one.  I know my husband, a.k.a. "the weekend chef" already made quiche over the weekend, but I had my recipe already picked out and on the menu first!  I have to say that it was definitely missing something.  Possibly the nutmeg that I omitted.  I rarely use nutmeg anymore due to a mac and cheese recipe that was ruined, in my opinion, due to the addition of the spice!   I needed to add hot sauce to my piece to enjoy it.  The kids had theirs with ketchup.  So, although this was definitely quick and easy, I don't think I'll be making this one again. 


Broccoli and Cheddar Skillet Flan
Gourmet, February 2007

There are fluffy eggs, melting cheese, and golden hash browns in every bite of this one-dish meal. It makes a good stand-in for quiche, with potatoes acting as a crust.


Ingredients:
6 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Rounded 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped
1 (1-lb) bag frozen hash browns, thawed in a microwave oven
1 (10-oz) box frozen chopped broccoli, thawed

Directions:•Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F.

•Whisk together eggs, milk, pepper, nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until combined, then whisk in cheddar and 3 tablespoons parmesan.

•Heat oil in a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté shallot, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 3 minutes. Add hash browns and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Spread potatoes evenly in skillet and cook, undisturbed, 2 minutes. Remove from heat and spread broccoli over potatoes, then pour in egg mixture. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Bake until set 2 inches from edge but still slightly wobbly in center, 12 to 15 minutes.

•Turn on broiler. Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat until top is set, puffed, and golden brown.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Since I have a case of rootbeer soda in the house I thought that I'd try making this cake.  My husband took our daughter with him on a Home Depot trip.  Since I now stay away from all stores on the weekends (seeing how nice and empty they are during the week!) I was having nothing to do with that trip.  With my son home with me, I decided to enlist him to help me make the cake.  He actually did a great job, though we need to work on the egg cracking!  Overall, this cake was nice and chocolatey.  You can definitely taste the rootbeer, though it is subtle.  I of course made a bad judgment call.  I thought that 2 1/2 cups of confectioners sugar sounded like a lot so I only used about 1 cup.  As a result, I didn't get that thick, white looking glaze for the cake.  I guess I haven't made very many glazes, but file under lesson learned.  I don't think I have the greatest of bundt pans, as I have yet to make a cake that hasn't fallen apart when taking it out of said pan. 


Root Beer Bundt Cake
Food Network Magazine, July/August 2011

Ingredients:
1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/2 cups root beer
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch
3 large eggs, beaten
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan; tap out the excess flour.

Heat 2 cups root beer, the cocoa powder, chocolate and 1 stick butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the granulated and brown sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Combine 2 cups flour, the baking soda, allspice and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Whisk the eggs into the root beer mixture, then gently fold in the dry ingredients (the batter will be slightly lumpy).

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, 55 minutes to 1 hour, rotating the pan halfway through. Transfer to a rack. Gently poke the cake all over with a skewer and pour 1/4 cup root beer over the cake; let cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then invert the cake onto a serving plate and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the glaze: Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup root beer, a pinch of salt, the confectioners' sugar and vanilla in a bowl until smooth. Drizzle over the cake.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.