Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Children's Book Review: The Book that Zack Wrote

The Book That Zack Wrote

The Book that Zack Wrote
Written by:  Ethan Long
Published by: Blue Apple Books, 2011
36 pages

from goodreads.com:
This is the frog… that kissed the fox… that chased the pig…that oinked in the book that Zack wrote.

A fresh and funny re-telling of “The House That Jack Built” with a rhyming refrain, a kooky cast of characters and comic-style illustrations. Includes a separate composition book for kids to create their own illustrated story.
 * If you know the story "The House That Jack Built" than this story will be familiar to you.  The first thing that catches your eye when looking at the book is that it looks and feels like a composition notebook.  As you open the book the pages are lined like the inside of a notebook.  My daughter couldn't believe it and kept telling me, "Look! It's a real notebook!"  The illustrations are colorful and humorous "doodles" and the story has "handwritten" text.  There's a surprise ending and you see other humorous books that Zack has written.  Definitely a creative and different type of book!
Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Simple White Bread

I decided that I needed to work on my yeast skills.  So far everything I've tried to make with the stuff has turned out pretty bad.  My kids are carb-aholics (don't know where they got that from?!!!). They love all kinds of bread and I really want to be able to make them homemade so I'm not giving up!  Since we weren't grocery shopping last week we had run out of bread.  I thought that I'd try to make some so I could send my daughter in with a sandwich for lunch on Friday.  This "simple" white bread recipe sounded like the perfect sandwich bread.  Luckily, I had all day Thursday to make this!  It may have been simple in ingredients and preparation but with three risings, it wasn't quick!  I wasn't sure what the dough would look like when it was supposed to double.  So I was so hapy when it came out of the oven looking like this:

And it tasted really good too!  We all had a taste that night....warm and chewy on the inside, crunchy crust on the outside.  Over the weekend my husband made an amazing grilled cheese sandwich with it.  I will probably be making this bread again very soon!

Simple White Bread
Cooking Light, May 2005

1 teaspoon sugar
1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 1/4 cups warm water (100° to 110°), divided
3 cups all-purpose flour
 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Cooking spray
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Dissolve sugar and yeast in 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Add 1 cup warm water, flour, and salt to yeast mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface. Knead dough until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes).

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 45 minutes or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.)

Uncover dough, and punch dough down. Cover and let rise 30 minutes. Uncover dough; punch dough down. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Roll into a 14 x 7-inch rectangle on a floured surface. Roll up tightly, starting with a short edge, pressing firmly to eliminate air pockets; pinch seam and ends to seal. Place roll, seam side down, in an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 425°.

Uncover dough; gently brush with egg. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° (do not remove bread from oven); bake an additional 15 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Meatless Monday: Red Lentil Dal

We had some leftover red lentils in the pantry that I thought we should try to use up.  I think we had originally bought them for a supper club dish, because I know I wouldn't have them around otherwise!  I had this notion that I didn't like them, however, I LOVE Indian food so I decided to try this recipe.  It was definitely easy and fairly quick to make. I think it lacked a little in flavor though and we added a lot of jalapeno to our bowls!  The kids weren't big fans. I also tried to make naan, which of course used yeast, so it turned out horribly! (I do not have a good track record with the stuff!).  My husband tried to salvage it and he at least made it edible.  It was great to have with the dal to help scoop it up.  The best thing about this meal was that I discovered that I do like lentils!  They are a great source of protein and fiber and were selected by Health magazine as one of the five healthiest foods.  I will definitely be cooking more with them and hopefully find some tastier recipes.

Red Lentil Dal
Bon Appetit, March 1999

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups water
1 cup dried red lentils
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup basmati rice, cooked according to package directions
2 plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 jalapeño chili, seeded, chopped

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 cup onion and 1 minced garlic clove and sauté until tender and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside. Combine 3 cups water, lentils, remaining 1 cup onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, turmeric, cumin and ginger in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer half of lentil mixture to processor; purée until smooth. Return purée to same saucepan. Mix in sautéed onion mixture. Simmer 5 minutes to blend flavors. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon rice into bowls. Spoon dal over. Top with tomatoes, cilantro and chili.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: Lost and Found

Lost and Found

Lost and Found
Written by:  Oliver Jeffers
Published by: Philomel, 2005
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
What is a boy to do when a lost penguin shows up at his door? Find out where it comes from, of course, and return it. But the journey to the South Pole is long and difficult in the boy’s rowboat. There are storms to brave and deep, dark nights.To pass the time, the boy tells the penguin stories. Finally, they arrive. Yet instead of being happy, both are sad. That’s when the boy realizes: The penguin hadn’t been lost, it had merely been lonely!

Oliver Jeffers’ unique tale of friendship lost and found is simply told and beautifully illustrated.

* This is a great picture book about an unlikely friendship.  When a penguin shows up at a little boy's door one day, the boy tries to bring it back to the South Pole, where penguins live.  Along their journey they form a special friendship. The kids enjoyed this one a lot and we read it a couple of different times over the week we had it out from the library. 

Family Rating:  1 thumb up.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Slow Cooker: Baked Chicken Breasts

I'm always looking for new slow cooker recipes that actually taste good!  I love looking through the cooking light message boards where people post crock pot recipes that they've tried and enjoyed.  That's where I found this one. I left out the tarragon/rosemary because I didn't have any.  I served this with rice pilaf and peas.  The chicken breasts I had were pretty thin and I find that my slow cooker cooks things fast.  These were done probably in 3 1/2 hours or so on low and then I had to keep them on warm and eventually turn the slow cooker off for fear of really overcooking them. The kids enjoyed this, minus the mushrooms!

Baked Chicken Breasts
posted on the Cooking Light Message Boards by mrswaz, from Fix It and Forget It

6 boneless skinless chicken breast
2 tablespoons butter
1 can cream of chicken soup, condensed
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 teaspoon dried tarragon -- or rosemary
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
4 ounces mushrooms, canned

Place chicken breasts in slow cooker.
In a saucepan, combine remaining ingredients. Heat until smooth and hot. Pour over chicken.

Cover. Cook on low 8-10 hours
Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: Leave Me Alone: A tale of what happens when you stand up to a bully

Leave Me Alone: A Tale of What Happens When You Stand Up to a Bully

Leave Me Alone: A tale of what happens when you stand up to a bully
Written by:  Kes Gray
Illustrated by: Lee Wildish
Published by:  Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 2011
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
In this sensitively told story, a little boy is feeling sad because every day he has to face a bully. But the little boy also has friends. A frog, a cat, a rabbit, a cow, and other animal friends insist on helping him, even after he tells them: "There's nothing you can do for me/ There's nothing you can say." Fortunately, he is mistaken, because the next time the bully approaches, they all join with him and shout, "LEAVE HIM ALONE!" And it works! The bully turns around and goes away. Author Kes Gray's gently clever use of rhyming verse gives a difficult subject a wonderfully light touch. Large color illustrations on every page capture the spirit of a story that will have special meaning for many little boys and girls.

* Bullying has become a huge issue in schools across America.  What used to be thought of as a middle/high school problem is now affecting even Kindergartners.  While I wouldn't read this book to group of sixth graders, I thought it was a great read for my 3 and 5 year old children. In this book a little boy is being bullied and feels alone.  His animal friends can tell that something's bothering him and want to help.  Told in rhyme with simple text it shows the power of friends banding together.  If my kids were a little older I would use this book as a discussion starter about bullying and what they can do if they feel like they are being bullied. 

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Blog Hopping

I can spend hours perusing blogs while watching television at night.  A great way to find new blogs is through blog hops.  It's also a great way for me to get new readers and followers.  If you have a blog that you want to share feel free to join the blog hop by clicking below.  If you're just looking to check some new blogs out you can click below too!  Enjoy!

The Blog Entourage

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tuna Croquettes

I ended up recording the TLC show Extreme Cheapskates.  I then convinced my husband to sit and watch it with me.  Well, we wasted almost an hour of our lives doing so!  It was pretty bad.  The one thing that we took out of the show was the idea of a "fiscal fast."  If I remember correctly, the man in the show went on a no-spending fast for a week.  The only major spending we do during the week is our grocery shopping.  We decided to challenge ourselves and try to not go grocery shopping for a week.  This past Thursday was a week of using what we had in the house to make meals.  Surprisingly, it really wasn't that difficult and it helped use up some of our pantry and freezer stock, including some cans of tuna fish!

Instead of making tuna sandwiches or tuna melts I wanted to do something else with canned tuna.  While browsing the starkist.com webpage I found this recipe and wanted to give it a try.  My kids may have tried a bite of a tuna sandwich once in their lives if that, a very long time ago.  From that I think I assumed that they didn't like tuna fish.  I was prepared for my son not to even try a bite.  Boy was I surprised when my son ate all of his croquette and asked for more!  My daughter also ate all of hers!  These were a little messy to make and as much as the kids enjoyed these, I didn't love them enough to give them a 2 thumbs up rating.

 Tuna Croquettes
recipe adapted from starkist.com

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup milk
2 cans (5 ounces each) Starkist tuna in water, drained
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons water
oil for deep frying

In medium saucepan, melt butter.

Add flour, salt and pepper, mix well.

Gradually add milk and cook until thick, stirring constantly.

Stir in tuna, onion, and lemon juice, mix well.

Shape mixture into 8 croquettes, roll in crumbs, dip into slightly beaten egg mixed with water and roll again in crumbs.

Fry in small batches in oil for about 3 minutes on each side. Croquettes should be golden brown.

Transfer tuna croquettes to paper towels to drain.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ham Casserole

I had a ham steak and I wanted to do something with it besides heat it up and serve as is.  Ham and swiss cheese always go well together.  Add in some potato and a creamy sauce and you have this awesome casserole!  Of course, I'm infamous for not reading through an entire recipe before putting it on the menu.  This was one of those times that I'm glad I'm at home.  If I came home after a long day of work and realized that I had to cook the potatoes first.....well, we would have been eating take-out!  So, this ended up taking a bit longer than I had expected to make.  However, we all really enjoyed it and there was enough for leftovers for lunch the next day!

Ham Casserole
adapted from food.com - by cuisinebymae

2 cup potato , cooked and cubed

1 cup chopped onion
4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup shredded swiss cheese
4 cups cubed cooked ham
1 cup ritz crackers, crushed

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2.  Cook onion in butter.

3. Blend in flour, salt, and pepper.

4. Add milk slowly, stirring continuously, cook until thick.

5. Remove from heat.

6. Add cheese and stir until it melts and is well blended.

7. Add ham and potatoes and mix together.

8. Pour into a casserole dish, sprinkle with cracker crumbs.

9. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: Big Red Lollipop

Big Red Lollipop

Big Red Lollipop
Written by:  Rukhsana Khan
Illustrated by:  Sophie Blackall
Published by: Viking Children's Books, 2010
40 pages

from goodreads.com:
Rubina has been invited to her first birthday party, and her mother, Ami, insists that she bring her little sister along. Rubina is mortified, but she can't convince Ami that you just don't bring your younger sister to your friend's party. So both girls go, and not only does Sana demand to win every game, but after the party she steals Rubina's prized party favor, a red lollipop. What's a fed-up big sister to do?

Rukhsana Khan's clever story and Sophie Blackall's irresistible illustrations make for a powerful combination in this fresh and surprising picture book.
* I really enjoyed this book.  It is the 2011 Golden Kite Award (recognizing excellence in children's literature) Winner for Picture Book text. I think it might have been a little complex for my 3 year old son to understand, but I think my daughter "got it."  The author Rukhsana Khan is from Pakistan, so I assumed that the family in the story was also. As we were reading, I had to explain to the kids that the family wasn't from America, pointing out how I knew this (the way mom was dressed, not knowing the custom of birthday parties).  Issues of sibling rivalry are addressed as well as forgiveness in each sister's own way.  My kids are really good about not eating each other's treats, sharing, and asking each other if they want some of the other's treat.  So, they were a little surprised when Sana ate Rubina's lollipop!  There were a lot of layers to this story and I think everyone took something from this book!
Family Rating: two thumbs up.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Apricot Chicken with Almonds

This was such a quick and easy recipe!  It was really tasty and the kids loved it!  Unfortunately, there wasn't enough chicken for the kids to have seconds (which they wanted!), so daddy was nice enough to give them some of his piece.  I rarely repeat recipes, but I would definitely make this again for a quick weeknight meal!

Apricot Chicken with Almonds
Gourmet, January 2005

4 (6-ounce) skinless boneless chicken breast halves
5/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Put oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly oil a 13- by 9-inch flameproof baking dish (not glass).

Pat chicken dry and sprinkle all over with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper total, then arrange at least 1/4 inch apart in baking dish. Bake 10 minutes.

While chicken bakes, toast almonds in a small baking pan in oven, stirring twice, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook apricot preserves, soy sauce, mustard, butter, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until preserves are melted. Pour sauce over chicken and continue to bake until chicken is just cooked through, about 10 minutes more.

Turn on broiler and broil chicken 4 to 5 inches from heat, basting once, until chicken is glazed and browned in spots, about 3 minutes. Serve sprinkled with almonds.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: Panda-monium!


Written by:  Cynthia Platt
Illustrated by:  Veronica Vasylenko
Published by: Tiger Tales, 2009
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
What does a Panda do when his tummy rumbles? He looks for crunchy, munchy bamboo! But Beckett doesn't notice the two pandas behind him and the growing numbers who follow him as he leads them on a search for crunchy, munchy bamboo. And lots of hungry pandas can lead to only one thing... Panda-Monium! This bouncy, rhyming read-aloud offers an entertaining lesson in counting.

* This was a really cute story about a hungry panda in search of bamboo.  It's told in rhyme and I really liked that certain words were emphasized with different fonts. It can be used to help reinforce counting as more pandas come and join the search for bamboo.  I also thought that this book would be great for reviewing verbs, since so many examples are given.  Children can point out the verbs and show the action.  The kids enjoyed listening to the story, but because it was a school night and getting late (and we usually read three bed-time stories!) we didn't count the pandas.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Caramelized Onion, Pear, and Goat Cheese Pizza and Veggie Pizza

Here are the other two pizzas that we made for lunch last week.  Four pizzas was way too much for four adults, but it left us with plenty of leftovers!

Caramelized Onion, Pear, and Goat Cheese Pizza
by The Busy Mom and the Weekend Chef (us!)

1 store bought pizza dough
flour, as needed
1 tsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 Anjou pears, sliced thin
1 large onion, sliced thin
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

1. Heat pizza stone in oven preheated to 450 degrees F.

2.  Roll out pizza dough, using flour as needed, to shape and thickness of your preference.

3. Add 2 Tbsp. of butter to a small frying pan, on medium-low heat. Cook onions for approximately 20 minutes until browned.

4.  Brush olive oil onto pizza crust.  Spread pears and caramelized onions on dough.  Sprinkle with the goat cheese crumbles.

5.  Cook for 10-12 minutes, until crust is crispy.

Adult Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Veggie Pizza
by The Busy Mom and The Weekend Chef (us!)

1 store bought pizza dough
flour, as needed
3/4 cup mozzarella, shredded
1/2 cup canned tomato sauce
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup fresh broccoli florets,cut small
3/4 (6.5 oz) can sliced mushrooms, drained
1/2 cup black olives, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced

1. Heat pizza stone in oven preheated to 450 degrees F.

2. Roll out pizza dough, using flour as needed, to shape and thickness of your preference.

3. In large saute pan heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add sliced onions and broccoli florets.  Saute 5-7 minutes until onions are soft and broccoli is cooked.

4.  Spread sauce onto dough.  Add the onion, broccoli, olives, and mushrooms.  Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top.

5.  Cook in oven for 10-12 minutes until crust is crsipy.

Adult Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: Plant a Kiss

Plant a Kiss

Plant a Kiss
Written by:  Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by:  Peter H. Reynolds
Published by: HarperCollins, 2012

from goodreads.com:
Little Miss planted a kiss . . .

One small act of love blooms into something bigger and more dazzling than Little Miss could have ever imagined in this epic journey about life, kindness, and giving.
 New York Times bestselling author Amy Krouse Rosenthal and award-winning illustrator Peter H. Reynolds have teamed together for the first time, creating what may soon prove to be a perennial favorite.

* What happens when you plant a kiss?  Author Amy Krouse Rosenthal takes us on a journey to find out.  My daughter was immediately drawn to the glittery cover and asked if she could read this one to us.  The text is short, written in mostly one, two, or three word sentences.  I believe this is my first introduction to illustrator Peter H. Reynolds' work.  The drawings are simple yet cute and I love the use of glitter in the story.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

BBQ Chicken Pizza and White Pizza

We had friends come over for lunch last Monday (MLK day) and decided to make a variety of pizzas and a garden salad for lunch.  It was fun trying to come up with different pizzas and they were all pretty easy to make.  We took the dough out early in the morning which my husband said made it much easier to roll out. We highly recommend using a pizza stone, to give your pizza a nice, evenly cooked, crunchy crust.  If you don't have one (and we only have one stone, so only 2 of our pizzas were cooked on the stone!) it's fine, the bottom just was a bit soggy. Will definitely be making some of these again when we're not in the mood for the same old cheese pizza! The kids just had plain pizza, which I know they like, and which also left more leftovers for us!  Our friends loved all of the pizzas as much as we did, so they are all getting two thumbs up!

BBQ Chicken Pizza
By The Busy Mom and The Weekend Chef (us!)

1 store pizza dough
flour as needed
1 tsp. olive oil
1 chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 red onion, sliced
1/4 cup bbq sauce of your choice (we used Wanda's All in One Sauce (hot) that my parents brought back to us from a trip to North Carolina)
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Heat pizza stone in oven preheated to 450 degrees F.

2.  Place oil in frying pan on medium heat.  Cook chicken pieces until browned, approximately 3-4 minutes.

3. While chicken is cooking, roll out dough to the shape/thickness of your preference, using flour as needed.
3.  Spread the bbq sauce out on the crust.  Sprinkle the cooked chicken, sliced red onion, and cheddar cheese on top.

4.  Place on stone in oven and cook for 10-12 minutes until crust is crispy.

Adult Rating: two thumbs up!

White Pizza
by The Busy Mom and The Weekend Chef (us!)

1 store bought pizza dough
flour as needed
1 cup part-skim ricotta
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. olive oil
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Heat pizza stone in oven preheated to 450 degrees F.

2. Roll out pizza dough, using flour as needed, to shape and thickness of your preference.

3.  Heat olive oil in small frying pan on medium-low heat.  Add the minced garlic and saute approximately 2-3 minutes until golden. 

4.  Mix the minced garlic with the ricotta.  Spread on the pizza dough.  Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella on top.

5.  Cook for 10-12 minutes until crust is crispy.

Family Rating: two thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Beatrice Doesn't Want To

Beatrice Doesn't Want To

Beatrice Doesn't Want To
Written by:  Laura Numeroff
Iluustrated by: Lynn Munsinger
Published by: Candlewick Press, 2004
32 pages

From goodreads.com:
Beatrice doesn't like books or reading — and she especially doesn't like accompanying big brother Henry to the library three days in a row. But that's where he has to take her while he works on his dinosaur report. Naturally, Beatrice doesn't want to get books from the shelf. Beatrice doesn't want to let Henry work. And Beatrice certainly doesn't want to sit in a room full of boys and girls during story hour. Is there anything that could possibly change her mind? Meet Beatrice, a little girl who knows exactly what she doesn't want. Or does she?

* My daughter chose this book during a recent trip to the library.  The author, Laura Numeroff  is the writer of the famous If You Give a _____ a _____ series.  As I read this story to my children it was a little hard for them to relate since they both love to go to the library and read and listen to books!  It's a great book to read to a reluctant reader and proves what I always believed as a teacher.....if you find a book that is motivating enough for a child he or she will enjoy listening to/reading it!  On a side note, I wonder how many children still use the library to conduct research to write a report?!!  Today, with everything found so easily on the internet, I hope the library doesn't become a lost resource!

Family Rating: So-so.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Children's Book Review: Looking for a Moose

Looking for a Moose

Looking for a Moose
Written by: Phyllis Root
Illustrated by: Randy Cecil
Published by: Candlewick Press, 2006
40 pages

from goodreads.com:
Do you really, really want to see a moose — a long-leggy moose — a branchy-antler, dinner-diving, bulgy-nose moose? Spurred by Phyllis Root's sing-songy text and Randy Cecil's buoyant illustrations, this hunt for an elusive moose through woods, swamps, bushes, and hills is just as fun as the final surprise discovery of moose en masse. Children will laugh at the running visual joke — what is that little dog looking at? — and ask for repeated reads of this satisfying tale.

* Phyllis Root has written over thirty children's books, however I believe this is the first of hers that we've read.  She takes us on a hunt with several children as our guides, looking for a "long-leggy moose."  There's great use of adjectives is describing the moose and the surroundings "the rocky-blocky, lumpy-bumpy, fuzzy-muzzy hillside."  Plus, there's a great ending to the book!

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

French Breakfast Muffins

It was time to make some muffins again!  I was looking for something quick and easy....meaning, few ingredients that I already had on hand!  I've had this recipe bookmarked for awhile in my "recipe box " on allrecipes.com.  They were super easy and quick to make and taste more like cake than muffin (but isn't that what muffins basically are?  Cake you can eat for breakfast?!).  My son and I had to taste these when they came out of  the oven nice and warm....delicious!  They did dry out a little bit over the next day or so, so they only got a 1 1/2 thumbs up rating.

French Breakfast Muffins
adapted from allrecipes.com - by Kelly

Yield: 12 muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, melted

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.

2.In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of the mixture. Stir together egg, milk and 1/3 cup melted butter. Add egg mixture to flour mixture; stir until just moistened (batter may be lumpy). Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.

3.Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, combine 2 tablepoons of sugar and the cinnamon. When muffins are finished baking, dip tops of muffins in the melted butter, and then in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Serve warm.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Bun Bun Button

Bun Bun Button

Bun Bun Button
Written by:  Patricia Polacco
Published by:  G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2011
40 pages

from goodreads.com:
Paige loves cuddling with Gramma and all of Gramma's pets in the Old Blue Chair. And when Gramma makes her Bun Bun Button, an adorable homemade stuffed bunny with a button nose, this special time becomes even more cozy. Then a balloon carries the little bunny away. Bun Bun braves honking geese and a wide night sky, until luck - or love - magically brings her back home to the little girl who loves her.

This heartwarming story celebrates the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren, and is perfect for children who imagine their toys have secret adventures when no one's watching.
* I am a big fan of Patricia Polacco.  I used to use a lot of her books when I taught 3rd grade.  She's a great story-teller, often using her own experiences and heritage as the backdrop for her stories.  Bun Bun Button is a cute story about a little girl named Paige and the special bunny that her Gramma makes her.  Bun Bun Button ends up going on a big adventure.  My children could relate to the story since they each have a special "lovey" that they have.  We did have to talk about how "lost" loveys don't always end up finding their way back home. 
Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snow Scrooge

Yes, I am a Snow Scrooge! I hate the white stuff!  And we got several inches of it last night.  The only thing that I liked about winter was the surprise 5 AM phone calls letting me know I had a snow day!  Now that I'm no longer teaching....well, I can't really name one thing that I like about winter. 

The kids were super-excited waking up to our first substantial snow fall since the random storm back in October.  My husband went out to shovel the driveway for a good hour.  The kids were reminded that they had to clean up their toys before they got to go out and play.  My daughter, dressed in her snow suit, dilly-dallied and did very little cleaning.  By the time their things were put away and last bathroom trips were taken my husband had come in and said, "Did you know it's almost 12:30?  Don't you want to give them lunch before they go out?"  So, off came the partially put on snow gear and we ate.  Approximately an hour later (did I mention my daughter was a slow eater?!) the kids were bundled up and ready to go out?  Then we got to the, "Well, who's going to take them outside?" question.  I assumed my husband was and he thought I was, since as he mentioned, he had already spent a good amount of time out there.  Well, did I mention I hate the cold?  Guess who won?!  So, while the kids went out to play in the snow with daddy, I promised to have the hot cocoa ready when they came in. Instead of vegging out on the couch in front of the TV I washed the sheets and decided to make naan to go with our dinner tonight.  Well, as I sit here, my dough hasn't risen....AGAIN!  I've come to the conclusion that I'm a failure with yeast! 

The kids came in all rosy-cheeked and enjoyed their hot cocoa.  It is nice to be warm inside all together enjoying the rest of our snow day.  But really, I'd love to be living some place that's warm (not hot!) 365 days of the year!  Here's to wishing......

Children's Book Review: Sometimes I Like To Curl Up In a Ball

Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball

Sometimes I Like to Curl Up In a Ball
Written by: Vicki Churchill
Illustrated by:  Charles Fuge
Published by: Sterling, 2001
24 pages

from goodreads.com:
Sometimes I like to curl up in a ball

So no one can see me

because I'm so small.

Little wombat spends a day doing favorite things--what could they be? Are they your favorites, too? Let's look and see! He especially enjoys walking around and around, and doing a pigeon step till he falls down. Or sticking out his pink tongue--and pulling funny faces (now that can be fun)! And maybe he'll jump just as high as he can, and see how much noise he will make when he lands. But when the day ends and the sun starts to fall...he goes back home to mama and curls into a ball. Good night! Soft-toned illustrations portray an endearing little wombat and the warm and friendly world around him--and every page is filled with charming details that stand up to repeat viewings: cute mice, rabbits and turtles peering from behind tall grass, marching pigeons, and a menagerie of other adorable animals. The images, along with the lyrically rhyming text, combine to make a sweet-spirited bedtime story to ease young ones to sleep.

* This is a short story told in rhyme about all the things that wombat likes to do.  (I think it's the first time my kids saw a picture (illustrated) of a wombat!)
The pictures of wombat and his friends are really cute and the kids enjoyed listening to this book.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Sweet-and-Sour Chicken

I actually made this dish sometime last week.  It's a perfect meal for a busy weeknight.  It was really quick and easy to make.  My husband thought it was a little sweet but my daughter loved it so much (minus the red peppers) that she requested I pack some for her for lunch the next day!  I'm not a fan of the sweet-and-sour chicken you can order at your local Chinese restaurant. However, I did think this was pretty good.

Sweet-and-Sour Chicken
Every Day with Rachael Ray, June/July 2011

Salt and pepper
1 cup white rice
1 can (20 oz.) pineapple chunks, drained, 1/2 cup juice reserved
2 tbsp. white vinegar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
4 tsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. ketchup
2 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger
1 1/4 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

1.In a medium saucepan, bring 1 3/4 cups water and 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil; stir in the rice. Cover, lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

2.Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the pineapple juice, vinegar, soy sauce, 2 tsp. cornstarch, the ketchup and ginger. In a bowl, toss the chicken with the remaining 2 tsp. cornstarch, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.

3.In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes; transfer to a plate. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring, until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the pineapple chunks and reserved chicken.

4.Whisk the pineapple juice mixture into the chicken mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Serve over the rice.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Children's Book Review: Everybody Gets The Blues

Everybody Gets the Blues

Everybody Gets The Blues
Written by:  Leslie Staub
Pictures by:  R.G. Roth
Published by: Harcourt Children's Books, 2012

from goodreads.com:
Everybody gets the blues sometimes—dogs and cats, moms and dads, even tiny babies. Just take a look around. If you help someone else who’s feeling sad, you might find that your blues are gone. Or maybe the Blues Guy will come along, to listen or sing the blues with you and sit by your side. A native of New Orleans, Leslie Staub wrote this story after experiencing Hurricane Katrina. Yet this book’s rhythmic, bluesy text and hip, eye-catching illustrations are just right for anyone who’s ever felt those mysterious feelings of sadness—then found that hope and sunnier skies are close at hand.

* The title of the story says it all.  Yes, everybody gets the blues.  In rhyming text this book helps children affirm that it's okay to feel sad and blue sometimes.  I really enjoyed the big, trumpet-playing Blues Guy. Since we read this before bed, we told the kids that there's music called "the blues" that we would have them listen to tomorrow.  This would be a great book for preschoolers when teaching about feelings.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Slow Cooker Pork

I had a pork shoulder in the freezer that I wanted to use and found this recipe.  I love using the slow cooker, especially on those days when I don't really feel like cooking.  Once the pork was cooked, I shredded it and served it in tacos.  I had both hard and soft shells for variety and served this with yellow rice and frozen veggies.  My kids love tacos so this was a hit with them.  This was also their first time having hard taco shells which they loved.  Their was very little hands-on cooking for this recipe.  We served it with mexican blend shredded cheese, sour cream, and salsa.  I am giving it two thumbs up though because everyone enjoyed the meal, and that doesn't happen very often!

Slow Cooker Pork
recipe adapted from allrecipes.com - by 2obies

3 pounds pork shoulder
1 (1 ounce) package low-sodium taco seasoning mix
chili powder to taste

1.Place pork shoulder in a slow cooker.  Rub with taco seasoning. If desired, add chili powder. Place lid on pot and cook on low for 8 hours.

2.Remove pork shoulder from pot and shred.

*Note:  I did not add any water to this recipe.  As the pork cooks it provides enough liquid.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Princess Palooza

Princess Palooza

Princess Palooza
Written by:  Joy Allen
Published by:  Putnam Juvenile, 2011
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
Sporting tutus, butterfly wings, cowboy boots or soccer jerseys, each of these twelve little girls is ready to have a day of fun together-a Princess Palooza! And what could be better than a day at Princess Park-a wonderful playground with a castle, moat and carriage. It's the perfect place for the girls to let their imaginations run wild as they run, jump and dance.

Joy Allen's cheerful verse and vibrant art celebrates the joy of active play and the princess inside every little girl, and the enclosed paper crown will delight princesses everywhere.
* This picture book stars twelve princesses, each dressed very differently but all enjoying their time playing together.  The book is told in rhyme with colorful illustrations of the princesses having fun together.  There's not a lot to the story and it ended up being a quick read.
Family Rating: So-so.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Children's Book Review: Airy Fairy: Magic Mess!

Airy Fairy:  Magic Mess!
Written by:  Margaret Ryan
Illustrated by:  Teresa Murfin
Originally Published by: Scholastic Ltd., 2003
80 pages

from goodreads.com:
Everybody knows that fairies are charming little creatures, dainty, pretty, and tidy. Airy Fairy is different. Young readers who make her acquaintance soon realize that she does have charm—but dainty? Tidy? Not Airy Fairy! Kids will laugh as they read these stories about the messiest fairy in town. Funny stories, vivid characters, and amusing line art fill the pages of the Airy Fairy series. Each story appears in chapters, just like an adult's novel, but Airy Fairy's humorous adventures are written on a level that will appeal to girls and boys. In this funny story, the fairies at the Academy for Good Fairies are using magic spells to make a birthday gift for Fairy Gropplethorpe. All except Airy Fairy, whose efforts are being badly muddled by the mischief of Scary Fairy. Black-and-white illustrations on nearly every page.

* This is a chapter book, probaby geared toward 2nd or third grade girls. The cover of this book is pink with stars! Of course my daughter is going to want to read it.  We found this together at the library last week.  It's one in a series of Airy Fairy books.  My daughter took the book and read it on her own within a day or two.  She really enjoyed it and requested another book in the series to read. Before returning it back to the library, I thought that I'd take a quick read of it.  I can see the draw of the book to a five year old-it's about fairies casting magic spells and there's a ton of cute black and white sketched illustrations throughout the book.  I like the messages of never giving up, the helpfulness of friends, and the idea that the "bad guy" doesn't win.  Is it quality reading?  No, but it's entertaining for my five year old and I'll take that!

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Children's Book Review: My Heart Is Like A Zoo

My Heart Is Like a Zoo

My Heart Is Like a Zoo
Written by:  Michael Hall
Published by: Greenwillow Books, 2010
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
Welcome to the zoo!

Twenty animals are waiting for you—some are familiar, some may be brand-new.

What are they doing?

 How are they feeling?

Are they friends of yours?

Come on in and say hello!

Michael Hall's menagerie invites you and your children to talk about feelings and emotions, explore color and shapes, count the hearts, and meet the animals.

* This is a simple, short book told in rhyme about many different animals.  The star of the book though is the creative illustrations of the animals that are all made out of hearts.  Upside down, sideways, large, and small, every animal is made of multiple hearts. 

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Sausage Crepesadillas

My children love sausage!  I know it's not the healthiest for them and I could substitute in turkey sausage recipes.  I also like looking for new ways to cook with it.  This recipe looked interesting.  This is probably the only time a crepe pan would come in handy!  It took me awhile to get the hang of it (the first couple of crepes just broke into pieces) but by the end I was getting nice round crepes.  Unfortunately, this is one of the few Rachel Ray recipes that I've been disappointed in.  I liked the play on the French/Mexican theme but I think I'd rather a real quesadilla.  The crepe was just too mushy. I think this would make a great dish using tortillas in place of the crepes and having a Sausage Quesadilla!

Sausage Crepesadillas
Every Day with Rachael Ray, February 2010
4 Servings
Prep: 10 min
Cook: 20 min

1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
12 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings discarded
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves
1/2 cup prepared tomato salsa

1.Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a blender, mix the milk, eggs, flour and salt for 1 minute.

2.In a large nonstick skillet, cook the sausage over medium-high heat; transfer to a bowl. Add 2 teaspoons butter and the onion to the skillet and cook until softened; transfer to the bowl. Wipe out the skillet.

3.In the skillet, heat 1/2 teaspoon butter over medium heat. Pour 1/3 cup batter into the pan, swirling, and cook until golden. Flip and cook for 1 minute more. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining butter and batter to make a total of 8 crêpes.

4.Divide the cheese, sausage-onion mixture, cilantro and salsa among 4 of the crêpes. Top with the remaining crêpes and bake until the cheese has melted, about 5 minutes. Cut into quarters.

Family Rating: So-so.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

School Lunch and a Slow Eater

One of the reasons my daughter was so excited to start school was being able to buy lunch at school.  Each month we print up the menu and she excitedly highlights the days that she wants to buy lunch .  The only two rules we gave her was that one, she could only choose a maximum of two days each week to buy and two, she had to be willing to eat/try a bite of everything they were serving.  So for example, even though she likes hotdogs, she doesn't like the baked beans or sauerkraut that they were serving with it, so she couldn't buy school lunch that day. 

Our current school  lunch price is $2.10.  I don't mind paying that knowing that she's going to eat a pretty healthy lunch.  Our school district also uses MyNutrikids.com, an online prepayment service, which means I don't have to worry about lost or forgotten lunch money.  (One down-side is the service fee that they charge each time you deposit money into the account.)

Going back to the school lunch menu, it's nice to see healthy meals like baked chicken nuggets, reduced-fat cheese, whole-wheat buns, and turkey sausage.  My daughter knows that when she decides to buy lunch that day she needs to get the hot lunch.  Not a buttered roll or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

Things were going well until one day I asked her if she was able to finish her lunch.  I believe it was a day the cafeteria was serving chicken nuggets, brown rice, and broccoli.  She told me, "Well, I had two nuggets, a couple bites of rice, and some broccoli."  As she continued to buy lunch I'd ask if she was able to finish it.  The answer was always, "No, I didn't have enough time." 

My daughter is given approximately 25 minutes for lunch.  This includes waiting on line, eating, having to use the bathroom if needed, etc.  My daughter is also a VERY slow eater.  She's easily distracted, likes to talk, and also just chews slowly.   I was concerned that she just wasn't getting enough to eat.  Some days when I send her with her lunch half of it comes back uneaten, again with the line that "I didn't have enough time to eat it."  I give her a snack when she comes home from school.  Hmm, could this be why she's always eating all of her dinner?! Because she's starving?!!! 

Well, we ended up cutting her back to buying school lunch to one day a week now.  We've told her if she continues to be able to eat all of her lunch then we'll bump her back up to two days.  On days that she brings lunch to school, when she comes home and shows me that she's eaten all of it there are big high fives and praise! 

As a former teacher, I know that they can't give kids much more time than my daughter's currently alloted for lunch.  They also need at least 25 minutes of recess, which I'm a big supporter of.  My husband and I continue to stress to my daughter though how important it is to eat healthy food and that she needs to try to eat all of her lunch so her body's not hungry during school.  We'll just have to see if she learns to eat faster......

Chicken Katsu

Panko is a Japanese-style breadcrumb that is much larger and coarser than the typical breadcrumb. It is often used to fry foods and gives them a nice light, crispy coating.  I decided to make this and served it rice and veggies.  My kids LOVED this and it's so easy to make!  Although I don't often repeat recipes, this will definitely be a go-to recipe for a quick meal for them if needed. This is a quick and easy weeknight recipe and I recommend making the tonkatsu sauce to go with it (recipe below with asterik) to give it a more authentic taste.

Chicken Katsu
allrecipes.com -  by sakuraiiko

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - pounded to 1/2 inch thickness
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 cup oil for frying, or as needed

1.Season the chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the flour, egg and panko crumbs into separate shallow dishes. Coat the chicken breasts in flour, shaking off any excess. Dip them into the egg, and then press into the panko crumbs until well coated on both sides.

2.Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place chicken in the hot oil, and cook 3 or 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

* Served with a "tonkatsu" sauce (courtesy of Diane S. from allrecipes) by mixing 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 cup ketchup, and 2 Tablespoons of light soy sauce.  This made way too much sauce, so next time I would at least halve it.  It helped give the dish an authentic flavor.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Martin's Big Words

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Written by: Doreen Rappaport
Illustrated by: Bryan Collier
Published by: Jump At the Sun, 2001
40 pages

from goodreads.com:
The Barnes & Noble Review

Acclaimed author Doreen Rappaport and Coretta Scott King Award winner Bryan Collier, who previously collaborated on Freedom River, have pooled their talents yet again in a stunning tribute to civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. An extraordinary picture-book biography, Martin's Big Words consists of Rappaport's own words interwoven with quotes from Dr. King...all powerfully brought to life by Collier's striking, glorious art.

Rappaport's spare, gripping text and Collier's distinctive collage-and-watercolor illustrations depict King's life journey with reverence and dignity -- beginning with his childhood experience of seeing "White Only" signs throughout his hometown, presenting his efforts as a civil rights crusader, and ending abruptly with his assassination. The front cover of the book immediately conveys King's power and spiritual strength, consisting entirely of a lifelike portrait of him -- the title and the author's and illustrator's names are relegated to the back cover. As Collier says in his illustrator's note, he "tried to push [the imagery] to an emotional level that allows the reader to bring his or her own experience to it, without actually losing the intensity or the intention of the story." His technique is utterly effective.

By using simple, direct language -- much of it King's -- the text offers young readers an accessible yet profound introduction to King's legacy. It explains that as a child, he listened to his minister father's "big words" and vowed to inspire others with such words when he grew up. The book's final sentence: "His big words are alive for us today," testifies to King's success -- and to the timeless importance of this great leader's ideals. As further inspiration for interested readers, Martin's Big Words includes a list of significant dates as well as a bibliography of resources for them to explore. (Jamie Levine)

* As a former elementary special education teacher, this was one of my favorite books to read to the kids to teach about Martin Luther King Jr.  It's told very simply with King's quotes highlighted throughout the book along with collage like pictures.  I find it simple enough for young children and can complement more fact-based narrative stories for older children.  There is a time line of important dates at the end of the book too that can be helpful when reading with older kids. We read this last night in honor of Martin Luther King Day.  My daughter has been hearing stories at school and has been telling me lots of facts that she's learned.  She hadn't heard this story though and I was happy to read it with her since I enjoy it so much. 

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Not a Box

Not a Box

Not a Box
Written by: Antoinette Portis
Published by: HarperCollins, 2006
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
A box is just a box . . . unless it's not a box. From mountain to rocket ship, a small rabbit shows that a box will go as far as the imagination allows.

Inspired by a memory of sitting in a box on her driveway with her sister, Antoinette Portis captures the thrill when pretend feels so real that it actually becomes real—when the imagination takes over and inside a cardboard box, a child is transported to a world where anything is possible.

* When you first pick up this book, you notice the cardboard-like look and feel of it.  On the back is a "This End Up" arrow to add to the box feel.  There's not a lot of words in the book, but that's where the fun comes in.  A rabbit keeps explaining that it's not just a box.  As you see him with the outline of the box, it's fun to try and guess what he's using the box for.  My husband had read this with the kids before I arrived for storytime.  As we reread it, I tried guessing and got many correct.  It shows kids how anything is possible with a little imagination. 

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Weekend Chef: Spanakopita

My husband made two side dishes for our Greek themed Supper Club dinner.  He made a Greek orzo salad and then he made this spanakopita.  I think I've had spanakopita only in small triangle puff pastry form, passed around as an hors d'oeuvres at weddings and such.  We don't go out for Greek all that often and when we do, we've never ordered spanakopita.  Well, I personally loved this dish!  The spinach had such great flavor from the cheeses, onion, and garlic.  My husband said that it was pretty easy to make.  The hardest for him was defrosting the spinach (we used two boxes of frozen) and squeezing all of the excess water out, which took close to ten minutes.  My son loved the phyllo and ate his serving all up! We have left over phyllo dough and I've already put in a request for The Weekend Chef to make this again!

recipe adapted from allrecipes.com - by SILVERWOLF

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 boxes of frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and excess water wrung out
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
8 sheets phyllo dough
1/4 cup olive oil

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly oil a 9x9 inch square baking pan.

2.Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute onion, green onions and garlic, until soft and lightly browned. Stir in spinach and parsley, and continue to saute until spinach is limp, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

3.In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, ricotta, and feta. Stir in spinach mixture. Lay 1 sheet of phyllo dough in prepared baking pan, and brush lightly with olive oil. Lay another sheet of phyllo dough on top, brush with olive oil, and repeat process with two more sheets of phyllo. The sheets will overlap the pan. Spread spinach and cheese mixture into pan and fold overhanging dough over filling. Brush with oil, then layer remaining 4 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing each with oil. Tuck overhanging dough into pan to seal filling.

4.Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. Cut into squares and serve while hot.
Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Greek Easter Cookies from Smyrna

As I mentioned in my previous post, I wasn't sure if I was going to like the baklava that made for my supper club's Greek themed dinner.  So, just in case I made these cookies to bring too.  The original recipe, posted below, yields 5 dozen cookies!  So, I halved the recipe, which still left me with a ton left over.  These cookies turned out to be a bit dry for my liking.  If I was a tea drinker, these might be nice softened up by dunking them in hot tea.  Effort wise, these cookies were not worth it.  Each cookie had to be hand rolled into worm-like shapes and then folded into S like shapes.  The orange zest did give them a nice flavor.  However, I will not be making these again!

Greek Easter Cookies from Smyrna
allrecipes.com -  by Rosina

Yields:  60 cookies

2 cups butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk
8 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 egg

1.Sift together flour and baking powder and set aside. In large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add 4 egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each one. Add milk and flour.

2.Work with the hands until dough is smooth. Add grated orange rind. Dough should be stiff so add additional flour if needed.

3.Break off small portions of dough and roll out into pencil-size strips about 11 inches long. Fold each strip into thirds, sideways, and press lightly together at ends.

4.Place cookies on ungreased baking sheet. Brush tops with beaten egg. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 18 to 20 minutes.

Family Rating:  So-so.


This weekend we had our monthly Supper Club get together.  This month's theme was Greek food.  I decided to make dessert this month.  Of course, when I did a search for Greek desserts, baklava always came up.  I didn't think that I liked this but since it's the dessert you think of when you think of Greece, I figured that I HAD to make it.  I also made some cookies (that recipe is in the next post!) just in case.  Well, what I realized from making this is that I hate working with phyllo dough BUT I do like baklava!  This dessert was much easier than I thought it would be to make.  Although I haven't had baklava all that much, I believe it's supposed to be sweet, which this recipe definitely was. For me, it was an addicting sweet, where I was eating the leftovers up like they were candy!  My daughter on the other hand didn't enjoy them, saying they were "too sweet" for her.  Just to note, I only used 1/2 of the 16 oz. package of phyllo dough and only 1/2 cup of butter.

allrecipes.com - by NEONWILLIE


1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
1 pound chopped nuts
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F(175 degrees C). Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9x13 inch pan.

2.Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cut whole stack in half to fit pan. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 2 - 3 tablespoons of nut mixture on top. Top with two sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 - 8 sheets deep.

3.Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. You may cut into 4 long rows the make diagonal cuts. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.

4.Make sauce while baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

5.Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Serve in cupcake papers. This freezes well. Leave it uncovered as it gets soggy if it is wrapped up.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Family Finances: Weekly Grocery Budget

I was in line behind at woman at the grocery store one day and her grocery total came to over $400!  I couldn't imagine ever spending that much money on a weekly grocery trip, but it did get me thinking.

According to a recent online US News article (which you can find here:  http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2012/01/09/5-ways-to-stretch-your-grocery-budget), the Department of Agriculture anticipates a 3 to 4 percent increase in grocery store prices this year.  Now that I'm not working I've been challenging myself to keep our weekly grocery budget down.  Based on current grocery prices the USDA has created four different food plans (thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal) at different costs.  They have charts breaking down food categories by pound per family member and examples of food for each category, but no recipes. According to their most recent data in November 2011, for a family of four (with two children under the age of 5) on the liberal plan, the weekly cost of groceries is $243.40!  I honestly can't remember if or when I spent that much money on a weekly grocery trip, even when I was working!  The weekly cost of groceries on the thrifty plan for a family of four (with two children under the age of 5) is $124.90. 

Now, call me crazy, but for the past eight months or so, I've been tracking our weekly grocery spending.  We don't give ourselves a particular budget, but looking back these past few months our weekly average spending was approximately $135, give or take.  Now that the holidays are over and we've pretty much resumed our normal cooking and eating habits, our grocery bill for January has been approximately $90 each week, so far.  That's almost $35 below the USDA's thrifty plan! 

If you have never kept track of your grocery spending, I challenge you to do so for a couple of weeks.  I think you'll be amazed at how much (or little) you are spending. With me not working, we've been eating out less, my husband has limited his buying lunch to once a week or less, and we've definitely been trying to limit our food waste (i.e. eating leftovers, using the remaining grated cheese from one recipe in another, etc.).  I make a weekly menu based on what I have in the freezer and what's on sale at the grocery store. I don't buy organic produce or meat but I do buy hormone-free milk. I continue to use coupons and stock up on things when they are on sale.

I'd love to hear any other suggestions that you may have on saving money on your weekly grocery spending!

Children's Book Review: The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza)

The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza)

The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza)
Written by: Philemon Sturges
Illustrated by: Amy Walrod
Published by: Puffin, 2002
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
The story of the industrious Little Red Hen is not a new one, but when this particular hen spies a can of tomato sauce in her cupboard and decides to make a pizza, the familiar tale takes on a fresh new twist. Kids will love following along as the hen, with no help from her friends the duck, the dog, and the cat, goes through the steps of making a pizza-shopping for supplies, making the dough, and adding the toppings. But despite their initial resistance, the hen's friends come through in the end and help out in a refreshing and surprising way.

* This book has been in a bucket with the tons of other books that I've bought through the course of my teaching career.  It's a take on the classic tale of The Little Red Hen, where in this story she makes a pizza.  It has the repetitiveness of the original story, where my son was predicting what the animals would say when the Little Red Hen asked them to do something.  I was pleasantly surprised at the ending, with a definite twist from the original. The illustrations are bright and colorful.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Meatless Monday: Egg and Hash Brown Tacos

Another breakfast for dinner that's quick and tasty!  As my husband commented, these have a lot going on, but somehow it all kind of works together and is tasty. 
Now I'm not a big bean eater.  Don't know if it's a taste thing or a texture thing, but I've never really enjoyed eating them.  Unfortunately, I don't end up making beans of any kind very often because of my aversion to them.  I fear though that I'm not giving my kids the opportunity to decide if they like them. Surprisingly, with all of the other "stuff" in these tacos the beans kind of blend in with all of the other flavors.  Everyone ate and enjoyed these.....including me! As you can see from the picture I served these with some cut up fresh pineapple and strawberry slices.

Egg and Hash Brown Tacos
Food Network Magazine, October 2011

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups frozen shredded hash browns (about 8 ounces)
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup prepared salsa
8 large eggs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
8 6-inch flour tortillas, warmed
1 avocado, pitted, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the hash browns and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cumin and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the beans and salsa, reduce the heat to low and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.

Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Pour into the skillet with the hash browns and cook, stirring, until the eggs are almost set, about 2 minutes. Stir in half of the cheese and cook until the eggs are just set, about 1 more minute. Divide among the tortillas and top with the bean salsa, avocado, cilantro and remaining cheese.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Children's Book Review: Animal Strike At The Zoo. It's True!

Animal Strike at the Zoo. It's True!

Aniaml Strike At The Zoo. It's True!
Written by:  Karma Wilson
Illustrated by:  Margaret Spengler
Published by: HarperCollins, 2006
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
There's an animal strike at the zoo!

oh no, oh my!

What's a zookeeper to do when the lions and tigers and bears refuse to roar and prowl and growl? And when little Sue, who has been waiting all year for this trip to the zoo, enters the gate, will the animals decide to give their strike a break?

Karma Wilson's fun, playful text paired with Margaret Spengler's bright and lively pastels create an unforgettable, irresistible zoo of chaos and fun!

* Karma Wilson is the same author of the "Bear" series (I recently reviewed Bear Feels Scared) which we have become a fan of.  I actually bought this book for my kids through one of their school book orders.  It is written in rhyme and has cute pictures of zoo animals.  The animal demands are humorous but I had to explain to my daughter what a strike was.  Overall, a cute animal story.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Recipe Repeat: Greek Shrimp and Spinach with Penne

I made this recipe back in March of 2009 and I starred it, so I thought I'd try it again since I had some feta that needed using up.  I don't remember much from the last time I made it, but this time around it didn't wow me.  It was definitely easy to make and pretty quick, minus the defrosting and peeling of the shrimp (I used frozen). The kids ate the pasta and some shrimp.  My son ate the feta (he LOVES cheese of all kinds!).  They were not fans of the tomatoes and spinach though.  This is another quick and easy weeknight meal.

Greek Shrimp and Spinach with Penne
Cooking Light, March 2000

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
Cooking spray
8 cups chopped spinach (about 10 ounces)
1 1/2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
4 cups hot cooked penne (about 8 ounces uncooked, tube-shaped pasta)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese

1. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large non-stick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Add spinach; cook 2 minutes or just until spinach wilts.  Spoon spinach mixture into a large bowl, and set aside.  Add 1 teaspoon oil, garlic and shrimp to pan; saute 3 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice, oregano, pepper, and tomatoes; cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated.  Add shrimp mixture to spinach, and toss well.  Serve over pasta, and sprinkle with cheese.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: The Boy Who Cried Wolf

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Retold by:  B. G. Hennessy
Illustrated by:  Boris Kulikov
Published by:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006
40 pages

from goodreads.com:
"Nothing ever happens here," the shepherd thinks. But the bored boy knows what would be exciting: He cries that a wolf is after his sheep, and the town's people come running. How often can that trick work, though?

B.G. Hennessy's retelling of this timeless fable is infused with fanciful whimsy through Boris Kulikov's hilarious and ingenious illustrations. This tale is sure to leave readers grinning sheepishly.

* Recently, my daughter and I had a discussion where I mentioned this fable to her.  Unfortunately, I don't remember the context of our conversation, but I did note to myself that I would have to get a copy of the story to read to her.  There are countless books and versions retelling this fable.  I picked this one because it was one of the newer ones listed in the library catalogue.  My daughter pretty much knew the fable from my simple retelling to her when we had the discussion when it was brought up.  So, she knew what was going to happen as I read.  This was a cute retelling of the well-known fable, and pretty much stuck to the traditional tale as most of us know it. The illustrations in the story definitely amused my kids, with the shepherd in barefeet, his finger up his nose in one picture, and the sheep in a funny place in another picture. 

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Children's Book Review: Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur

Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur: A First Book of Manners

Suppose You Meet A Dinosaur:  A First Book of Manners
Written by: Judy Sierra
Illustrated by:  Tim Bowers
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012

From goodreads.com:
A little girl is shopping in a grocery store when—surprise!—she meets a dinosaur. Don't worry. The dinosaur is very friendly. She's polite, too. In this funny story, told in lilting read-aloud rhyme, the girl has numerous opportunities to be helpful to the clumsy shopping dino and demonstrate when to say "thank you," "excuse me," "I'm sorry," "You're welcome," and other niceties of life. Tim Bowers's whimsical illustrations bring an extra dimension of fun to Judy Sierra's hilarious picture book fantasy. Altogether, Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur is an entertaining and painless way to show preschoolers why basic manners are a good thing to have.

* I recently put some books on hold at the library that were on order.  This is one of them, since it just recently came out.  This is a really cute picture book with great illustrations of a giant dinosaur with very stylish pink glasses!  It's a great book for introducing, or in our case, reviewing basic manners. It's perfect for even young children, since it goes over "please", "thank you", excuse me", etc.....the basics.  It's told in rhyme which my kids always enjoy.

Family Rating:  2 thumbs up!

Buttermilk Pancakes II

I don't know if I've mentioned this previously, but I rarely if ever have made the same recipe twice.  Looking at the piles of recipes that I have waiting to be tried, it just doesn't make sense to me to keep making the same things over.  Call me crazy, I know.  Well, this is one recipe that I have made a couple of times.  I'm not a big breakfast eater and honestly, I'd rather sleep in on the weekend than eat a big breakfast. I usually save homemade breakfast fare, like pancakes, waffles, and egg casseroles for quick weeknight dinners.  I wanted to use up the buttermilk that I had opened to make the pound cakes, so the Monday after New Year's my husband had off and I made these for breakfast for us.  I didn't think I had 3 cups of buttermilk left, so I ended up halving the recipe. I only ended up using one egg (how do you halve an egg?!) and I thought these came out well.  Even with half a recipe we had a couple pancakes left over that we froze so the kids could have them for breakfast again during the week.

Buttermilk Pancakes II
allrecipes.com - by BURYGOLD

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1/3 cup butter, melted

1.In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together buttermilk, milk, eggs and melted butter. Keep the two mixtures separate until you are ready to cook.

2.Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. You can flick water across the surface and if it beads up and sizzles, it's ready!

3.Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, using a wooden spoon or fork to blend. Stir until it's just blended together. Do not over stir! Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/2 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

 Family Rating: 2 thumbs up.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Vanilla Buttermilk Pound Cakes

My parents invited us over for dinner New Year's Day and asked us to bring something for dessert.  I had an unopened carton of buttermilk in the fridge so I went on a search for dessert recipes using buttermilk.  I found this one and thought I'd give it a try.  The original recipe calls for making this in 5, 5 3/4 x 3 3/4-inch loaf pans.  Well, I didn't have those and I wasn't making this as a gift, so I used the variation that the recipe offered by making it in 2 8x4-inch loaf pans.  Which I'm glad I did, because I don't have two of the same loaf pans and one of the cakes wouldn't come out of the pan nicely.  That one came out with half of the bottom stuck to inside of the pan! The picture below is of the nicer one, though of course I don't remember which of the two pans it came out of.  I brought a carton of vanilla bean ice cream to serve on top.  Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Vanilla Buttermilk Pound Cakes
Cooking Light,  November 2008

13 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3 cups)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups low-fat buttermilk
 Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients (through salt); stir with a whisk. Place sugar, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and buttermilk to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

3. Spoon batter into 5 (5 3/4 x 3 3/4–inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pans. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Scaredy Squirrel

Scaredy Squirrel (Scaredy Squirrel)

Scaredy Squirrel
Written by:  Melanie Watt
Published by:  Kids Can Press Ltd., 2006
40 pages

from goodreads.com:
Scaredy Squirrel never leaves his nut tree. It's way too dangerous out there. He could encounter tarantulas, green Martians or killer bees. But in his tree, every day is the same and if danger comes along, he's well-prepared. Scaredy Squirrel's emergency kit includes antibacterial soap, Band-Aids and a parachute. Day after day he watches and waits, and waits and watches, until one day #151;his worst nightmare comes true! Scaredy suddenly finds himself out of his tree, where germs, poison ivy and sharks lurk. But as Scaredy Squirrel leaps into the unknown, he discovers something really uplifting ?

* Scaredy Squirrel is the first of several books in the series.  I love the format and illustrations of the book. This includes advantage/disadvantage lists, daily routine charts, and emergency steps among many different pictures which contribute to the uniqueness of the book. I liked the story line, which encourages children to try something new, they may be pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading more in the series.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Children's Book Review: Cupcake


Written by:  Charise Mericle Harper
Published by: Disney Hyperion Books, 2010
32 pages

from goodreads.com:
Poor vanilla Cupcake. He's feeling a bit drab next to his fancy friends. But when his new pal Candle comes along with some fresh ideas, the two concoct a plan to become the snazziest duo ever found on a plate!

* The author of this book, Charise Mericle Harper, is another local author of Westchester County, NY, that I didn't know about.  As I read this book, it reminded me of the children's book Tina Cocolina - Queen of the Cupcakes which I had read and reviewed recently.  It had pretty much the same storyline, where a cupcake is feeling plain compared to its friends, or in this case, family.  In Cupcake a candle who also feels plain commiserates with "Cupcake" and tries to offer suggestions for a special topping. At the end of the book there is a vanilla cupcake and buttercream frosting recipe, which I did not try.  I like the message that the book is trying to portray - it's okay to be yourself, and the importance of friendship. The kids enjoyed the cute cupcake illustrations and my daughter loved the sparkly cover.  However, the story overall was just okay in our opinion.

Family Rating: so-so.