Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tuscan Lemon Muffins

I don't think I've yet to make a muffin that my family hasn't enjoyed.  As the saying goes, muffins are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast!  This recipe caught my eye because my kids are big lemon eaters.  While I'm not a big fan of lemon I thought that they'd enjoy these....and of course they did! The lemon flavor isn't too overwhelming that I actually enjoyed them too.  They were very moist possibly due to the ricotta and olive oil, which were new muffin making ingredients for me).   I do not have turbinado sugar, though I should really get some since this isn't the first recipe that I've made that used it!.

Tuscan Lemon Muffins
Cooking Light, May 2011

7 9/10 ounces all-purpose flour (1 3/4 cups)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients (through salt); make a well in center. Combine ricotta and next 5 ingredients (through egg). Add ricotta mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

3. Place 12 muffin-cup liners in muffin cups; coat with cooking spray. Divide batter among muffin cups. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over batter. Bake at 375° for 16 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic

Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic

Night Flight:  Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic
Written by:  Robert Burleigh
Paintings by:  Wendell Minor
Published by: Paula Wiseman/ Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Award-winning author Robert Burleigh has captured Amelia Earhart's first solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932. She was only the second person to do this – and the first woman. Rich in detail, feeling and incident this is nonfiction with edge and action, a you-are-there experience made more dramatic and real by Wendell Minor's vivid paintings.

* To end the month of March and the celebration of Women's History Month I'm posting one last picture book review spotlighting a famous woman in history.  Night Flight tells the story of Amelia Earhart's solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.  When I was in the fifth grade we had a living history fair where we had to dress up as the historical figure that we picked out of a hat, and then do a report on her/him and be able to answer questions as if we were really that person.  I was Amelia Earhart.  That was more than twenty years ago and honestly, I don't remember much about her.  Unfortunately, this book was not the book to read to the kids to learn more about her.  This book was very descriptive and used lots of similes to describe the storm that Earhart flew in, which is what the book focused on. The end of the book is more informative and gives a mini biography of of Earhart, along with famous quotes of hers, and internet resources.  The Paintings are colorful and the story is beautifully written.  It just wasn't as informative as I thought that it would be, or appealing to the kids.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Children's Book Review: Crafty Chloe

Crafty Chloe

Crafty Chloe
Written by:  Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by:  Heather Ross
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012

Fancy Nancy meets Martha Stewart in Crafty Chloe, the adorable DIY star of a new picture book series! When another girl has already purchased the most perfect birthday gift for Chloe’s friend Emma, Chloe decides she’ll make a present—something you can’t buy in a store. But crafting isn’t easy, and it’s beginning to look like she won’t have a great idea in time. Fortunately, with a good doodle session and a whole lot of glitter to inspire her, Chloe figures out just the thing to save the day—and with a little help from her trusty glue gun, she just might save a friendship, too!This inventive and irresistible picture book will have young readers itching to reach for their googly eyes.Check out to learn how to make the cool crafts featured in the book!

* This book was a perfect pick to read to my daughter.  She loves to draw, color, and do arts and crafts of all kinds.  The main character in the book, Chloe, is super talented in her craft making skills and can even sew clothes (I wish I could do that!).  When she gets to the store to buy her friend Emma's birthday present, her classmate London grabs the "Violet" Flower Girl doll that Chloe was going to give to Emma.  She decides to make Emma something but stays up all night trying to figure out what that perfect gift will be.  Of course she comes up with a creative and perfect gift that Emma loves.  My daughter really enjoyed this story and requested it be read to her on several different occasions.  If you have a little girl who loves crafts this is a great story to read to her (though my 3 year old son seemed to enjoy it too!).

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Blueberry-Buttermilk Scones

I honestly don't know what made me want to try making scones.  I didn't think I was a big fan.  To me the few times that I've had them I thought that they were kind of dry.  I picked up some blueberries and decided to try this recipe and boy am I glad that I did!  I now have a whole line-up of scone recipes that I want to try!  These scones were tasty and moist.  The family loved them and it was a great breakfast treat for us. 

Blueberry-Buttermilk Scones
from brown eyed baker

Makes 12 scones

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cake flour (not self-rising)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup (½ pint) blueberries
½ cup buttermilk
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg lightly beaten for egg wash
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

2. Whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or rub in with your fingers, until the mixture has the texture of coarse meal. Stir in blueberries.

3. Whisk together buttermilk, 1 egg, and the vanilla. Drizzle over flour mixture, and stir lightly with a fork until dough comes together but a small amount of flour remains in the bowl.

4. Turn out dough onto a work surface, and gently knead dough once or twice just to incorporate flour. Pat dough into a 1-inch thick round. Cut into 12 wedges. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Brush with egg wash, and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake until golden brown and cooked through, about 22 minutes. Transfer scones to wire rack to cool.

Serving & storing: The scones are best served immediately, but can be frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw, and reheat in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes.

(Adapted from Martha Stewart)

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Children's Book Review: The Wolf Who Cried Boy

The Wolf Who Cried Boy

The Wolf Who Cried Boy
Written by:  Bob Hartman
Illustrated by: Tim Raglin
Published by: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2002

In this irresistible reversal of the classic tale, Little Wolf is tired of forest fast food, so he sets his sights on a a nice juicy boy. 

* It's hard to believe that I've owned this story for I don't know how long and I only read it for the first time a couple of days ago.  I think that I picked it up at a library book sale and stuck it with my school/teaching books and just never got around to reading it.  My kids have recently been introduced to the story of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." Since we've been on a "told from a different point of view" kick recently I thought it was time to finally read this book to the kids.  In this twist on the classic tale, Little Wolf is not happy with his mother's dinners and wants Boy for dinner.  Father Wolf reminisces of his childhood meals of "Baked Boy-tato" and "Boys-n-Berry Pie" but tells Little Wolf that Boy is hard to come by.  So Little Wolf decides to play a trick on his parents and cry "Boy."  Similar to the classic ending, Father and Mother Wolf ignore Little Wolf when he cries "Boy" and there is actually a Boy.  I thought that this book was humorous and enjoyable!  The illustrations were detailed and colorful. 

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Lemony Chicken with Artichoke Hearts

I'm not a big fan of lemons, but my children are.  They eat lemon slices by the bowlful when the server brings them when we go out to eat and I order a diet coke with lemon.  I thought that maybe they'd like this dish and they'd get to try artichoke hearts - something I wasn't sure that they've tried before, but that I love (especially with spinach in a dip!).  Although this takes some time to cook, most of it is simmering and not hands-on time, so you can do other things and just check on the pan every once in awhile. I served the chicken over spaghetti.  My daughter was happy as long as she didn't get any artichokes (though she did try her required one bite).  My son ate some spaghetti, which had the sauce on it.  Overall, it was not bad, but not something I'd be making again (not that I usually repeat recipes).

Lemony Chicken with Artichoke Hearts
recipe very slightly adapted from - by GURTRUG

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
2 lemons, juiced
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup water

1.Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Combine the flour and salt on a plate, then gently press the chicken breasts into the flour mixture to coat. Shake off the excess flour. Arrange the chicken in the skillet and cook until browned on each side, about 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice, chicken broth, Worcestershire sauce, white wine, garlic, bay leaf, and basil. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. Stir in the artichoke hearts, and continue simmering until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, about 15 minutes more.

2.Mix the cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Stir the mixture into the chicken, and continue cooking until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Children's Book Review: The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-To-Be

The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-be

The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-To-Be
Written and illustrated by:  Mini Grey
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003

When it comes to sorting out a Real Princess from a Fake Princess, the famous pea-under-the-mattress test is tried-and-true. But for those of you who may have wondered how anyone could feel a tiny garden-variety pea under the weight of twenty mattresses, this book will put that question to rest once and for all.

This witty spoof was shortlisted for the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal in the UK. It was Mini Grey's first book and a worthy predecessor to such favorites as Traction Man is Here!

* My daughter recently read a short chapter book version of the classic tale "The Princess and the Pea."  While persuing the library bookshelves I found this book.  In this twist of the classic story mentioned, the tale is told from the pea's point-of-view.  The Queen wants her son to find a princess to marry or else she will take his very large allowance away.  The pea wants to help the Prince find a princess and we discover how the pea helps to make the happily-ever-after ending.  I always like a change of perspective/twist on old classics.  This was a cute and different version of the classic.  I have to say I thought that the Queen and the Prince looked a little scary with their "pea" eyes though.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Schnitzel and Veggies

Schniztel is an Austrian dish, traditionally made with veal, that is pounded thin and then fried.  I have to say that I don't normally eat veal.  Dating back to when I was in high school and realized where veal came from I became a vegetarian.  That lasted for probably a week or two (I can't help it, I cannot give up bacon!) but nonetheless, I still don't eat veal very much.  This recipe calls for a pork tenderloin, where you slice and pound the pork into thin slices.  I was in the grocery store though and found already pounded thin pork cutlets.  It was definitely a time saver!  I posted the original recipe for the Schnitzel and Veggies.  I followed the recipe for the pork, however, I am not a big fan of fresh, cooked tomatoes.  I ended up sauteing the zucchini with some garlic and then adding a little bit of leftover canned tomato sauce.  This brought back memories of a zucchini side dish that my mom made growing up that was very similar, and which I liked a lot!  Overall, this was a quick an easy meal.  I ended up serving it with mashed potatoes, which take a little time in the prep work.  Everyone enjoyed it....except my son, as usual!

Schnitzel and Veggies
EveryDay with Rachael Ray, October 2007

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
2 large eggs
1 1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into 8 even pieces and pounded
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 large tomato, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 lemon, cut into wedges

1.Preheat the oven to 250 degrees . In a wide shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs, parmesan and 2 pinches each salt and pepper; set aside. In another shallow bowl, beat the eggs. Turn each piece of pork in the crumbs to coat well, then coat with the eggs and again with the crumbs; transfer to a plate.

2.In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Add 4 pork cutlets and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with 2 more tablespoons olive oil and the remaining cutlets.

3.In a medium skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and garlic and cook, stirring, until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato and cook until warmed through, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.

4.Serve 2 pork cutlets per person with the zucchini and lemon wedges.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Children's Book Review: The Unruly Queen

The Unruly Queen

The Unruly Queen
Written and illustrated by:  E.S. Redmond
Published by: Candlewick Press, 2012
32 pages

Fifty-two nannies in fifty-two weeks - and Minerva von Vyle is still impossible! Can anyone tame this spoiled, wild child?

"But what sort of queen lives with beasts in a cave?"

"The sort," Nanny answered, "who never behaves."

Minerva rules her household with shrieks and commands, demanding candy for dinner and refusing to entertain any discussion of bedtime. Indeed, fifty-two nannies have run screaming from the house. But when the elegant and bespectacled fifty-third nanny, undaunted by Minerva's tirades, appears on the scene to crown her young charge "the Unruly Queen," tutu-clad Minerva is thrilled - until she hears the details of the position. E. S. Redmond's brisk, bouncy rhymes and vibrant, delightfully detailed artwork portray Minerva's unyielding awfulness and Nanny's unshakable calm with comedic flair, prompting even the most unmanageable youngsters to be careful what they wish for.

* Luckily, my children aren't spoiled.  But if you do happen to know a spoiled child, this may be a good book to read to him or her.  I borrowed this book from the library.  Told in rhyme this story tells the tale of Minerva von Vyle, a spoiled child.  She goes through dozens of nannies (my kids don't know what a nanny is!) until the new nanny appears to crown Minerva the "Unruly Queen."  It sounds so exciting to Minerva....until it doesn't.  While I thought it was a cute story, it used a lot of difficult vocabulary for an almost six year-old.  The flow of the story gets ruined when she stops to ask what a word means on almost every page.   I enjoyed the illustrations in this story.  The dark grays, blacks, and browns, are complemented by pops of pinks and purples.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Grilled Ham & Gouda Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Roasted Tomato Mayonnaise

I have to admit that I rarely look at those recipes in the advertisements in my cooking magazines.  This recipe though did catch my eye and I ripped it out hoping to one day make it.  Well, that day finally came, but I can't tell you how long it's been sitting in my recipe folder.  I couldn't find the recipe on the Hellman's website, where the recipe originated from.  This recipe did require a LOT of work. Between making the carrot soup and this sandwich (which I served together) I think that I used a gazillion dishes and appliances! So, probably not a good weeknight dinner.  However, unlike the soup, this sandwich was really good.  The kids didn't eat the mayo which turned out really garlicky but was tasty! 

The Roasted Tomato Mayonnaise

Grilled Ham & Gouda Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Roasted Tomato Mayonnaise
from Hellman's Mayo at
(although it's no longer posted on the site, as far as I could find!)

*Serves 4

Caramelized Onions:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large Spanish or sweet (Vidalia) onion, halved and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the butter and oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and caramelized.  Season with salt and pepper.

Roasted Tomato Mayonnaise:
1 plum tomato, halved and seeded, or 2 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and patted dry
1 tablespoon canola oil (if roasting tomato)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup Hellmann's Mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Place the tomato in a small dish or on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast until the tomato is very soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
2.  Put the mayonnaise, tomato, garlic, and thyme in a food processor and process until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.  Scrape into a bowl.

8 slices good quality white bread (Pullman loaf) cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 1/2 cups grated Gouda cheese
Caramelized onions
8 slices prosciutto, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Place 4 slices of the bread on a flat surface; divide half of the cheese among the slices.  Top the cheeses with 2 slices of prosciutto, then top the prosciutto with some of the onions and the remaining cheese.  Place the 4 remaining slices of bread on top to make four sandwiches.  Butter the tops of the bread using half of the butter.
2. Preheat a cast iron pan or cast iron griddle over medium heat.  Place the sandwiches in the pan, butter-side down (may need to do in batches) and cook until lightly golden brown.  Spread the remaining butter on the bread facing up then flip and continue cooking until the bottom is golden brown and the cheese has melted.  Serve with the roasted tomato mayonnaise on the side.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Shared with:
Tempt My Tummy Tuesday
Our Delightful Home
Tasty Tuesday Tidbits

Monday, March 26, 2012

Children's Book Review: My Name is Georgia

My Name Is Georgia: A Portrait by Jeanette Winter

My Name is Georgia
Written by:  Jeanette Winter
Published by:  Voyager Books, 1998

From the time she was a young girl, Georgia O'Keeffe saw the world in her own way. At night she climbed a ladder to the starlit sky to await the sun. She walked in the hills at daybreak and in moonlight. She gathered bones and rocks, and brought them home to paint. And she always knew what was in her heart--to be an artist.

* As I continue to read books to my kids this month that celebrate famous women, I wanted to include an artist.  This children's picture book has won numerous awards including A Publisher Weekly Best Book of the Year and an ALA Notable Children's Book.  As you read, you can see why.  This is a great book to introduce children to Georgia O'Keefe.  The book is written in a first person point of view with simple text.  The pictures are colorful but do not include images of any real art work.  Of course I am familiar with O'Keefe's flowers, but only after reading this book did I learn about her desert skull paintings. 

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Weekend Chef: Braised Herb Chicken Thighs with Potatoes

Recently, I've been doing the grocery shopping on Thursday mornings.  So  on Wednesday nights I'll ask my husband what he plans on cooking over the weekend.  This usually gets an, "Oh yeah, let me check the grocery circular."  Sometimes I'll give him a recipe to make and other times he'll find or create a recipe of his own.  I think that he picked this recipe for two reasons.  First, because chicken quarters were on sale at the grocery store and second, he got to use the Dutch oven.  Since we've started using the Dutch oven that we received as a Christmas present he can't get enough of the thing!  He's always looking for an excuse to cook something in it!  Not that I blame him though.  I think everything that we've cooked in it so far has been delicious.  This dish was no exception.  It was very comfort food-ish with the chicken and potatoes.  I thought the sauce was delicious.  And though I'm not a big eater of chicken on the bone, this chicken was so tender from braising, that it came off the bone very easily with a fork.  Our son, as usual, didn't eat very much.  But the rest of us really enjoyed this.

Braised Herb Chicken Thighs with Potatoes
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light,  January 2005

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 chicken quarters, skinned and split (4 thighs, 4 legs)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, cut into 8 wedges
1 dozen white mushrooms, cut in half
1 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes, quartered

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken; seal bag, shaking to coat.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add chicken and remaining flour mixture to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until lightly brown. Add mushroom and onion; cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add broth, wine, and potatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 35 minutes or until chicken is done and vegetables are tender.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Zero the Hero

Zero the Hero

Zero the Hero
Written by: Joan Holub
Illustrated by: Tom Lichtenheld
Published by: Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2012

Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. That’s what all the other numbers think of Zero. He doesn’t add anything in addition. He’s of no use in division. And don’t even ask what he does in multiplication. (Hint: Poof!) But Zero knows he’s worth a lot, and when the other numbers get into trouble, he swoops in to prove that his talents are innumerable.

*  I enjoyed this book, though my kids were definitely too young to fully appreciate all of the humor.  I can see teachers using this in the classroom to go over the math properties of the number zero. Also touched upon are odd/even, Roman Numerals, and rounding.  All of the numbers have faces and different personalities which add to the humor.  There's also a storyline of friendship in this book as Zero tries to prove to his friends that he's worth something.  This is definitely a book that I will be rereading to my kids as they get older. 

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Guinness Bread with Molasses

So after using 1/2 a cup of Guinness to make the Irish Car Bomb cupcakes I had most of a can left.  I was home alone with the kids and I don't drink Guinness.  I hated to waste the beer so I quick googled a search for Guinness recipes.  I didn't want another dessert and knew that this was the recipe to make as soon as I saw it. I didn't have self-rising flour so I used the substitution given and thought it came out fine.  I was bringing this to my parent's house for our corned beef and cabbage dinner.  I was dying to taste a little piece since I would hate if it turned out bad.  But I controlled myself.  My mom always makes traditional Irish Soda Bread.  We cut this up and served it with the meal, alongside the Irish Soda Bread.  The  molasses gave it a sweet taste while the Guinness gave it a stouty, beer flavor. We gave little bites to the kids to try, and they liked it (but they like all bread, really!), but I thought it was a little too beery tasting for them to eat a lot of.  It was nice and moist, and slathered with butter it was tasty.  It was something different to try and a way to use up the Guinness.  However, it can never replace the traditional Irish Soda Bread!

Guinness Bread with Molasses
from Simply Recipes Posted by Hank Shaw

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes

This is fantastic eaten fresh, and nearly as good the next day toasted with some more butter. Do not use stale beer for this recipe, you want the carbonation.

3 cups self-rising flour*
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup molasses
A pinch of salt (roughly 1/8 teaspoon)
12 ounces of Guinness beer
Butter for greasing the pan and painting the top, about 3 tablespoons

* If you don't have self-rising flour, you can substitute using a ratio of 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, plus 1/8 teaspoon of salt, for every cup of self-rising flour. Have made both ways though and got better results from the self-rising flour.

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan well with butter.

2.  Pour the flour, salt and sugar into a large bowl and whisk to combine.

3. Slowly pour the Guinness into the flour mixture. (The “pub cans” are larger than 12 ounces, but they have better carbonation, so I pour most of it out and leave a swig to drink. This has never failed me, but if you are a stickler, use a 12-ounce bottle of Guinness instead.) Start stirring the beer into the dry ingredients, and when you are about halfway done, add the molasses. Mix well, just to combine. Don’t work the heck out of the batter – because that’s what it’ll look like – but you don’t want lumps, either.

4. Pour into the loaf pan to no more than 2/3 full. Pop into the oven immediately and bake for 50 minutes. Since ovens can vary, check the bread after 40 minutes and see if a toothpick inserted into the deepest part of the loaf comes out clean. If it does, you’re done.

5.  Let the loaf cool a bit, maybe 5 minutes, and then turn it out onto a rack. Paint it with lots of soft butter, which will melt as you go.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: I Had a Favorite Dress

I Had a Favorite Dress

I Had a Favorite Dress
Written by: Boni Ashburn
Illustrated by: Julia Denos
Published by: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011
32 pages

Open up a fresh and stylish story about growing up and keeping hold of your favorite memories. As the year passes, the narrator’s favorite dress goes through a series of creative changes, from dress to shirt to tank top to scarf and so on, until all that’s left of it is a good memory. Assisted by her patient and crafty mama, the narrator finds that when disaster strikes her favorite things, she doesn’t need to make mountains out of molehills—she “makes molehills out of mountains” instead! Structured around the days of the week, the story is also illustrated to show the passing of the seasons, a perfect complement to the themes of growing older and keeping hold (and letting go) of special mementos.

* What happens when a child outgrows a favorite outfit? (If it's my child, we do seasonal fashion shows where they try on their clothes and if something doesn't fit, it's put in the bag to donate to Goodwill)  This book tells the story of the transformation of a young girl's favorite dress into a shirt, then a tank top, and several other surprises.  (She's lucky to have a mother who is so crafty and skilled with the sewing machine.....definitely not me!) The illustrations depict the changing of seasons as the girl's favorite day of the week changes with each outfit transformation.  Overall it was an okay story that my kids seemed to enjoy....just hope it doesn't give my daughter any ideas!

Family Rating:  1 thumb up.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cheesecake-Marbled Brownies

While I was making the Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes for the adults for my parent's St. Patrick's Day celebration I needed a child-friendly dessert.  I recently discovered that my kids love cheesecake.  I already knew they loved brownies.  So, I found this recipe in my stash of recipes torn out of magazines from long ago and decided to give these a try.  I put a drop of green food coloring in the cheesecake batter to make it look more holiday-ish.  Overall, I thought they were okay....really, have you ever eaten a bad brownie?  I think if I had my choice, I'd rather keep the two treats separate.   

Cheesecake-Marbled Brownies
from Gourmet, June 2007

Yield:  16

Active Time: 15 minutes
Start to Finish: 50 minutes (not including cooling)

Two adored classics come together in this dessert lover's superbrownie.


For brownie batter:
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

For cheesecake batter:
8 oz. cream cheese, well softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Make brownie batter:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. 

Heat butter and chocolate in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, whisking occasionally, just until melted.  Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until well combined.  Whisk in flour until just combined  and spread in baking pan. 

Make cheesecake batter and bake brownies:
Whisk together cheesecake batter ingredients in a small bowl until smooth.  Dollop over brownie batter, then swirl in with a knife or spatula. 

Bake until edges are slightly puffed and center is just set, about 35 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Family Rating: 1 thumbs up.

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Children's Book Review: Nursery Rhyme Comics

Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists

Nursery Rhyme Comics
Edited by:  Chris Duffy
Illustrated by:  50 various cartoonists
Published by: First Second, 2011

First Second is very proud to present Nursery Rhyme Comics. Featuring fifty classic nursery rhymes illustrated and interpreted in comics form by fifty of today’s preeminent cartoonists and illustrators, this is a groundbreaking new entry in the canon of nursery rhymes treasuries.

From New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s “There Was a Crooked Man” to Bad Kitty author Nick Bruel’s “Three Little Kittens” to First Second’s own Gene Yang’s “Pat-a-Cake,” this is a collection that will put a grin on your face from page one and keep it there.

Each rhyme is one to three pages long, and simply paneled and lettered to ensure that the experience is completely accessible for the youngest of readers. Chock full of engaging full-color artwork and favorite characters (Jack and Jill! Old Mother Hubbard! The Owl and the Pussycat!), this collection will be treasured by children for years to come.
* We have read and own several different nursery rhyme books.  This book was refreshingly new and different though.  It includes 50 classic nursery rhymes (Three Blind Mice, Hey Diddle Diddle, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, and LOTS more!) but is written in comic book form and the graphics are based on each illustrator's interpretation.  Each nursery rhyme has a different illustrator including ones like Nick Bruel and Jules Feiffer, whose work we are familiar with and lots more that we were unfamiliar with. It's interesting to see the different styles of the illustrators compiled into one book.  I thought this was a great introduction to comics and graphic novels for my almost six year old daughter.  Both of my kids though really enjoyed this book a lot.  Even my son would just sit on his own and flip through the book looking at the illustrations. 
Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

I know St. Patrick's Day was almost a week ago.  However, I made several recipes that I wanted to share.....I'll repost them next year too, so maybe they'll be of more use!

My parents decided to have a little St. Patrick's Day family gathering at their
place.  I had seen lots of posts on various food blogs for special holiday treats so I volunteered to bring dessert. Now, my husband and I are not big drinkers at all.  I saw this recipe and had to make it....unfortunately, we owned neither of the three alcohols that needed to go into this recipe.  Luckily my parents owned two of them.  So I picked up a can of Guinness and the bottle of Irish Whiskey from them and bought a bottle of Irish Cream from the liquor store.  I'm going to be honest, I couldn't make myself buy the $24 bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream when I could buy the same size bottle of Merry's Irish Cream for $11.  I only planned on cooking with it, not drinking it, so I felt okay with  my decision!  I posted the original recipe here, but I ended up halving the recipe since there were only 6 adults eating these and I didn't want a ton leftover.  I have to say at first I wasn't that impressed.  I couldn't really taste the alcohol in them (and shh, even let my kids have a little taste!).  When I brought home the leftovers and let them sit in the fridge overnight, the ganache ended up hardening more and I ended up liking them more the next day....and the next!

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes
from Brown Eyed Baker

Yield: 24 cupcakes

Prep Time: 40 minutes
Bake Time: 17 minutes

For the Cupcakes:
1 cup Guinness stout
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoons salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

For the Whiskey Ganache Filling:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons Irish whiskey

For the Baileys Frosting:
2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar
6 tablespoons Baileys Irish Cream

1. To Make the Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring the Guinness and butter to a simmer in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

2. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl to combine. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sour cream on medium speed until combined. Add the Guinness-chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat just to combine. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and beat briefly. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter until completely combined. Divide the batter among the cupcake liners. Bake until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on a rack.

3. To Make the Whiskey Ganache Filling: Finely chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then, using a rubber spatula, stir it from the center outward until smooth. Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined. Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped.

4. To Fill the Cupcakes: Using a 1-inch round cookie cutter (or the bottom of a large decorating tip), cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes, going about two-thirds of the way down. Transfer the ganache to a piping back with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.

5. To Make the Baileys Frosting: Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually add the powdered sugar until all of it is incorporated. Add the Baileys, increase the speed to medium-high and whip for another 2 to 3 minutes, until it is light and fluffy.

6. Using your favorite decorating tip, or an offset spatula, frost the cupcakes and decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Store the cupcakes in an airtight container.

Mommy & Daddy Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Children's Chapter Book Review: Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret

Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret

Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret
Written by:  Wanda Coven
Illustrated by: Priscilla Burris
Published by: Little Simon, 2012
122 pages

Introducing Heidi Heckelbeck—a brand-new young chapter-book series with witchy whimsy!Now readers between the ages of five and seven can read chapter books tailor-made for a younger level of reading comprehension. Heavily illustrated with large type, Little Simon's young chapter books let young readers feel like they are reading a “grown-up” format with subject, text, and illustrations geared specifically for their own age groups!Heidi Heckelbeck seems like any other eight-year-old, but she has a secret: She’s a witch in disguise. Careful to keep her powers hidden (but excited to use them all the same), Heidi’s learning to live like any other kid—who just happens to be witch. And with easy-to-read language and illustrations on almost every page, Heidi Heckelbeck chapter books are perfect for beginning readers.Heidi and her brother Henry have always been homeschooled—until now. But Heidi is not happy about attending Brewster Elementary, especially not when meanie Melanie Maplethorpe turns Heidi’s first day of school into a nightmare by announcing that Heidi is smelly and ruining her art project. Heidi feels horrible and never wants to go back to school—but while sulking in her room at home, she remembers her special medallion and Book of Spells. With a little bit of carefully concealed magic, Heidi might be able to give Melanie a taste of her own medicine...

* I'm always on the lookout for new books and every now and then I'll check out book publisher websites and look at their coming soon sections.  I think I first heard of this book on the Simon & Schuster website and put it on hold at the library.  I didn't know much about it but it is the first in what is currently a series of 6 (this is the first in the serieswith books scheduled to be published throughout the year, with number 6 due to be released in December).  This book was such a nice surprise.  It's targeted for readers ages 5-7.  While my daughter could definitely read this book on her own I really wanted to read the story too, so we ended up reading it together. Often, I'd bring it out in the morning while we were waiting for the bus and read her a chapter or two.  The print in this book is large and there are illustrations on almost every page.  In this story, 8 year-old Heidi Heckelbeck, the main character starts school for the first time.  There are story lines that kids can relate to - being new at school, making new friends, mean kids, etc.  We don't find out Heidi's secret until the last chapter and it the story leaves you off wanting to read the next one in the series.  We will definitely be checking the series out.  It even has me interested in finding out what's going to happen!

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Smores Stacks

My kids love pancakes.  Unfortunately, I consider homemade pancakes weekend breakfast food and normally I'm sleeping in on the weekend while my husband gets breakfast ready for the kids.  Pancakes are normally not on his breakfast menu.  So, when I make breakfast for dinner I often make pancakes or waffles. In EveryDay with Rachel Ray she has a column called To Three Cooks where three chefs create variations on a basic recipe.  Normally, I do a quick glance at the column but normally don't make anything.  All of the substitutions/swaps from the basic recipe always seemed a little annoying to me.  I'm sure I'll leave something out.  But when I saw the pancake theme in the December issue I ripped it out.  This recipe was created by one of the Senior Test Kitchen Associates.  I knew the kids would love it...I mean, who doesn't love smores?!  Of course they gobbled it down having seconds.  Honestly though, for me it was almost too sweet.  And I didn't put the chocolate sauce on that the original recipe called for!  Really, it is almost a dessert.  Yes, I gave my kids marshmallows and chocolate chips for dinner.  There was no dessert after this meal though....the meal was the dessert! 

Smores Stacks
Recipe adapted from EveryDay with Rachael Ray, December 2011

Yield:  4 servings
Prep:  10 minutes
Cook:  15 minutes

3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups milk
2 eggs, separated
1 cup mini marshmallows
1 cup chocolate chips

1.In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, graham cracker crumbs, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, egg yolks and melted butter. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir in the mini marshmallows and chocolate chips until just combined.

2.Preheat a griddle or large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Gently fold the whites into the batter.

3.Grease the griddle and ladle on 1/4-cup portions of batter. Cook on 1 side until bubbles form and the pancakes are cooked around the edges, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Flip and cook through, 1 minute more. Top the finished pancakes with more marshmallows.
Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sausage, Mushroom, Potato Gratin

My kids are big sausage eaters.  Although they are not mushroom eaters I saw this recipe and wanted to try it.  The original recipe called for turkey sausage, which I didn't have.  So I subsituted regular Italian sausage. I actually made this dish a couple of weeks ago, when the weather was still a bit chilly out. This was such a great warm, comfort food type of dish. I loved the  combination of the earthy mushrooms mixed with the sweetness of the onions, and the saltiness of the swiss cheese.  There was a little bit of prep work.  And though the dish, once prepared has to cook for 30 minutes, it gave me enough time to put it in the oven and give the kids their showers. My daughter ate everything but the mushrooms, though she did try one.  My son just ate the sausage...go figure!

Sausage, Mushroom, Potato Gratin
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light, November 2011

Yield: 4 servings

2 (4-ounce) sweet Italian sausage links, casings removed
1 tablespoon butter
3 cups chopped onion
4 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
Cooking spray
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage to pan, and sauté for 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Remove sausage from pan; drain. Wipe pan with paper towels. Melt butter in pan. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms; sauté 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add potatoes and salt; sauté 5 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally.

3. Stir in sausage and broth. Remove from heat. Spoon potato mixture into an 11 x 7-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray; top with cheese. Cover and bake at 400° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until golden.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

I shared this recipe at:
Our Delightful Home
Mandy's Recipe Box
Tuesday at the Table

Monday, March 19, 2012

Children's Book Review: If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks

If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks

If a Bus Could Talk:  The Story of Rosa Parks
Written and illustrated by:  Faith Ringgold
Published by: Aladdin, 1999
32 pages

If a bus could talk, it would tell the story of a young African-American girl named Rosa who had to walk miles to her one-room schoolhouse in Alabama while white children rode to their school in a bus. It would tell how the adult Rosa rode to and from work on a segregated city bus and couldn't sit in the same row as a white person. It would tell of the fateful day when Rosa refused to give up her seat to a white man and how that act of courage inspired others around the world to stand up for freedom.

In this book a bus does talk, and on her way to school a girl named Marcie learns why Rosa Parks is the mother of the Civil Rights movement. At the end of Marcie's magical ride, she meets Rosa Parks herself at a birthday party with several distinguished guests. Wait until she tells her class about this!

* In honor of Women's History Month, we are continuing to read about famous women in history.  This book is from my own collection of teaching books.  I read this with just my daughter, knowing it was pretty lengthy and my son would not have the attention span to sit through it.  This is a good intro picture book for kids about Rosa Parks.  There were definitely some parts that I had to explain to my daughter ("What does lynching mean?").  However, we were able to discuss how it was unfair that black people couldn't sit anywhere they wanted on the bus and how the black children couldn't go swimming in the summer at the pool. She's still a little young to grasp the courage of Rosa Parks but I'm glad that she got a little intro and know that she will have some foundation of the events for when she learns more about it in school.

Family Rating:  1 thumb up.

Meatless Monday: Baked Spaghetti Squash with Tomato Sauce and Olives

Although my kids are pretty good eaters and almost always try a bite of something new, I'm trying to be more adventurous in my cooking and eating, to expose them to new foods.  For example, I realize that just because I'm not a big fan of beans doesn't mean that I shouldn't make them.  Maybe my kids will end up liking them and I won't know if I don't expose them to these new foods.  I think I tried making spaghetti squash once before, years ago and wasn't a big fan.  In my quest to try new foods I decided to make this.  Knowing my kids probably wouldn't eat it, I cooked up some regular spaghetti too.  This turned out to be a wise choice.  The recipe made plenty of sauce, which both my husband and I enjoyed.  It was very different and flavorful with the olives, wine, and capers. I ended up realizing that I'm not a big fan of spaghetti squash.  Hey, I'm a carb lover. I want the real thing!  So, the squash ended up being an appetizer to my big bowl of regular spaghetti with the sauce over it.  Also to note, this is NOT a quick weeknight dinner.  The squash was cooked for 90 minutes and after putting the sauce together, that needs to simmer for 30 minutes.

Baked Spaghetti Squash with Tomato Sauce and Olives
Cooking Light, October 2000

Yield: 6 servings (1 cup squash, 3/4 cup sauce, 1 tablespoon topping)

1 spaghetti squash (about 3 1/4 pounds)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup minced fresh onion
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Dash of crushed red pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced and divided
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pitted kalamata olives
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 375°.

Pierce squash with a fork. Place squash on a baking sheet; bake at 375° for 1 1/2 hours or until tender. Cool. Cut squash in half lengthwise; discard seeds. Scrape inside of squash with a fork to remove spaghetti-like strands to measure 6 cups. Keep warm.

While squash is baking, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, and red pepper; sauté 5 minutes. Add 2 minced garlic cloves, wine, and the next 6 ingredients (wine through tomatoes); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until thick (about 30 minutes). Discard bay leaves. Serve sauce over squash.

Combine 1 minced garlic clove, Parmesan cheese, and parsley. Sprinkle over each serving.

Family Rating: So-so.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Weekend Chef: Mini Chicken Meatball , Pasta, and Vegetable Soup

We spent last Sunday visiting my in-laws and going to the town's St. Patrick's Day parade.  The weather was gorgeous - it was a perfect day for a parade!  We ended up eating lunch around 3 pm after the parade.  By the time we got home after that we weren't very hungry.  This recipe was one of the "I pick it you can make it" for The Weekend Chef.  I was exhausted from being out in the sun all day.  So while I vegged on the couch with the kids he made this.  I thought it was pretty tasty.  I don't think we've ever made chicken meatballs before.  It was chock full of veggies and the soup had a nice flavor.  Normally I'm not a soup as the meal type of person, but because we had such a late lunch it was a perfect light dinner.  It made enough that we ended up freezing a bunch so we can enjoy it another time.  Unfortunately, I think it was just too much veggies for the kids who weren't digging it at all!

Mini Chicken Meatball, Pasta, and Vegetable Soup
Recipe slightly adapted from For the Love of Cooking

Yield: 6 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45-50 minutes


1 lb of ground chicken
1 egg
2-3 tbsp Parmesan cheese
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried oregano
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
1/4 cup of plain bread crumbs
1 tbsp canola oil

1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 15 0z can of diced tomatoes
8 cups of chicken broth
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
1/2 cup of ditalini pasta
1 box frozen spinach, thawed and drained

Parmesan cheese topping (optional)

Combine the ground chicken, egg, Parmesan cheese, minced garlic, dried basil, dried oregano, sea salt, and freshly cracked pepper, to taste, and bread crumbs together in a bowl until just combined. Roll into mini meatballs and place onto a plate (I filled up two plates full). Place the meatballs into the refrigerator for 10 minutes so they are easier to work with.

Heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the meatballs, in batches, and cook for 4-5 minutes, carefully turning halfway through to cook on the other side, or until golden brown but not cooked all the way through (they will finish cooking in the soup). Remove the cooked meatballs from the Dutch oven and place on a clean plate. Finish cooking the remaining meatballs.

Add the remaining tablespoon of canola oil to the same Dutch oven and add the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring often, for 4-5 minutes then add the minced garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute then add the diced tomatoes and chicken broth, season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste. Cover and cook on low for 30-40 minutes. Remove the lid and add the pasta and meatballs. Cover and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the pasta is tender and the meatballs are cooked through. Add the spinach, stir until combined and slightly wilted, taste and re-season if needed, then ladle into bowls. Top with Parmesan cheese or feta cheese if desired. Enjoy.

Family Rating:  1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: One Cool Friend

One Cool Friend

One Cool Friend
Written by:  Toni Buzzeo
Pictures by:  David Small
Published by: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012
32 pages

On a momentous visit to the aquarium, Elliot discovers his dream pet: a penguin. It's just proper enough for a straight-laced boy like him. And when he asks his father if he may have one (please and thank you), his father says yes. Elliot should have realized that Dad probably thought he meant a stuffed penguin and not a real one . . . Clever illustrations and a wild surprise ending make this sly, silly tale of friendship and wish fulfillment a kid-pleaser from start to finish.

* After recently reading Mr. Popper's Penguins to my daughter (which we didn't enjoy very much), this book felt similar on many levels.  The names of the characters/penguins, having a penguin for a pet, the penguin sleeping in the freezer. The father in the book didn't seem very engaged or interactive with his son, Elliot. As for Elliot, who is supposed to be such a  proper, young man, taking a penguin from the aquarium doesn't seem very proper now, does it?!  Of course this book had a surprise twist at the end of the story that we were not expecting. My daughter thought it was just okay, as did the rest of us.

Family Rating: So-so. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Children's Book Review: Jeremy Bean's St. Patrick's Day

Jeremy Bean's St. Patrick's Day
Jeremy Bean's St. Patrick's Day
Written by: Alice Schertle
Illustrated by: Linda Shute
Published by: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1987

Shy Jeremy Bean forgets, much as to his humiliation, to wear green to school for St. Patrick's Day.

* In my quest for St. Patrick's Day books, I stumbled upon this "oldie" at our local library.  I thought this story was very relatable for school-aged children.  Jeremy gets excited as his class prepares for St. Patrick's Day and the green food party.  Unfortunately, on St. Patrick's Day Jeremy forgets his green sweater and is teased by all of his classmates for not wearing green.  The school principal who Jeremy once thought was tall and scary actually ends up befriending him and helps him out.  I liked how this book was realistic fiction and portrayed events that children can relate to.  It was refreshing to read a St. Patrick's Day book that didn't focus on shamrocks and leprechauns.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: St. Patrick's Day Alphabet

St. Patrick's Day Alphabet

St. Patrick's Day Alphabet
Written by:  Beverly Barras Vidrine
Illustrations by:  Patrick Soper
Published by: Pelican Publishing Company, 2001

Each letter of the alphabet, presents and defines a word relating to Saint Patrick or to the holiday that celebrates him.

* Alphabet books are always fun and I was interested in reading this one about St. Patrick's Day.  Every letter of the alphabet has a word relating to St. Patrick or the holiday. The text is written in language that young children can understand and the descriptions are only a couple of sentences each. Even I learned new things while reading this! The illustrations are colorful and incorporate the letter into it.  I found this to be an informative holiday read!

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Peanut Butter and Jelly Skillet Monkey Bread

When I saw this recipe while blog perusing I immediately bookmarked it and had to make it.  If I haven't mentioned it, my kids LOVE peanut butter and jelly.  That's what they'd have for lunch every day if I let them, but I try to limit it to one time a week!  I thought this would be a nice treat for them and it looked easy enough for them to help make.  All I can say is YUMMY!  I had to stop myself from eating the whole thing. And next time I won't stop, because it definitely didn't taste nearly as good the next day! 

Peanut Butter and Jelly Skillet Monkey Bread
from Picky Palate

Yield: 6 servings

1 can Refrigerated Biscuits, 8 count
1/4 cup butter, melted

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter, warmed in microwave until liquid like
1/2 cup jelly of choice, warmed in microwave until liquid like
4 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and spray 9-inch cast iron skillet with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Cut each biscuit into fourths. Place melted butter into a large ziplock bag and toss in cut biscuits. Shake around to coat then toss in sugar, mixing to combine. Pour into prepared 9-inch cast iron skillet and drizzle warmed peanut butter and jelly over top. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until cooked through and golden.

3. Whisk the heavy cream and powdered sugar until combined then drizzle over warm biscuits. Serve warm.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: The Night Before St. Patrick's Day

The Night Before St. Patrick's Day (Reading Railroad)

The Night Before St. Patrick's Day
Written by: Natasha Wing
Illustrated by: Amy Wummer
Published by: Grosset & Dunlap, 2009

It's the night before St. Patrick's Day, and Tim and Maureen are wide awake setting traps to catch a leprechaun! When they wake the next morning to the sound of their dad playing the bagpipes and the smell of their mom cooking green eggs, they're shocked to find that they've actually caught a leprechaun. But will they be able to find his pot of gold? Natasha Wing's latest title is once again told in verse to the same meter of Clement Moore's classic.

* This story is told in the same rhyming format as the Christmas classic, The Night Before Christmas.  As Tim and Maureen prepare for St. Patrick's Day they set traps in hopes of catching a leprechaun. I read this with my son, since my daughter told me that she "already heard that story" in her old daycare/preschool.  He had fun looking for the little leprechaun hiding on most of the pages.  It was a cute story in which the leprechaun appears and has some tricks of his own.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower Risotto

I am super excited to be involved in another cooking challenge (I love a good challenge!) called Eating the Alphabet.  It's hosted by Brenda at Meal Planning Magic. Each month we're supposed to prepare a dish using fruits or vegetables from the selected letters.  Unfortunately, I found her wonderful blog and challenge after the first month had already started.  So, I missed letters A/B.  This month the challenge was to prepare a dish with a fruit or vegetable beginning with the letters C & or D.  Due to the short amount of time I had to find and prepare a recipe I went with only one letter, the letter C and I used cauliflower.  Although I like cauliflower I have to admit I have rarely, if ever cooked with it, so I thought it would be a good vegetable to use.  I'm really trying to challenge myself with this challenge and try using fruits and vegetables that I dont' normally cook with. 

I have made risotto a number of times.  I've cooked the traditional risotto which requires you to pour in broth a little at a time, constantly stirring.  A little while back I tried using the slow cooker to make risotto.  This recipe that I found uses the Dutch Oven.  After adding the liquid to the rice you cook it in the oven.  If you want the "bite" from the rice, cooking the traditional way is definitely the way to go.  However, if you want something with little hands-on time, cooking in the Dutch Oven or slow cooker is an easy way to make risotto. 

As for this dish, I liked the taste of the roasted cauliflower (heck, I like any vegetable roasted!).  The almonds gave the dish a nice crunch and added a little color.  I think the best part was that my son ate all of his dinner!  He does love rice, but he even ate all of his cauliflower!  That spells winner right there!  The dish wasn't amazing, I definitely have to make it again.  But because it was pretty quick and easy and everyone ate it, I have to give it 1 1/2 thumbs up!

Roasted Cauliflower Risotto
Food Network Magazine, March 2011

Total time: 40 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

Yield:  4 servings


1 head cauliflower, florets cut into 1/2-inch pieces, stems chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups short-grain Italian rice (such as arborio or vialone nano)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces Italian fontina cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 475 degrees F. Toss the cauliflower florets with 1 tablespoon olive oil on a baking sheet. Spread in a single layer and season with salt and pepper. Roast on the upper oven rack, 5 minutes. Add the almonds and roast until the cauliflower is tender, about 15 more minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Add the onion and cauliflower stems and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and garlic and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broth, 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt; cover and bring to a boil. Transfer the pot to the lower oven rack and bake until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove the rice from the oven and add the butter, fontina and parsley, stirring vigorously until the risotto is creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Divide among bowls and top with the roasted cauliflower and almonds.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Clover!

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Clover!

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Clover!
Written by:  Lucille Colandro
Illustrated by: Jared Lee
Published by: Scholastic Inc., 2012

There was an Old Lady who swallowed things over and over, and now she's come back to swallow a clover! She's back! That lovely old lady has returned just in time for St. Patrick's Day. Now she's swallowing items to make the perfect rainbow to hide a pot of gold.

* Our family has been a fan of the Old Lady series and we even own a couple of them.  I think the books are getting a little old for us though.  In this newest one, out in time for St. Patrick's Day, the Old Lady swallows a variety of things to make a rainbow.  The rhymes felt forced and didn't really seem to make sense.  Overall, none of us were big fans.

Family Rating: So-so.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cheddar Burgers with Red Onion Jam

Who doesn't love a good burger?  I have to admit, I don't make burgers very often.  I probably should though.  There are an infinite amount of possibilities when it comes to burgers.  I have yet to try out my own because there are already so many burger recipes out there just waiting to be tried! 

I've had this recipe in my folder for awhile.  I finally got around to making this and am so glad that I did.  The original recipe called for ground round, but I used ground turkey instead and thought it came out great.  Since it's not quite grilling season yet (and we have a charcoal grill that I admit that I don't know how to use!) when I make burgers I usually cook them a little in the microwave and then finish them off in the cast iron pan.  The burger itself was tasty but the red onion jam was the real star.  Even my son was eating the onions!  Cooking Light recommends serving the burgers with baked chips and blue cheese dip (recipe below). I ended up serving with french fries and used the dip as a sauce for the french fries and the burger.

The Red Onion Jam

Cheddar Burgers with Red Onion Jam
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light, July 2009

A quick five-ingredient sauce tops cheesy homemade burgers to make an easy, delicious dinner in no time. Serve with baked chips and blue cheese dip.

Makes 4 burgers


1 teaspoon olive oil
4 cups vertically sliced red onion
4 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pound ground turkey
Cooking spray
4 (1/2-ounce) slices cheddar cheese
4 (1 1/2-ounce) hamburger buns, toasted

1. Preheat cast iron pan to medium heat.

2. To prepare jam, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; stir in sugar, vinegar, and thyme. Cover and cook 10 minutes or until onion is very tender. Remove from heat.

3. To prepare burgers, combine oregano, salt, garlic powder, and ground turkey. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions, shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Heat in microwave for 2 minutes. Put patties in cast iron pan. Cook patties approximately 3 minutes on each side, until cooked through.  Place 1 cheese slice on each patty.

4. Place 1 patty on bottom half of each bun; top each with 1/4 cup onion jam and bun top.

Baked chips and blue cheese dip: Combine 1/2 cup (2 ounces) low-fat crumbled blue cheese, 1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream, 2 tablespoons canola mayonnaise, and 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar in a bowl. Mash with a fork.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: The Leprechaun Who Lost His Rainbow

The Leprechaun Who Lost His Rainbow

The Leprechaun Who Lost His Rainbow
Written by:  Sean Callahan
Illustrated by:  Nancy Cote
Published by: Albert Whitman & Company, 2009
32 pages

It's raining, and Colleen is sad. How can her grandfather play his bagpipes in the St. Patrick's Day parade? His music is so beautiful it makes people laugh and cry at once. Suddenly, a leprechaun appears before her. He says he can make the sun come out by creating a rainbow - but to build its colors, Colleen must give up the thing she holds most dear. Sean Callahan's sweet, surprising story is complemented by Nancy Cote's bright paintings. A note at the end explains the science of rainbows and the Roy G. Biv naming tradition.

* A leprechaun named Roy G. Biv has lost his rainbow.  My kids didn't catch on to his name, which my husband and I explained to them after reading this St. Patrick's Day Story.  Colleen, the young girl in the story, needs to help him if she wants the rain to go away so the parade can go on.  She reluctantly has to give up some of her possessions to help Roy G. Biv create a new rainbow.  At the end though she helps Roy G. Biv and is able to watch her grandfather play his bagpipes in the parade and she gets a special surprise herself.  At the end of the story there's a little info about rainbows.  Overall the adults thought it was, eh, okay.  But the kids seemed to enjoy this St. Patrick's Day story.

Family Rating:  1 thumb up.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Steak and Cheese Sandwiches with Mushrooms

Prior to make this, I cannot remember the last I had a steak sandwich.  It's never something I think to order when eating out and I just don't think of making it at home.  I was cleaning out my recipe folder though and saw this recipe.  I figured I'd give it a try.  Steak sounded really good at the time and I love mushrooms and onions.  While the recipe calls for presliced onion and mushrooms, mine weren't so that added to my cooking time.  This is a super quick and easy recipe.  I thought it tasted really good with everything. The picture below was taken before I got to add the cheese, since it wasn't really warm anymore at that point and wouldn't get all melty anyway (this is what happens when I get the kids ready to eat and get their dinner plated....I usually get a not-hot-enough to my liking meal!). Let's see, my son ate just the bread and cheese and my daughter ate just the steak and bread on hers.  We had some filling left over. I had to go to the doctor for my yearly physical this past weekend.  Because I had to do a fasting blood test I warned my husband that I would be starving when I got home and I'd need my coffee.  Well, he ended up making me an egg sandwich using one of the leftover rolls and the steak filling.  Can I say, yum?!!  And very filling!  It was nice walking in the door to that breakfast!

Steak and Cheese Sandwiches with Mushrooms
Cooking Light, March 2008

Yield:  4 sandwiches

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups presliced onion
2 cups green bell pepper strips
2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
1 cup presliced mushrooms
3/4 pound top round steak, trimmed and cut into thin strips
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
4 (0.6-ounce) slices reduced-fat provolone cheese, cut in half
4 (2 1/2-ounce) hoagie rolls with sesame seeds

1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pan; sauté 3 minutes. Add mushrooms to pan; sauté 4 minutes. Sprinkle beef with salt and black pepper. Add beef to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in Worcestershire sauce; cook 1 minute.

2. Place 1 cheese slice half on bottom half of each roll, and top each serving with one-fourth of beef mixture. Top with remaining cheese slice halves and tops of rolls.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up. 

Children's Book Review: Don't Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table

Don't Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table

Don't Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table
Written and illustrated by: Vanessa Brantley Newton
Published by: Blue Apple Books, 2010
36 pages

Auntie Mabel and her family and friends have gathered for their big Sunday dinner and can't wait to dig into a delicious meal. Before they can begin, Auntie Mabel starts blessing everyone and everything she surveys.

*  Now that our children are older, we recently began saying "Grace" before we eat dinner at night.  So, I saw this book and thought it was very fitting.  Of course, our blessing doesn't last quite as long as Auntie Mabel's!  Her family gets very upset that her blessing is taking so long and the food has gotten cold and has to be reheated. I can relate - I like my food to be really hot! This book brought back memories of my own childhood when we would go visit my grandmother for a big midday Sunday "dinner" with a lot of extended family.  Unfortunately, with family now all over, we do not continue this tradition.  Except for holidays, we really don't partake in regular family dinners with our extended families.  Overall, this was a good read.

Family Rating:  1 thumb up.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spicy Broccoli Salad

In addition to her monthly Crazy Cooking Challenge Tina  at Moms Crazy Cooking also hosts a weekly This Week's Cravings themed link-up.  In honor of St. Patrick's Day, This Week's Cravings is Green Food.  I have shared the collard green recipe from yesterday and I am also sharing this recipe. 

Unfortunately, I rarely focus on veggie sides.  While I make a new main dish almost every night and experiment with carb sides, it's just so easy to take a bag of frozen veggies out and stick them in the microwave.  When I learned about the theme for This Week's Cravings I looked for main dish recipes and didn't really find anything besides pesto that really stood out as being green.  Broccoli....definitely green.  Broccoli crowns were on sale at the grocery store this week which made it even better.  Plus, I got to try a new veggie side dish recipe.   

My kids like broccoli so I make it a lot, mostly of the frozen, steam in a bag, variety!  I ended up adapting this recipe a lot.  I couldn't see myself buying a red pepper and a red onion for the 3 Tbsp. each the original recipe called for.  I'm really trying to avoid the unused pile up in the produce drawer, which ultimately ends up getting thrown out.   Then I assumed I had rice wine vinegar, which I didn't. I had rice wine and rice vinegar but not rice wine vinegar. The original recipe called for regular distilled vinegar as a substitute but I used half each of what I did have and hoped for the best!  I didn't add the crushed red pepper until after I spooned the sauce over the kids' broccoli.  My daughter thought it was too sweet.  However, my son ate his and both my husband and I enjoyed it.  It was definitely a nice change from regular steamed broccoli. I served this with Steak and Cheese Sandwiches with Mushrooms (see tomorrow's post!).

Spicy Broccoli Salad
recipe adapted from The EatingWell Rush Hour Cookbook, 1994.

1 1/2 pounds broccoli
1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt, to taste

1.Cut off broccoli florets. Trim and peel stems; cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place broccoli florets and stems in a steamer basket over boiling water; cover and steam until cooked but still crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Refresh under cold water. Drain well.

2.Stir together vinegar, oil, brown sugar and crushed red pepper in a serving bowl. Just before serving, add the broccoli and toss to combine. Season with salt.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Here Come The Girl Scouts

Here Come the Girl Scouts!

Here Come the Girl Scouts!
Written by: Shana Corey
Illustrated by: Hadley Hooper
Published by: Scholastic Press, 2012
40 pages

The amazing, all-true story of the first Girl Scouts and their visionary founder.

Juliette Gordon Low--Daisy to her friends and family--was not like most girls of the Victorian era.

Prim and proper?


Dainty and delicate?


She loved the outdoors, and she yearned for adventure! Born into a family of pathfinders and pioneers, she too wanted to make a difference in the world--and nothing would stop her.

Combining her ancestors’ passion for service with her own adventurous spirit and her belief that girls could do anything, she founded the Girl Scouts. One hundred years later, they continue to have adventures, do good deeds, and make a difference!

* To go along with Woman's History Month, today is also the 100th Birthday of the Girl Scouts!  I became a Brownie Girl Scout when I was in 1st grade.  My mom was my sister's Girl Scout troop leader so my dad became my Girl Scout troop leader!  We were a family of Girl Scouts.  I continued in Girl Scouting until high school and earned my Silver Award.  I was happy that my daughter showed interest in wanting to be a Girl Scout when we saw registeration signs.  Although we registered back in October, her troop wasn't formed until just last month. Luckily, just in time for cookies!  So, my daughter is a Daisy Girl Scout! 

When I found this book in the library catologue I had to request it!  It gives a great biography of Juliette Gordon Low, a.k.a. Daisy and the beginning of Girl Scouts.  It's in a pretty easy to read picture book format with lots of colorful pictures.  I really enjoyed the motivating quotes printed throughout the book, most of which came from old Girl Scout handbooks and newsletters.  I thought it was a great book for my daughter, who both helped read and listened to the story, to give her some background to the Girl Scouts.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Children's Book Review: Tub Toys

Tub Toys

Tub Toys
Written by:  Terry Miller Shannon & Timothy Warner
Illustrated by: Lee Calderon
Published by: Tricycle Press, 2002
32 pages

The water's running, bubbles bubbling, time to grab some toys. One duck, two trucks, three much can a tub hold? Even the bath-shy will relish the rambunctious rhymes in this ballad of a bubble-loving bather and his over-the-top attempts to assemble his army of toys. Good to the last -- surprise -- drop.

-- Perfect for luring hesitant bathers to the bath

-- Promising first-time illustrator
* Who doesn't love tub time?!  Ummm, me??!!  The kids love when daddy oversees bath time because, well, he actually lets them take a bath!  Me, I'm all about business.  Get 'em in, get 'em clean, and get 'em out!  Of course, this is weeknights after getting my daughter to finish her homework and before I attempt to get dinner on the table in a timely manner.  So, my kids probably found this book a little hard to relate to.  This was a cute story, told in rhyme, about a little boy getting ready to take a bath.  Somehow, more and more toys keep getting added to the tub.  For a first time illustrator, Lee Calderon has done a great job of creating bright, engaging pictures.  The kids were laughing at the picture of the boy's nude behind, because of course, aren't butts funny?!! Overall, a cute story about a part of the day that (most!) kids can relate to!
Family Rating: 1 thumb up.