Monday, April 30, 2012

Children's Book Review: The Three Little Rigs

The Three Little Rigs
The Three Little Rigs
Written and illustrated by:  David Gordon
Published by: Laura Geringer Books, for HarperCollins, 2005

In this comic sequel to "The Ugly Truckling," Gordon, concept artist for Fox, Pixar, and Nickelodeon, turns his attention to this retelling of "The Three Little Pigs," as three little rigs learn about bravery and teamwork.

* After having recently read The Three Tamales, I found this book at the library and knew my son would love it.  I was soooo right!  This book is another take on the classic Three Little Pigs, which my kids are very familiar with.  In this story the three rigs each make a garage out of different materials.  Then the "big, bad, wrecking ball" comes knocking on the door wanting to come in and....well, you know the tale!  Of course with the truck/building theme going on in this book I had to stop every couple of pages to explain to my curious daughter what an air compressor, chrome, conveyor, and mortar was (though I couldn't really explain the air compressor!).  I thought that this was another cute take on a classic story, that my son especially loved.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Meatless Monday: Capellini with Spicy Zucchini-Tomato Sauce

As much as I try to get my kids to like zucchini, they don't.  The same goes for mushrooms.  And unfortunately, these are two of my favorite veggies.  We end up having some type of pasta dish at least once a week because it's such a quick and easy food to make.  I can't remember the last time that I just cooked up pasta and tossed it with a jar of spaghetti sauce though (the jars are collecting dust in my basement pantry!).  This recipe seemed pretty close though to pasta with red sauce with the added benefit of some fresh veggies.  The recipe calls for the chef to crush the tomatoes with your hand in the skillet.  Can I tell you how covered in tomato juice I got when the tomatoes "exploded" all over me (luckily I've learned to cook with an apron or clothes I don't care if they get dirty).  I had tomato juice and seeds that squirted across the kitchen!  And as I'm screaming in surprise when this happened a couple of times, my two kids who were watching television in the room next door were oblivious!  Good thing I wasn't hurt or anything because they weren't coming to see what happened! I debated about omitting the red pepper flakes but in the end decided to add them.  It was such a small amount that the heat didn't overpower the dish and my kids were able to eat this.  It was definitely quick and easy to make but it was just a little plain for me, flavor-wise.  For the kids, it was just like eating spaghetti with sauce from the jar (but it wasn't jarred sauce!) and the required one bite of zucchini. 

Capellini with Spicy Zucchini-Tomato Sauce
recipe adapted from Foodnetwork Magazine

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes in puree
Kosher salt
1 medium zucchini, cut into small chunks
1/2 pound spaghetti
Grated parmesan cheese, for topping

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic is just golden, about 1 minute. Crush the tomatoes into the skillet with your hands and add the juice. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook as the label directs. Drain and add to the sauce; toss to coat. Top with parmesan.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Children's Book Review: Where is the Green Sheep?

Where Is the Green Sheep?
Where is the Green Sheep?
Written by:  Mem Fox
Illustrated by:  Judy Horacek
Published by: Harcourt Inc., 2004

There are red sheep and blue sheep, wind sheep and wave sheep, scared sheep and brave sheep, but where is the green sheep?

The search is on in this cozy, sheep-filled story from acclaimed author Mem Fox and popular Australian cartoonist Judy Horacek. Complete with sleepy rhymes and bright illustrations, this book is sure to delight children of all ages, from the very young to those just beginning to read.

* This book was enjoyable to read mainly because my son was able to read it together with me.  It is cute in showing different sheep, touching upon concepts like opposites, colors, and objects, all the while asking "Where is the Green Sheep?"  The illustrations are simple but colorful.  This is a great book for pre-school kids and younger.

Family Rating:  1 thumb up.

Orange-Apricot Pork Chops in the CrockPot

I haven't used the slow cooker in awhile.  It's been slowly gathering dust in the upstairs closet.  When I was looking for a pork chop recipe to use up some that I had in the freezer I found this.  I love how quick and easy this recipe was.  My slow cooker tends to cook things super fast, so I ended up cooking this recipe on low for 4 1/2 hours, but I left the original cooking time from Stephanie's recipe below.  It's really difficult for me to give a recipe two thumbs up.  It means that everyone in the family loved it (or sometimes just my husband and I, but we LOVED it if we give it two thumbs up!).  So, mostly desserts make the two thumbs up rating.  This recipe was so close though!  When my son eats all of his dinner and tells me what a good cook that I am, then I know that I have a winner.  Unfortunately, my daughter, who loves fruit, has a thing about "warm" fruit and so, she only thought that this dish was okay.  She ended up giving her oranges to her brother, who was more than happy to eat them for her.  I served this with rice and veggies.  This was a super quick and tasty dinner!

Orange-Apricot Pork Chops in the CrockPot
recipe adapted from Stephanie O'Dea - A Year of Slow Cooking

6 pork chops
1 cup apricot jam
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges, undrained

Use a 4-6 quart crockpot. Put pork chops into your crockpot. In a small bowl, combine jam, brown sugar, and spices. Spoon over pork chops. Add the entire can of mandarin oranges evenly over the top. Cover and cook on low for about 8 hours, or on high for about 4.

Serve with rice to soak up the juice.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Children's Book Review: This is the Teacher

This is the Teacher
This is the Teacher
Written by:  Rhonda Gowler Greene
Illustrated by: Mike Lester
Published by: Dutton Children's Books, 2004

This hilarious cumulative tale in the tradition of "The House That Jack Built" depicts a typical day at school. This is the teacher all ready for school. These are the students who rush through the door and topple the teacher all ready for school. The chaos continues and accumulates on each spread. An ant farm is tipped over, the birthday boy slips and spills his cupcakes, and then the class hamster escapes. . . . Through it all, the stalwart teacher manages to keep her cool. But, boy, is she ready for bed at the end of the day!

* Unfortunately, I took this book out of the library thinking that my daughter was familiar with the tale "The House That Jack Built."  I found out that she wasn't...."Jack who?"  "What story is that mom?"  I told her we'd have to read that one, so she wasn't able to see the similarity to that tale.  This book exaggerates quite a bit about a pretty bad school day for a teacher or a student!  It's good for kids to see though that teachers are quite tired at the end of the day (boy can I attest to that!) and that everyone has a bad day now and then.

Family Rating: So-so.

Sesame-Orange Chicken

We used to order Chinese take-out close to once a week, back when I was working.  Quick and cheap, it was usually on the weekends when neither my husband or I really wanted to spend time cooking!  Now that I'm home, I think we are down to about one time a month ordering Chinese. My kids had recently taken a liking to sesame chicken.  Yes, those chicken chunks deep fried and smothered in that sticky sauce with sesame seeds.  I don't want to think about how unhealthy it is because I have to admit it tastes so darn good!  However, I've been on the lookout for a healthier version of the dish.  Cooking Light is my trusted go-to cookbook.  I have six of the annual cookbooks and tons of magazine rip outs of recipes.....and I'm still a current subscriber!  I usually have luck finding tasty, health recipes. Well, we were truly disappointed with this recipe.  The chicken was supposed to have a sesame-orange sauce but it was really thin and tasteless.  No one liked this.  I ended taking out some teriyaki sauce and dipping the chicken in that to give it some flavor.  I was very disappointed, but my hunt for a tasty sesame chicken recipe continues....

Sesame-Orange Chicken
Cooking Light, May 2005

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
Dash of ground red pepper
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon butter
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon whipping cream

Combine sesame seeds, rind, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a food processor; process until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin. Sprinkle chicken evenly with 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Heat oil and butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until butter melts. Add chicken; cook 6 minutes on each side or until done. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.

Add ground sesame mixture to pan, stirring with a whisk. Add broth, and bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook broth mixture until reduced to 2/3 cup (about 3 minutes). Add orange juice and cream; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Serve sauce over chicken.

Family Rating: thumbs down!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Taco Pasta Bake

My family is a fan of tacos and pasta.  I saw this recipe that mixed the two and thought I'd give it a try. It really did have all the flavors that you'd expect from a taco (the seasoned meat, cheese, sour cream) with the addition of pasta.  I was even happier that I chose to use whole wheat pasta.  With all of the flavors you couldn't really tell that it was whole wheat, which I sometimes find that you can (and don't really like!).  Although I used ground turkey, ground beef or even ground chicken would probably taste just as good.  The pound of pasta made enough for us to have a ton of leftovers, even with the kids eating some.  They weren't huge fans, but ate enough to make me happy.

Taco Pasta Bake
from  Curry and Comfort

1 pound of pasta (any style)
1lb of lean ground turkey
1 medium onion chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic minced
2-3 Tbs of Taco seasoning
1 tsp of ground cumin
red pepper flakes (to taste)
1 cup of your favorite salsa
1/4 cup of water
juice of half a lime
1/2 cup of sour cream
6oz of Mexican Cheese blend

Prepare pasta per package instructions.

Brown the meat and add the onion and garlic. Then season with the Taco seasoning, ground cumin and red pepper flakes. Now Add the salsa, water and lime juice. Simmer for a few minutes.

Mix the cooked pasta with the taco meat sauce and a 1/2 cup of sour cream. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray and fill with your cooked pasta.

Cover pasta with shredded Mexican cheese.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is bubbly.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up. 

Children's Book Review: My Granny Went to Market

My Granny Went to Market:  A Round-the-world Counting Rhyme
Written by: Stella Blackstone
Illustrated by: Christopher Corr
Published by: Barefoot Books, 2005

Young readers can join Granny as she journeys around the world on a magic carpet, shopping for amazing treasures in all of the places she visits, and taking readers on a counting adventure through the different countries of the world.

* Told in rhyme, this colorful storybook takes you on a trip around the world.  Granny went to market and bought a flying carpet which she uses to travel to Mexico, China, and Switzerland, among several different countries.  As she travels to each country she picks up different numbers of souvenirs.  The pictures are bright and detailed, giving the reader a little feel of what the countries look like.  I thought that this was a cute counting picture book for kids with an early introduction to countries around the world. 

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Strawberry Cake II with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

My daughter recently turned 6.  Her birthday turned into a three day event with cupcakes at school the day before her birthday, her party with her friends, and then a week later her family party.  For school she requested funfetti cupcakes with funfetti icing.  Super easy, I wasn't going to complain!  For her birthday party she wanted a strawberry cake.  Not strawberry shortcake, but a pink cake with strawberries.  I found this recipe and she approved.  Based on reader reviews I didn't end up using the frosting recipe included with the cake.  We made the Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting posted below the cake recipe and added a drop of red food coloring to make it pink.  The frosting was the star of the show.  There was a ton of cake left over, but we mostly picked on the frosting! 

Strawberry Cake II
recipe adapted from - by Judalee

1 (3 ounce) package strawberry flavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
1 (18.25 ounce) package white cake mix
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pint fresh strawberries, 1/2 pureed

1.Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour 9x13 baking pan.
2.In a large bowl, dissolve the gelatin in cold water; stir in the cake mix, eggs, vegetable oil, flour and 1/2 of the strawberries. Beat for 5 minutes on the medium speed of an electric mixer. Spread into prepared pan.
3.Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center. Cool cake in the pan on a wire rack.

4.  Frost with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below).

Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting - by Tom

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1 cup white sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1.In a small bowl beat whipping cream until stiff peaks form; set aside.

2.In a large bowl combine cream cheese, sugar, salt and vanilla. Beat until smooth, then fold in whipped cream.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: Lunchroom Lizard

Lunchroom Lizard

Lunchroom Lizard
Written and illustrated by:  Daniel Kirk
Published by:  G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2004

In the school cafeteria, lunch is much more than just a meal--It's a chaotic event. Tables buzz with activity as kids admire new lunchboxes, search out lost meals and try to keep track of who is sitting next to whom. When a hungry--and determined--gecko gets thrown into the mix, lunchtime really gets turned upside down. This rollicking look at lunchroom escapades is brought to uproarious life by Daniel Kirk's dynamic illustrations.

* One of the nice things about teaching elementary school was that I didn't have to do lunch duty.  Unfortunately, the middle school teachers at my school did.  The noise, the chaos, the's real!  In this story, Gil, the gecko, escapes out of his tank and travels down to the school cafeteria.  There's not really much of a story line in this book.  It's more about the observations that Gil makes being in the lunchroom.  There's text along with a lot of speech bubbles.  The kids had fun finding Gil in the pictures, but the dialogue was a little difficult for them to keep up with.  The book can be used with older kids to help reinforce telling time, as there are clocks counting down lunch time.

Family Rating: So-so.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chicken & Cheese Manicotti

Another recipe using ricotta.  You would think that by now we would have gotten sick of the stuff.  Honestly though, I think each of the recipes was different enough that we didn't.  We often have stuffed shells or manicotti as a first course at my cousin's house for dinner every Christmas Eve.  I've never made either though until now.  I had picked up some manicotti shells and was looking for a recipe that didn't use a red sauce.  I found this recipe and went for it. Unfortunately, I never have left over chicken, so when making a recipe like this, I need to first cook a couple of chicken breasts to have the cooked chicken needed.  This is another NOT a quick and easy weeknight dinner.  Lots of prep work and then a half hour cooking time.  It was definitely tasty though and I'm glad I was able to try cooking something new.  The kids had a little bit (or more like my daughter had a little bit my son just looked at it!) but weren't big fans. 

Chicken & Cheese Manicotti
recipe slightly adapted from Cooking during Stolen Moments

1 box manicotti, cooked, drained, and rinsed with cold water
1/2 lb. chicken fully cooked and cubed
15 oz. container ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 teaspoon Penzys Pasta Sprinkle
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup milk
2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided

1. In a large bowl combine chicken, ricotta, spinach, Parmesan cheese and seasonings.

2. Stir to combine and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan.  Stir in flour and cook for 2 minutes.  Whisk in chicken stock and milk.  Bring to a slow boil until thickened slightly, about 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup mozzarella cheese.

4. Pour half of sauce into 13x9 casserole dish.  Fill manicotti with chicken and ricotta filling. 

5. Layer filled manicotti into the casserole dish.  Pour remaining sauce on top and then add remaining cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25-30 minutes, until bubbly and cheese is melted.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up. 

Children's Book Review: How Rocket Learned to Read

How Rocket Learned to Read
How Rocket Learned to Read
Written and illustrated by: Tad Hills
Published by: Schwarts & Wade, 2010

Learn to read with this New York Times-bestselling picture book, starring an irresistible dog named Rocket and his teacher, a little yellow bird. Follow along as Rocket masters the alphabet, sounds out words, and finally . . . learns to read all on his own!

With a story that makes reading fun—and will even help listeners learn to read—this book is ideal for kindergarten classrooms and story hour or as a gift for that beginning reader. Fresh, charming art by Tad Hills, the New York Times bestselling author/illustrator of Duck & Goose, will make this a favorite.

* While I've been home with my son this year, one of my greatest accomplishments has been teaching him how to read.  My daughter, now 6, was reading independently by 4 which was something that I could not take credit for.  Something just clicked with her and she's been off and reading non-stop ever since.  With my son though we've been working daily since November going over letters, sounds, and sight words.  He can now read many sight words and knows almost all the letter sounds and can sound out words that he doesn't know.  It's exciting and rewarding to see how much he's learned in the past couple of months.  This book seemed fitting to read to my son, showing how a bird teaches a dog, Rocket how to read.  As bird begins with the the alphabet, where reading begins, Rocket's not interested.  But when the bird tells a story, Rocket becomes interested in finding out the ending.  And this is what motivates him to learn to read.  We're a big fan of books with cute animals and Rocket is definitely an adorable dog!  This was an enjoyable book for us. 

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ricotta Eggplant Rolls

I mentioned in my last post that I had recently bought a large container of ricotta that was on sale.  I really didn't want to end up wasting it and throwing half of it away, which is usually what happens. So, I made sure to find a bunch of recipes to use it all.  First was the cookies, then were these eggplant rolls.  I love eggplant!  Especially when it's fried and made totally unhealthy!  My kids don't really like it, but every once in awhile I still make it.  I ended up making the whole batch of sauce, but halved the eggplant part of this recipe (I posted the original, which serves 8).  Of course it was delicious, but it was truly a labor of love, as I told my husband.  Breading and frying eggplant and then rolling it with the ricotta mixture and then baking does not make for a quick weeknight dinner!  I made ravioli for the kids, knowing that they'd try a bite at most.  Of course this was delicious but unfortunately not something I'd make a lot.

Ricotta Eggplant Rolls - by Fran Weidman

Yield:  8 servings

1/2 cup vegetable oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes in puree
1 (10 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups plain dried bread crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 large eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices
1 (15 ounce) container ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)

1.Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant and lightly browned. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Season with Italian seasoning, salt, sugar, and pepper. Simmer covered over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside.

2.Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). In a large shallow dish, stir together the bread crumbs and flour. In a separate dish, whisk together the eggs and cream with a fork.

3.Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Dip each eggplant slice into the egg mixture, then coat with breadcrumbs. Fry each slice until golden brown in the hot oil, turning once. Drain on paper towels.

4.Spread a thin layer of the marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. In a large bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and parsley. Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the cheese mixture onto one side of each slice of eggplant. Roll up, and place in the baking dish seam side down. Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the rolls. Cover the baking dish with a lid or aluminum foil.

5.Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven. Garnish with additional chopped parsley before serving if desired.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up. 

Children's Book Review: Presenting...Tallulah


Written by:  Tori Spelling
Illustrated by:  Vanessa Brantley Newton
Published by: Aladdin, 2010

In her debut picture book, "New York Times"-bestselling author Spelling brings readers the uplifting story of a spunky little girl who, with the help of some special friends, is able to discover her true self--and to let her spirit shine.

* I've become a fan of Tori Spelling a lot more since the days of Beverly Hills 90210.  I used to watch Home Sweet Home but have yet to catch an episode of Home Sweet Hollywood.  I've also read almost all of her adult books.  She definitely seems down-to-earth and relatable.  I didn't even know that she had written a picture book so I was excited and curious to check it out after I found it on the library bookshelf.    In this story, Tallulah, isn't allowed to talk loud, get dirty, or bring a sandwich for lunch because she's "not that kind of girl."  She wears frilly dresses, eats sushi for lunch, and gets chauffered to school.  Everyone thinks that they know who Tallulah is, but they really don't.  She meets Max, the new boy in school and they rescue a puppy stuck in a pond (a pug though? really?!!!).  This event gives her the courage to stand up for who she really is.  The illustrations were bright and eye-catching.  Overall though we thought the story was just okay.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Children's Book Review: The Three Little Tamales

The Three Little Tamales
The Three Little Tamales
Written by: Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by: Valeria Docampo
Published by: Marshall Cavendish Children, 2009

While three little tamales cool off on a windowsill, a tortilla rolls by. "You'll be eaten. You'd better run," he tells them. And so the tamales jump out the window. The first runs to the prairie and builds a house of sagebrush. The second runs to a cornfield and builds a house of cornstalks. The third runs to the desert and builds a house of cactus. Then who should come along but Senor Lobo, the Big Bad Wolf, with plans to blow their houses down. Valeria Docampo's oil-and-pencil illustrations add zest and humor to this rollicking southwestern version of a popular tale.

* If your children are familiar with the tale of The Three Little Pigs then they will probably enjoy this Mexican variation.  This story takes place in Texas, where three little tamales run away from a tacqueria to avoid being eaten.  Each tamale built a house out of a different material and lived happily until Senor Lobo, the Big Bad Wolf, came around, looking for some dinner.  I enjoyed the addition of Spanish words, with an included definition, in the text.  The kids enjoyed it and were able to recognize that it was similar to The Three Little Pigs.  Kimmel is the author of over eighty children's books.  We will definitely be checking out more of his stories!

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Recipe Repeat: Ricotta Cookies III

Like I mentioned in yesterday's post, I was responsible for bringing the dessert to Easter dinner.  While I made the trifle I always like to have a back-up dessert, just in case.  These cookies are a repeat that I made once before last year....I think!  I chose these because I had bought a big tub of ricotta that was on sale and was looking to make sure that I used it up (ricotta recipes coming soon!).  I'm glad that I made these again.  I didn't remember them tasting so good last time.  But these were delicious!  The ricotta helps make them super moist. I ended up making only a half recipe because I had the other dessert and there wasn't that many of us.  Oh how I wish I had made the whole amount!  These are addictingly good and I can't wait to make them again! 

Ricotta Cookies III
recipe slightly adapted from - Lisa

Prep time:  15 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes
Yield: approximately 4 dozen

1 cup butter
2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
16 ounces ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon butter
1/2 teaspoon shortening
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup colored candy sprinkles

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets.

2.In a large bowl, cream together the 1 cup of butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the ricotta cheese and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and baking soda, stir into the ricotta mixture. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet.

3.Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

4.To make the frosting warm the milk, 1/2 teaspoon of butter and shortening, in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until solids are melted. Remove from heat and gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Dip each cookie into the icing then dip in colored sugar or sprinkles.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Strawberry Tiramisu Trifle

This past Easter we went to my parent's house for dinner.  My mom was taking care of dinner and asked me to bring dessert.  Dessert with my family is challenging because my father doesn't eat peanut butter and my brother doesn't like cake.  My parents got me a trifle bowl (which I had asked for!) last Christmas and I don't get to use it very often.  The Weekend Chef actually found this recipe which sounded delicious. 

The days before Easter were super busy.  We had just gotten home from visiting my sister in Maryland on Friday, when we went grocery shopping.  Saturday we had an Easter party and then we went to my husband's aunt's house to celebrate Passover.  We woke up Sunday and our kids got their Easter presents and went egg hunting.  While I showered my husband started this.  While he showered I finished it so it could chill in the fridge while we went to mass.  Then we got home, I made the cookies (in tomorrow's post) and then we went to my parent's. 

Somehow this dessert was made in time for us to make it to Church in time to get a seat! While it did take a little time and was done tag team style, it was still pretty easy.  And it was delicious!  Everyone loved it and it will definitely be filed in the need to make again soon folder!

  Strawberry Tiramisu Trifle Tammy Irvine

Prep time: 30 minutes
Yield: 12 servings

1 quart fresh strawberries
1 1/4 cups cold milk
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons strong brewed coffee, room temperature, divided
2 cups whipped topping
1 (3 ounce) package ladyfingers, split
6 (1 ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate, grated

1.Set aside three strawberries for garnish; slice the remaining strawberries. In a bowl, whisk milk and pudding mix for 2 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes or until soft-set. In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth; gradually beat in 2 tablespoons coffee. Beat in pudding. Fold in whipped topping.

2.Brush remaining coffee over ladyfingers. Line the bottom of a 3-qt. trifle or glass serving bowl with half of the ladyfingers. Top with half of the sliced berries, grated chocolate and pudding mixture; repeat layers. Cut reserved berries in half; place on trifle. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: Miss Fox's Class Goes Green

Miss Fox's Class Goes Green

Miss Fox's Class Goes Green
Written by: Eileen Spinelli
Illustrated by:  Anne Kennedy
Published by: Albert Whitman & Company, 2009

Noted author Spinelli re-teams with illustrator Kennedy in this follow-up to their "Peace Week in Miss Fox's Class" that puts Miss Fox's class on a mission to go green. Includes practical suggestions for kids and families wanting to protect the environment.

* In honor of Eearth Day we read this book to the kids the other night.  I think it's a great book to read to young kids to give them ideas on how they can help be "green."  Miss Fox and her class come up with ideas to help keep the earth healthy.  As we read through this book it was refreshing to see that our family already does a lot of the things mentioned.  We always turn off lights when we leave a room, we remind the kids to turn the faucets off and take quick showers, and we try to use our own cloth shopping bags (when I remember to take them back out to the car!).  Of course, there's always more that we can be doing but we're definitely headed in the right start.  I think it was also a good reminder for the kids that mommy and daddy aren't being bossy when we ask them to do certain things, we are trying to be "green."

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Maple Mustard Chicken

A couple of weeks ago my daughter had her Girl Scout Daisy Investiture Ceremony.  My husband came home from work early to attend and we were out by 4:45.  I debated about whether to go out for dinner, but since we're trying to be money conscious, and we had the time, we ended up cooking dinner.  These were super easy to prepare.  While they cook for some time it game my husband time to get the kids showered and I was able to prepare the roasted potatoes that we served with, and get the dishes done.  Plus, the kids had some extra play time with daddy which is always a plus around here!  

Maple Mustard Chicken
recipe found at The Cutting Edge of Ordinary

1 ½ pounds chicken thighs
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (or cider)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Mix the mustard, syrup, and rice wine vinegar in a bowl.

Put a 1.5 pound package of chicken thighs into an oven-proof baking dish. Salt and pepper the thighs. Pour your maple mustard mixture over them, turning the thighs in the mixture so they are fully coated.

Bake for 40 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 155ºF. (I just knew by looking at mine that they were done, but you can use a thermometer). Baste the tops of the chicken with more sauce half way through.

Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving. Plate the chicken, making sure to spoon some extra sauce over the top.
Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Dini Dinosaur

Dini Dinosaur

Dini Dinosaur
Written by:  Karen Beaumont
Illustrated by:  Daniel Roode
Published by: Greenwillow Books, 2012

This energetic and silly picture book, by the author of such preschool bestsellers as "I Ain't Going to Paint No More," is ideal for toddlers who love to get messy and the moms who get them clean again.

* The jacket cover of this book recommends this book for kids ages 2-5.  My husband ended up reading this to our 3 1/2 year-old, dinosaur loving son one night.  Told in rhyme, this book tells the story of Dini Dinosaur, who must take a bath before bed.  He goes into the bath with all of his clothes on and his mama has to keep sending him back into the tub because he forgets to take his shoes off, his pants off, etc.  While we've read other books by Karen Beaumont, this wasn't a favorite, though little kids (like my son) will probably enjoy it as a bedtime story.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Children's Book Review: Crocodile Tears

Crocodile's Tears

Crocodile Tears
Written and illustrated by: Alex Beard
Published by: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011

Black Rhino and Tickbird want to know why Crocodile is crying. They search the African landscape for other animals who might know the answer. The few they find suggest Crocodile is sad that so many of them face extinction. But when Black Rhino finally asks Crocodile why he’s crying, he learns an interesting fact: Crocodile isn’t really crying; he’s wetting his eyes in the hot, dry sun like all crocodiles do. And Black Rhino learns something else about crocodiles: they can have you for lunch if you don’t watch out! Including a photo of each animal featured in the story along with a description of its current status on the list of endangered species, this picture book is a great educational tool. A share of the proceeds from sales of the book will go to the Shompole Community Trust, a land and animal reserve in Kenya.

* As you read this book you are transported to Africa where Black Rhino and Tickbird are on a quest to find out why Crocodile is crying.  Beard has beautifully illustrated pictures of the endangered animals of Africa that we meet on Black Rhino and Tickbird's journey.  The reader finds out about the development of the land which has left many animals without open spaces to roam.  We were pleasantly surprised with the ending, which took an unexpected turn!  The end of the book includes photographs of each of the animals introduced in the story, along with some information about its endangered status.  Beard works to raise awareness of endangered animals and their habitats and has contributed part of the proceeds of this book to the Shompole Community Trust, a land and animal reserve in Kenya.

I dream of one day travelling to Africa to be able to see some of the animals mentioned in this book in person. For now, this book will have to do.  This seems like a good resource for teaching about endangered animals.  Unfortunately, we've had some tired, cranky children at bedtime these past few nights.  And while we read the book to them we didn't get to discuss what "endangered" means or have them look at the photographs.  Luckily, we still have another week or two before this book is due back at the library to do a reread with them.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Mini Garlic Monkey Breads

Knowing that my kids probably weren't going to be big fans of the Masala Meatballs (see yesterday's post), I served them with pasta and these Mini Garlic Monkey Breads, since they LOVE garlic bread so much.  If you haven't noticed, we're a big carb-loving family!  My husband and I were discussing why monkey bread is called what it is. We concluded it had to do with the tearing apart of the pieces.  According to Wikipedia we are partially right.  The actual origin of the name is uncertain, but the action of several people pulling at the bread, similar to monkey behavior, is one possibility.  Another possibility is that the bread resembles the monkey puzzle tree (whatever that is!). Regardless, after making Peanut Butter and Jelly Skillet Monkey Bread my family is a fan of the bread and concept.  This is quick and easy to put together and delicious!  It takes garlic bread to a new level and much more fun to eat!   

Mini Garlic Monkey Breads
Recipe found at: Life as a Lofthouse

Yield: 12 rolls

2 (7.5 ounce) cans buttermilk biscuits
6 Tablespoons butter, melted
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons dried parsley flakes
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus 2 Tablespoons for sprinkling

Cut each roll into 4 pieces. Set aside. Spray a 12 cup muffin tin with cooking spray. Set aside. In a large bowl combine the rest of the ingredients. Place 6 to 7 roll pieces into the garlic mixture and coat with mix. Place 6 to 7 coated roll pieces into one muffin tin. Repeat the process until all 12 muffin tins are full. Sprinkle all the rolls with the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 400 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until rolls are golden brown. Serve warm.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Children's Book Review: How to Teach a Slug to Read

How to Teach a Slug to Read

How to Teach a Slug to Read
Written by: Susan Pearson
Illustrated by: David Slonim
Published by: Marshall Cavendish Children, 2011

* Slugs are really gross creatures.  This children's book however, shows them as cute and likable.  In this book a little boy explains to Mama Slug how to teach her Little Slug to read in 10 easy steps.  Some of the tips are actual strategies that can be used to help children learn to read, including labeling objects, find books that will interest and motivate the reader, and learning high-frequency words.  Some other tips, like propping the book close to the ground, not so much.  My daughter read this book to us.  There was a lot going on in this book with the story text, speech bubbles, and a book in a book.  She had a little difficulty figuring out what to read first on the page.  The kids liked the familiar pictures of children's books with the change in titles (i.e. The Snail in the Hat and Slug and Snail are Friends).   Overall, it was a cute story about learning how to read.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Masala Meatballs

I love Indian Food.  My favorite thing to do is to go to the lunch buffet because then I'm not limited to one dish.  I can sample all kinds of dishes and try new things that I probably wouldn't order if going out for dinner.  I think I've mentioned that I really like meatballs and meatloaf and am always looking for new variations on the dishes.  I thought this "Indian" take on meatballs was different.  They were really easy to make and quick to cook.  I served them over pasta with the sauce.  My husband thought that they were tasty, but the kids and I weren't big fans.  To me they were okay, but nothing I'd rave about.  Luckily, there are many more recipes out there waiting to be tried!

Masala Meatballs
Recipe slightly adapted from EveryDay With Rachael Ray, Jan./Feb. 2012

Yield: 4 servings


1/2 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/4 pounds ground chicken
2 eggs
2 tablespoons EVOO
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 cups marinara
10 ounces spinach

Mix first 5 ingredients with 1/4 tsp. salt. Heat EVOO in skillet over medium. Brown tbsp.-size meatballs in skillet. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover; simmer 7 minutes.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Children's Book Review: The Birthday Pet

The Birthday Pet

The Birthday Pet
Written by: Ellen Javernick
Illustrated by: Kevin O'Malley
Published by: Marshall Cavendish Children, 2009

"It was Danny s Birthday and his folks said he could get any kind of animal he wanted for a pet. Danny thought it over before he went to bed. All I really want is a turtle, he said." But instead, his family gets him a dog, a kitten, a rat, and a bird. Danny shakes his head after each gift is offered until he finally receives the present he s wished for all along. Accompanying each amusing stanza are Kevin O Malley s cheerful illustration using design markers and colored pencil.

* My daughter turned 6 this past Saturday, April 14th.  I'm still kind of in disbelief that she's six already.  The time has just flown by!  If I had planned accordingly, I would have put some books on hold at the library that focused on birthdays.  This was the only book that I picked out that had "birthday" in the title.  When I had brought it home from the library and my daughter was examining the picture book pile, she told me that she was saving this one for her birthday.  It really doesn't revolve around a birthday (which my daughter was quick to point out!) as much as Danny wanting a pet for his birthday.  Told in rhyme, this story goes through each family member trying to convince Danny that he doesn't really want a pet turtle, and offering an alternative pet.  I liked the lesson in this story, when you ask a child a question.....listen to his/her answer!  Children sometimes actually know what they want!  We all enjoyed this one, though like I mentioned, my daughter was a bit disappointed that it didn't really have much to do with an actual birthday!

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Sausage, Peppers, and Onion Hash Hoagies

My kids love sausage and I'm always up for a sausage and pepper roll.  I thought this sounded interesting with the addition of potatoes.  Who doesn't love extra carbs?!!  I ended up omitting the cayenne pepper to make it kid friendly.  Most of the time in making this recipe was peeling and boiling the potatoes.  It's a step that you can probaby do the night/day before to make this a quick weeknight dinner.  Although it was tasty, it really doesn't need the potatoes.  I of course don't mind the extra carbs, but it really seemed a bit much with the roll! 

Sausage, Peppers, and Onion Hash Hoagies
EveryDay With Rachael Ray, October 2011

2 tablespoons EVOO
1 pound bulk sweet italian sausage
1 onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound yukon gold potatoes, boiled and sliced
Salt and pepper
4 hoagie rolls, split

Heat EVOO in large skillet and cook sausage over medium heat until browned, about 8 minutes; transfer to paper towel. Cook onion, bell pepper, garlic and cayenne in sausage drippings until soft, about 5 minutes. Add sausage and potatoes to pan and cook for 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Pile onto rolls.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Children's Book Review: Detective Blue

Detective Blue

Detective Blue
Written by:  Steve Metzger
Illustrated by: Tedd Arnold
Published by: Orchard Books, 2011

Miss Muffet is missing . . . and Detective Blue is on the case!

"Today started like any other day. The dish ran away with the spoon."

 Little Boy Blue is all grown up, and he's a detective working to find Miss Muffet. Join in the fun as Detective Blue tries to crack the case with the help of his nursery rhyme friends. The fun is never-ending as Detective Blue interrogates grown-up nursery rhyme characters in order to solve the Missing Muffet Mystery. Kids, parents, and teachers can find a list of referenced nursery rhymes and go back into the story to find the characters.
* My kids pretty  much know all of the classic nursery rhymes and fairy tales.  Recently we've been reading fairy tales told from different character point of views.  I found this book at the library and thought it looked like a cute take on nursery rhymes.  Plus, my daughter is beginning to be interested in mystery chapter books and I thought this might be a nice mystery picture book. Your children have to be familiar with nursery rhymes to catch all of the references and humor in the story. Written in a comic book-like format, it tells the story of Detective Blue as he searches for the missing Miss Muffett.  As for the illustrations, just from the cover my husband was able to identify the illustrator, Tedd Arnold, as the one who illustrated Parts.  We're also familiar with his work in the Fly Guy series, which my daughter enjoys.  Overall, this was a cute story that we all enjoyed.  However, my daughter had a difficult time with the ending and was a bit confused with the cross-over of characters (don't want to give away spoilers!).
Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up!

Bailey's Chocolate Cookies

I  have a pretty much whole bottle of Irish Cream left over from my St. Patrick's Day cooking.  So, I've been scouring blogs for recipes that use it.  I found these cookies and definitely wanted to give them a try.  Being home now full-time, I've started baking more, which is definitely bad for me, when I'm trying to eat a little more healthy, with summer fast approaching.  And when I make cookies and they sit on the counter, I may happen to take one.....every time I walk by!  Luckily, I have started freezing cookies....out of sight, out of mind.....until I need to take something out of the freezer.  Unfortunately, cooking with Irish Cream means my kids can't have the treats.  These cookies were moist and chocolatey with just a hint of alcohol.  The 2 hour chill time really helped make the cookies nice and fluffy!

Bailey's Chocolate Cookies
recipe from Gimme Some Oven

Yield:  30-40 cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. Irish Cream
1 cup white chocolate chips

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt until combined.

Using an electric mixer, use the paddle attachment to cream together butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Add in the Irish cream one tablespoon at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed to be sure that everything is well combined.. Add the dry ingredient mixture, and continue mixing until combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours.
Roll or scoop into balls and set on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Remove and carefully transfer cookies to a cooling rack to cool. Keep remaining dough refrigerated until use.

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

Monday, April 16, 2012

Children's Book Review: The Daddy Mountain

The Daddy Mountain

The Daddy Mountain
Written and illustrated by: Jules Feiffer
Published by: Michael Di Capua Books, 2004

Before your very eyes, this little redhead is about to do something extremely daring. And scary. And she'll show you-she'll actually document, step-by-step-exactly how she does it. First, she takes her Daddy and makes him stand very still. Then, balancing herself on his shoe, she wraps her arms tightly around a leg and starts her perilous ascent to the summit. Thrills and chills, guaranteed. LOOK OUT BELOW JULES FEIFFER has won a number of prizes for his cartoons, plays, and screenplays, including the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. His books for children include The House Across the Street; By the Side of the Road; I'm Not Bobby; I Lost My Bear; and Meanwhile..He lives in New York City.

* My son and has a tendency to jump on your back when you're least expecting it or to grab your hands, climb up your legs, and flip himself over.  We've been discouraging him from climbing on people (and us!), the main reason being safety for both himself and the person he's climbing on.  So, this probably wasn't the best of books to read to him, since the little girl in the story explains step-by-step how she climbs "The Daddy Mountain."   My daughter actually wanted to "read this to her brother."  So we left the two of them in his room and let her do her thing.  I read it quickly on my own and I asked my son the next day if he enjoyed the book which he commented, "a little bit."  While we enjoyed Bark, George also written by Feiffer, this book wasn't a favorite. 

Family Rating: So-so.

Tortilla Espanola

During Lent I was cooking my meatless meal of the week on Fridays.  I've seen a couple of different recipes for this popular Spanish dish and finally decided to make it.  With eggs and potatoes as the main ingredients, I figured it couldn't go over too badly with the kids. I have to say, after all was said and done, it was only okay.  It took a long time to make, since the potatoes and onion roast for an hour.  Luckily, I've been able to cook dishes like these since I'm home full-time now.  Obviously, not a good busy weeknight meal for most families!  It definitely lacked flavor.  I believe the hot sauce came out to help add flavor to this.  My daughter enjoyed it, minus the onions, but she loves most potato dishes.  For my husband and I, it was just okay. 

Tortilla Espanola
Cooking Light, August 2001

Tortilla Española (its relation to Mexican tortillas comes solely from it round shape) is among the most popular dishes in Spain. Although its ingredients couldn't be more basic--potatoes, eggs, onions, and oil--they're combined and cooked in a way that makes this dish irresistible and versatile. The potatoes are normally fried, but we've roasted them with excellent results. Unlike American omelets, this one's best made several hours ahead then served at room temperature.

6 cups thinly sliced peeled baking potato (about 3 pounds)
2 cups thinly sliced sweet onion
Cooking spray
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
4 large eggs
Oregano sprigs (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place the potato and onion in a roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons oil, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss well. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally with a metal spatula to prevent sticking.

Combine eggs and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Stir in potato mixture; let stand 10 minutes. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour potato mixture into pan (pan will be very full). Cook 7 minutes or until almost set, gently shaking pan frequently.

Place a plate upside down on top of omelet; invert onto plate. Carefully slide omelet cooked side up into pan; cook 3 minutes or until set, gently shaking pan occasionally. Carefully loosen omelet with a spatula; gently slide omelet onto a plate. Cool. Cut into wedges. Garnish with oregano, if desired.

Family Rating:  1 thumb up.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Children's Book Review: Scranimals

Written by:  Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by:  Peter Sis
Published by: Scholastic Inc., 2002

We're sailing to Scranimal Island,

It doesn't appear on most maps....

Scranimal Island is where you will find the fragrant Rhinocerose, the cunning Broccolions, and if you are really, really lucky and very, very quiet, you will spot the gentle, shy Pandaffodil. (You may even hear it yawning if the morning's just begun, watch its petals slowly open to embrace the rising sun.

So put on your pith helmet and prepare to explore a wilderness of puns and rhymes where birds, beasts, vegetables, and flowers have been mysteriously scrambled together to create creatures you've never seen before –– and are unlikely to meet again! Your guides –– Jack Prelutsky, poet laureate of the elementary school set, and two–time Caldecott Honor artist Peter Sis – invite you to join them on an adventure you will never forget!

Ages 4+

* April is National Poetry Month. We own several different poetry books that my kids love.  Poems are great for children.  They are often short so you can read several at a time.  In my house the kids like rhyming poems and the funnier and sillier, the better.  This poetry book has been a favorite of the kids.  They like taking turns picking out which poem we should read next.  Each poem introduces a creature created by adding an animal and either another animal, fruit, vegetable, or flower. The rest of the poem tells a little bio of the "scranimal" and there's a helpful pronunciation guide at the bottom of each page!  Of all of the poetry books we have, this is one of the most read!

Family Rating:  2 thumbs up!

Orange-Balsamic Caramelized Fennel

I'm participating again in this month's Eating the Alphabet Challenge.  This month we had to make a dish using fruit, vegetables, or grains using the letters E or F.  I'm really trying to "challenge" myself with this challenge by cooking with ingredients that I don't normally use.  I do not like fennel seeds, although I can eat them in sausage.  I may have eaten fennel before but know that I personally have never cooked it before making this.  I only bought one fennel bulb and ended up quarterting the recipe.  For convenience purposes though I posted the original recipe portions, although the original recipe called for fennel seeds (yuck!).  I'm proud of myself for cooking outside my normal veggies.  However, no one was a big fan of this dish.  It definitely had that licorice taste.  When I told the kids that fennel tasted like licorice they were excited.  They tasted a bite and told me it didn't taste like licorice.  I told them it definitely did and then realized that to them, licorice is red twizzlers!  They've never had "real" licorice!  Needless to say, they weren't eating any more than the one bite.  If you're a fan of fennel though, this may be right up your alley.  I can now say that I don't like any forms!

Orange-Balsamic Caramelized Fennel
recipe slightly adapted from Cooking Light, November 2008

4 (1-pound) fennel bulbs with stalks, trimmed
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon sugar, divided
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, sliced

1. Cut each fennel bulb in half through root end; cut each half into quarters to form 32 total pieces. Chop 1 tablespoon fronds; reserve.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Place 8 fennel pieces in a single layer in pan; sprinkle evenly with 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Remove fennel from pan; recoat pan with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining fennel and sugar.

3. Return fennel to pan. Stir in broth and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 38 minutes or until fennel is crisp-tender and liquid is almost evaporated, turning occasionally. Top with reserved fennel fronds.

Family Rating:  So-so.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ham and Pineapple Pizza

Home-made pizza has become almost a weekly dinner staple in our house.  It's cheap, quick, easy to make, and tastes so good!  Plus, the variations are endless.  I can't remember the last time we ordered a pizza.  Although I've eaten variatons on "Hawaiian" pizza I had never made it before.  My kids love ham and pineapple so I thought it would be a winner.  It pretty much was, although we discovered that our daughter who loves pineapple, does not like it warm, on her pizza.  My son really liked it.  I ended up making two pizzas, one for the adults with the crushed red pepper, and one for the kids without.
Ham and Pineapple Pizza
recipe adapted from Cooking Light, December 2001

1 store bought pizza dough
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon Penzys Pasta Sprinkle
1/2 cup (2-inch) julienne-cut cooked ham
1 (8-ounce) can pineapple tidbits in juice, drained
3/4 cup (3 ounces) preshredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Preheat pizza stone in oven at 450°.

Roll out/shape dough into desired shape. Spread sauce evenly over the pizza crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle Pasta Sprinkle on sauce.  Top with ham, pineapple, and cheese; sprinkle with red pepper. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until the crust is crisp.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: The Princess and The Pig

The Princess and the Pig

The Princess and The Pig
Written by: Jonathan Emmett
Illustrated by:  Poly Bernatene
Published by: Walker & Company, 2011

There's been a terrible mix-up in the royal nursery. Priscilla the princess has accidentally switched places with Pigmella, the farmer's new piglet. The kindly farmer and his wife believe it's the work of a good witch, while the ill-tempered king and queen blame the bad witch-after all, this happens in fairy tales all the time! While Priscilla grows up on the farm, poor yet very happy, things don't turn out quite so well for Pigmella. Kissing a frog has done wonders before, but will it work for a pig?

* My daughter loves fairy tales and princess stories.  This story is a sort-of take on lots of different fairy tales, or so the characters believe.  Priscilla, the princess and Pigmella, the pig are switched in an unfortunate accident.  The farmer and his wife and the king and the queen use fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty, Thumbelina, The Prince and the Pauper, and others, to convince themselves and explain the turn of events.  The kids enjoyed this story and the humorous ending.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Children's Book Review: Nibbles: A Green Tale

Nibbles:  A Green Tale
Written and illustrated by:  Charlotte Middleton
Published by: Marshall Cavendish Children, 2009

* In this book, Nibbles, the guinea pig, LOVES dandelions.  But so do all the other guinea pigs in Dandeville.  With everyone eating them, the dandelions begin to run out and the guinea pigs are stuck eating cabbage instead!  Nibbles knows where one last dandelion is growing.  He cares and nurtures it until it grows and he helps bring dandelions back to Dandeville.

This was a cute book that can be used to talk about natural resources and what happens if people use them all up.  I thought it was cute, and evidence of modern times, that the last few dandelion leaves could be bought on the internet for a lot of money.  But when Nibbles wanted to learn how to care for his dandelion he didn't go to the internet.  He visited his library and borrowed a book!  Yeah!  This book showed Nibbles using problem solving skills which I've been trying to work on with my kids. Like Nibbles, my children enjoy growing flowers and plants, so they could also relate to him in that way.  This was a story enjoyed by us all. 

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Smoked Chile Scalloped Sweet Potatoes

Our supper club theme this past month was Chef Bobby Flay.  Bobby Flay is varied in that he does a lot of grilling and then he also is famous for his "Southwest" style and flavors.  I chose to make a potato side dish. I debated between white potatoes and sweet potatoes.  But this recipe got more positive reviews so I went with it.  I'm so glad that I did.  It couldn't get any easier to make and it was so tasty...but really, I think anything with 2 cups of heavy cream would probably taste good!  It was creamy with a little heat.  It could have even had a little more heat.  Although I don't usually repeat recipes, I will definitely be making this dish again soon!

Smoked Chile Scalloped Sweet Potatoes
Recipe from - Courtesy of Bobby Flay, Boy Meets Grill

Prep Time:  10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Yield:  4-6 servings

2 cups heavy cream
1 heaping tablespoon chipotle pepper puree
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced 1/8-inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Whisk together cream and chipotle puree until smooth.

In a 9 by 9-inch casserole dish, arrange the potatoes in even layers. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the cream mixture and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, cream, and salt and pepper to form 10 layers.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes, remove cover and continue baking for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the cream has been absorbed and the potatoes are cooked through and the top is browned.

Mommy & Daddy Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Herbed Turkey Meatballs

My kids love canned cranberry sauce.  I had a can in the pantry (I mean basement shelf, since I really don't have a "pantry") that I was looking to use.  When I went recipe searching I found these meatballs and knew that I was going to make them.  I think I've mentioned how much I like meatballs.  Meatballs, meatloaf.....I guess I just like meat mixed with various "stuff"! Recently I've been using ground turkey in place of recipes that call for ground beef, both for health reasons and cost reasons.  Now this recipe also has the ingredients and directions to make a homemade cranberry sauce, which I obviously didn't make, because we were having CANNED sauce (but I included the original recipe with the sauce below)!  These were pretty easy to put together and quick to cook.  I served these with mashed red potatoes and the cranberry sauce.  The kids were so-so about eating these but my husband and I thought that they were tasty!

Herbed Turkey Meatballs
Recipe slightly adapted from Pink Parsley

Serves 4

•1 Tbs unsalted butter
•1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
•1 stalk celery, finely choped
•1 lb ground turkey
•1 cup fresh bread crumbs
•1 egg
•1 Tbs dried oregano
•1 tsp salt free poultry seasoning
•1/2 tsp kosher salt
•1/4 tsp black pepper
•2/3 cup orange juice
•1 shallot, minced
•1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
•1/4 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and lightly oil a baking sheet.

In a small skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, and cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the celery and onion, turkey, bread crumbs, egg, oregano, poultry seasoning, parsley, salt, and pepper. Gently mix to incorporate with your hands. Using a cookie scoop, form the mixture in meatballs, and arrange them on the baking sheet.

Bake 10 minutes, until cooked through.

Meanwhile, make the cranberry sauce. combine the orange juice, shallot, cranberries, and sugar in a medium skillet. Cook over medium heat, until the cranberries pop and the mixture begins to thicken slightly, about 5 minutes.

Serve the meatballs with the cranberry sauce.
Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Interrupting Chicken

Interrupting Chicken

Interrupting Chicken
Written and illustrated by: David Ezra Stein
Published by: Candlewick Press, 2010

Awarded a 2011 Caldecott Honor!

A favorite joke inspires this charming tale, in which a little chicken’s habit of interrupting bedtime stories is gleefully turned on its head.

It’s time for the little red chicken’s bedtime story —and a reminder from Papa to try not to interrupt. But the chicken can’t help herself! Whether the tale is HANSEL AND GRETEL or LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD or even CHICKEN LITTLE, she jumps into the story to save its hapless characters from doing some dangerous or silly thing. Now it’s the little red chicken’s turn to tell a story, but will her yawning papa make it to the end without his own kind of interrupting? Energetically illustrated with glowing colors —and offering humorous story-within-a-story views —this all-too-familiar tale is sure to amuse (and hold the attention of ) spirited little chicks.
* One of the few times that my kids are quiet is during storytime.  Except for the times when my daughter asks what a word means or has a question, my children love listening to stories read aloud and are surprisingly quiet.  Unfortunately, in this Caldecott Honor book, little red chicken can't help herself and frequently interrupts her father during storytime. While her father tries to read her a couple of different classic stories, the little red chicken keeps interrupting him to change the story to make a happy ending.  When they run out of stories, papa suggests that the little red chicken tell him a story. 
The kids were familiar with the stories that papa was trying to read to the little red chicken, Hansel And Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Chicken Little.  I enjoyed the classic storybook picture illustrations with the little red chicken "interrupting" the story.  This was another cute bedtime story with a twist at the end.
Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Stuffed Cabbage Casserole

I can count on one hand the number of times that I've ever eaten stuffed cabbage.  The last time was at my mom's not too long ago.  While I like to eat it, I don't like all the work that the dish seems to involve.  When I found this recipe I bookmarked it immediately and finally got around to making it.  It still seemed pretty time consuming (although I've never made stuffed cabbage the traditional to be able to compare) to me.  This is definitely NOT a quick weeknight meal.  However, once it's cooked it's pretty tasty!  We had enough leftovers for lunch the next day and for me to give some to my parents and brother!  The kids unfortunately weren't big fans, as expected.

Stuffed Cabbage Casserole
recipe adapted from Mostly Food and Crafts

2 tsp olive oil, divided
1 lb ground turkey
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp sweet Hungarian Paprika
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 heads green cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes with juice
2 cans (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1/4 cup water
2 cups cooked white rice
2 cups low-fat mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large glass casserole dish (9 x 13) with non-stick spray. Heat a large pan over medium heat and add the ground turkey to it. Cook until it's browned and no longer pink, breaking it apart as it cooks. Remove ground turkey and set aside. In the same pan, add 1 tsp olive oil and onion and saute over medium heat until the onion is translucent and starting to golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and paprika and cook about 2 minutes more. Then add the diced tomatoes with juice, tomato sauce, and ground turkey. Add water to the pan. Simmer until it's hot and slightly thickened, about 15-20 minutes.

While the mixture simmers, cut cabbage in half, cut out the core, and remove any wilted outer leaves; chop the cabbage into small pieces. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large pan or dutch oven; add the cabbage and cook over medium-high heat until the cabbage is wilted and about half cooked, mixing it a few times so all the pieces begin to wilt and cook. Season with salt and black pepper. Once the sauce mixture has cooked and thickened a bit, add in the 2 cups of cooked rice and combine.

Now begin to layer half the cabbage, half the meat mixture, remaining cabbage, and remaining meat mixture into the sprayed dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until the mixture is just starting to bubble on the edges. Remove foil and sprinkle on cheese. Bake uncovered an additional 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and begins to slightly brown.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Bedtime for Mommy

Bedtime for Mommy

Bedtime for Mommy
Written by:  Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by:  LeUyen Pham
Published by: Bloomsbury, 2010
32 pages

When it's Mommy's bedtime, she begs her little girl --

Five more minutes?

Ok, but then brush your teeth!

But then Mommy wants another glass of water…another story…luckily this little girl is very patient!

A hilarious reversal of the classic bedtime routine in which a little girl puts Mommy (and then Daddy) to bed.

* Getting the kids ready for bed each night in our household has become a comfortable routine.  Brush, go potty for the last time, and bedtime stories.  Plus, I lay their clothes out for the next day.  Of course this routine doesn't always run as smoothly as I'd like.  Who wants a couple of more minutes to finish playing, drawing, etc.,  who takes a little too long brushing their teeth.  And once they are in bed who needs a drink of water, a night light turned on, or one last hug and kiss.  Bedtime usually takes a little longer than we'd like before the kids are asleep in their beds.

This story was super cute where a mother and daughter switch roles.  The little girl in the story is trying to get her mommy ready for bed and finds that it's not so easy.  I found it funny that the mommy's bedtime story pick is Anna Karenina.  This just so happens to be the book that I am currently reading (in small bits at a time!).  It was very relatable for the kids and I.  The illustrator, LeUyen Pham, also illustrated Freckle Face Strawberry so the illustrations had a familiar feel to them. 

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Children's Book Review: Zen Shorts

Zen Shorts

Zen Shorts
Written and illustrated by:  Jon J. Muth
Published by:  Scholastic Press, 2005

Jon J Muth, author of the best-selling book, THE THREE QUESTIONS, has crafted another profound and winning picture book.

"Michael," said Karl. "There's a really big bear in the backyard." This is how three children meet Stillwater, a giant panda who moves into the neighborhood and tells amazing tales. To Addy he tells a story about the value of material goods. To Michael he pushes the boundaries of good and bad. And to Karl he demonstrates what it means to hold on to frustration. With graceful art and simple stories that are filled with love and enlightenment, Jon Muth -- and Stillwater the bear -- present three ancient Zen tales that are sure to strike a chord in everyone they touch.

* Zen Shorts is a Caldecott Honor Award book.   Although I borrowed this book from the library, it is one of those books that I wouldn't mind owning for our own shelves.  I didn't know what this book was about before I took it out of the library.  The cover shows a panda bear wearing shorts....hmm, is that what "Zen Shorts" are?  Not quite.  In this story three children meet Stillwater, a giant panda.  He tells each of them a different story (Zen tale).  While this can be used as an introduction to the Zen philosophy we enjoyed it as a family read-aloud.  The watercolors throughout the story contrast with the black and white paintings during the Zen tales.  This is a great book for some deep discussions, which we unfortunately didn't have.  It just means that we'll have to take this book out again or buy it for ourselves.
Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Chicken Parm Garlic Bread Burgers

We have a Weber charcoal grill that I will admit that I have no idea how to use.  My husband and I are both totally fine with this.  Although I'm hoping to figure it out by summer so I won't have to use the oven and heat the kitchen up even more when it's ridiculously hot already.  I saw this recipe and it had me at garlic bread.  As I read on though I noticed that it used an outdoor grill.  Well, I couldn't wait for my husband to make these so I was going to make it work and cook them inside ASAP!  I thought that these were really good!  My kids, who like all of the ingredients loved the garlic bread roll but didn't eat much of the chicken.  I do have to admit that I really like my chicken breaded and fried when having chicken parm.  So, may have to do a redo with this with breaded cutlets!  Overall, this was a pretty tasty sandwich!

Chicken Parm Garlic Bread Burgers
recipe slightly adapted from Lauren's Latest

4 thin sliced, boneless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
non-stick oil spray
4 thick slices mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese {you’ll want the real stuff so it will melt!}
1 cup good marinara sauce
4 fresh kaiser rolls {you want soft and chewy rolls}
8 tablespoons butter
1 large clove garlic, minced

Preheat skillet on medium heat and spray with non-stick oil spray.

Rub each chicken breast with olive oil, garlic salt & pepper. Place in skillet and cook for approximately 3-5 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Top each piece of chicken with 2 tablespoons marinara each, 1 slice of mozzarella and 2 tablespoons parmesan. Heat another minute or two until melted.

Place rolls in toaster oven and toast until golden brown.

Place butter and minced garlic in a microwaveable mug.  Heat until butter is melted, approximately 20 seconds.  Pour onto top half of toasted roll.

Place chicken in between garlic bread bun, top with more cheese, marinara and freshly torn basil, if desired. Serve immediately.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.