Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mini Corn Dog Muffins

A couple of weeks ago I had the rare occasion to go out with some former colleagues for dinner and too see a local play that one of the teachers was performing in.  My husband had the honor of taking the kids to the elementary school PTA sponsored Aloha Fun Fair.  They could have bought hotdogs and such at the fair.  However, I had 3 leftover uncooked hotdogs that I wanted to use up.  Plus, I felt better not having to pay a ridiculous amount for the same food that we had at home!  So before I left I quickly whipped these muffins up and served them with some french fries.  Same "bad" fair food but without the cost.  The kids enjoyed these a lot!  I ended up halving the recipe, (but I posted the original) since I only had 3 hotdogs.  And even with just the three we still ended up with quite a bit leftover.  Although these were originally posted as a Super Bowl snack I think they are the start of a great meal for kids.

Mini Corn Dog Muffins
recipe slightly adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8-10 all-beef hot dogs, cut into 1″ bites

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine butter and sugar in a bowl, and whisk to combine. Add eggs and whisk to incorporate. Add milk and whisk to incorporate.

2. In a separate bowl, combine baking soda, cornmeal, flour, and salt, and stir to combine. Whisk into wet ingredients in two batches.

3. Spray a mini muffin tin with non-stick spray, and spoon 1 Tablespoon of batter into each mini muffin cup. Place one hot dog bite into the middle of each cup.

4. Bake for 8-12 minutes (oven temperatures vary), or until cornbread is golden brown. Cool in mini muffin tin for 5 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in the refrigerator, and re-heat for 20-30 seconds before serving.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Pigsty


Written and illustrated by:  Mark Teague
Published by: Scholastic Inc., 1994

A messy room springs to life in this award-winning story from The New York Times-bestselling author Mark Teague.

Wendell Flutz's room isn't a mess. It's a total pigsty. But Wendell's mother can't get him to clean it up. Wendell doesn't think the mess is so awful. In fact, he doesn't even mind it when one day he discovers a real pig sitting on his bed!

* Mark Teague has written many children's books and is also the illustrator of the How Do Dinosaurs....series by Jane Yolen and the Poppleton series by Cynthia Rylant.  In this book Wendell's mother calls his messy room a "pigsty."  Wendell doesn't think it's so bad, but when the pigs start showing up and continue showing up.....maybe it isn't as fun as he thought it was.  In my quest to help my kids keep their rooms clean I added this book to our "messy room" reads.  I think that reading all of these books are helping them see that a lot of kids have difficulty keeping their rooms clean.  Although they continue to make messes in their rooms, they are getting a lot better about cleaning them up.....when they are asked.  I'm waiting for the day when they keep their rooms clean on their own......I may be waiting for awhile!

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Chicken Taquitos

I have found that my children usually eat best when I cook (or we go out to eat or order in) any type of Asian or Mexican food.  I have always loved Mexican.  When we go out to eat I can make a meal out of the basket of tortilla chips and salsa that they serve.  Add in some of the homemade guacomole and I'm in heaven!  My dish recently of choice when out to Mexican are flautas.  However, I can always go for some taquitos.  What I liked about this recipe is that they weren't fried, like you would get if you ordered them out.  Instead, these taquitos are baked.  I was proud of myself for remembering that I was making these earlier in the week.  So when I was cooking up the chicken for the Chicken with Balsamic, Bacon, and Mushrooms I cooked up and shredded extra chicken for this dish.  I served with some yellow rice and veggies.  My son loved these!  I think my daughter would have enjoyed them more too if I hadn't used medium salsa.  She's very sensitive to spice and said that these were too spicy for her. These were fairly quick and easy to make and super tasty!
Chicken Taquitos
recipe slightly adapted from Juanita's Cocina

3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup salsa
1 Tbs. lime juice
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. onion powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs. chopped cilantro
2 green onions, chopped
2 cups shredded, pre-cooked chicken
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese
12-14 6-inch flour tortillas

Preheat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

Mix cream cheese, salsa, lime juice, chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic, cilantro and green onion in a large bowl.

Fold in chicken and shredded cheese and stir until combined.

Place 2-3 tablespoons of filling across the middle of a tortilla.

Roll the tortilla around the filling and place seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining tortillas until all filling has been used.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until tortilla turns a golden-brown color and becomes crisp. Serve with extra salsa.

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: The Very Fairy Princess

The Very Fairy Princess

The Very Fairy Princess
Written by:  Julie Andrews & Emma Walton Hamilton
Illustrated by:  Christine Davenier
Published by:  Little, Brown, and Company, 2010

While her friends and family may not believe in fairies, Geraldine knows, deep down, that she is a VERY fairy princess. From morning to night, Gerry does everything that fairy princesses do: she dresses in her royal attire, practices her flying skills, and she is always on the lookout for problems to solve. But it isn't all twirls and tiaras - as every fairy princess knows, dirty fingernails and scabby knees are just the price you pay for a perfect day!

This new picture book addition to the Julie Andrews Collection features the joyful illustrations of Christine Davenier, and is sure to inspire that sparkly feeling within the hearts of readers young and old.
* Entertainer Julie Andrews is the co-author of this book.  I didn't realize until reading the book jacket that she's written other children's books and even a memoir.   Of course it was the title of this book that caught my eye since my daughter loves everything princess.  In this book Geraldine knows she's a fairy princess and goes on to explain how and why she is.  Geraldine is a likable character and with all of the pink in this story my daughter enjoyed it. 
Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fresh Strawberry Muffins

My sister lives in Maryland so unfortunately, we don't get to see her and her family very often.  My niece turned one in the beginning of May and my sister asked if she could host a small birthday party at my house for her.  Of course I said yes!  A couple of days after they returned to Maryland we got an edible arrangement from my one year old niece, thanking us for helping to make her birthday so special!  Knowing that my kids don't eat melon, my sister ordered an arrangement made of pineapple, grapes, and strawberries....lots of strawberries!  After we stuffed ourselves silly with the strawberries over a couple of days, we still had a few left.  I didn't want them to go to waste, so I found this recipe and made some muffins.  I wasn't sure if my daughter would like them because of the warm/cooked fruit.  But she did like them a we all did! 

Fresh Strawberry Muffins
recipe from A Recipe A Day

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
3 tsps sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and mix well.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Add flour mixture and milk alternately to butter mixture. Add vanilla. Gently stir in strawberries.

Spoon batter into muffin pans.

Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over muffins.

Bake at 400º for 20-25 minutes.

Makes one dozen muffins.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: Russell the Sheep

Russell the Sheep

Russell the Sheep
Written and illustrated by:  Rob Scotton
Published by:  HarperCollins, 2005

With a distinctive humor and style, Scotton introduces a sheep with a "baaaad" case of insomnia, until he discovers the one thing he needs to count to get to sleep.

* Rob Scotton, the author of the Splat the Cat series brings us a picture book.  Poor Russell can't fall asleep.  He tries everything from finding a better place to sleep to counting things.  Although this book was shelved in the math/counting section of the library the focus of the story isn't really on counting. The story itself didn't really go anywhere.....after reading it, my husband and I looked at each other and said, "that's it?!" However, the illustrations are cute and somewhat silly and had my son laughing out loud.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Chicken with Balsamic, Bacon, Mushroom Cream Sauce

Happy Memorial Day!  We are actually up in Rhode Island spending the holiday weekend at my parent's "beach house."  We're trying to get in some rest and relaxation as a family before my husband starts a new job tomorrow! 

When I first found this recipe it sounded delicious.  I bookmarked it and knew that I would be making it soon.  My son has been going to a "Cook and a Book" class through our local town recreation department.  Each week the teacher reads a picture book and then has the kids cook something related to the story.  He's learned how to properly hold a knife (butter knife) and cutting skills.  So, when I was making dinner and he was sad that his sister wasn't letting him watch her play on the computer, I asked him if he'd help me cook dinner.  So, we pulled a chair up to the counter and I had him clean the mushrooms and cut them (supervised of course!).  Well, guess who got jealous and wanted to come over and help.....his sister of course!  So, the kids cut all the mushrooms for this dish.  The original recipe called for using chicken breasts and serving the chicken and sauce over pasta.  I ended up cutting the chicken into bite size pieces and mixing it in with the pasta.  Using a pound of pasta left us with a lot of leftovers.  I think we all ended up having it for lunch the next day and my husband and I might have even eaten it the next day too.  It was really tasty though and pretty quick and easy to make. 

Chicken with Balsamic, Bacon, Mushroom Cream Sauce
recipe slightly adapted from Carrie's Sweet Life

1 T. olive oil
3 slices of bacon
2 chicken breasts cut into bite size chunks
2 cups of cream
3 T. balsamic vinegar
1 pkg. baby bella mushrooms
salt and pepper
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 T. of butter
1 lb. of pasta, cooked

Warm large pan with olive oil.

Brown chicken in pan, turning over as needed until cooked through, approximately 10 minutes. Meanwhile add bacon slices to same pan and cook until crisp.

Once bacon is done lay on paper plate with paper towels to get grease off. Once chicken is done set aside on a plate covering with foil to keep warm.

Drain oil from the pan, but leaving what is “stuck” to the bottom, add butter and let melt.

Once melted add garlic and mushrooms. Salt and pepper to your liking, let simmer for a 2-3 minutes then add balsamic vinegar. Cook until desired tenderness.

Pour in heavy cream and bring to a boil, boil for 3-5 minutes then add crumbled bacon.

Add chicken and coat in sauce cook until desired thickness. Mix in pasta of your choice.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: The Blue Ribbon Day

The Blue Ribbon Day

The Blue Ribbon Day
Written by:  Katie Couric
Illustrated by:  Marjorie Priceman
Published by: Doubleday, 2004

Everybody’s a star, a brilliant creation.
The trouble is finding the right constellation!

Ellie McSnelly and Carrie O’Toole, the winning pair of friends from The Brand New Kid, are back in a new adventure. Ellie and Carrie decide to try out for the school team in their favorite sport, soccer. But when only one of the girls is selected, the inseparable pair faces a challenge(what do you say when your best friend is terribly disappointed?

But while some disappointments can’t be avoided, Carrie learns (with some help from her mother and her old friend Lazlo) that while she may not be good at everything, she has undiscovered talents waiting to bloom, if she has the courage to try something new.

For every reader who has ever set his or her heart on joining a sports team, getting a part in the school play, or winning a class election, and been let down, Katie Couric’s reassuring and inspiring story gives a charming lesson in confidence.

* News anchor Katie Couric has written a couple of children's books.  I believe this is the first of hers that we've read.  In this story, told in rhyme,  two friends try out for the soccer team but only one friend,Ellie,  makes it.  The other friend, Carrie, needs to deal with disappointment, but is also able to find something that she's good at and enjoys.  It has a good message for kids that everyone is good at something and we need to learn to cope with disappointment.  Couric has written a note to the reader in the beginning and explains this.  The water color pictures are colorful and cheery.
Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Around the World: Tender Afghan Cauliflower (Gulpea)

This is the final recipe of our virtual trip to Afghanistan.  Unlike the kebabs, this recipe wasn't altered too much!  I like cauliflower.  However, the kids really don't like it so I don't cook it very much.  This dish requires a bit of cooking time, so it's not good for a week night vegetable dish.  This was pretty tasty though and it complimented the rest of our meal very nicely! Stay tuned as we travel to our "B" country soon.....

Tender Afghan Cauliflower (Gulpea)
from Afghan Culture Unveiled

3 tbsp. olive oil

2 medium onions, pureed in a food processor or finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, pureed in a food processor or finely chopped
1 tsp. ground curry
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. salt
¼ cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 head cauliflower, washed, stem removed, cut into large pieces

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottom pot. Add the onions and brown for about 10 minutes until golden brown. Add the garlic and ginger, cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients except the cauliflower. Stir well and simmer for about 8 minutes until the liquid reduces and you have a thick, oniony sauce.

Add the cauliflower and stir until the sauce covers all the pieces of the cauliflower. If you feel you don't have enough sauce to coat the cauliflower, add another 1/4 cup of broth.

Put the lid on the pot, cook on low for 20 to 30 minutes until the gulpea can be easily pierced by a fork, stirring every 5 minutes. Remove the lid and cook uncovered for another 5 minutes to allow the sauce to reduce. The cooking time will vary but you want the result to be fork-tender, but not mushy.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Around the World: Tender Beef Kebabs

This dish was part of our final meal on our tour of Afghanistan.  The original dish called was Tender Lamb Kebabs.  However, when I went to the grocery store I couldn't find lamb cubes.  I didn't even think to buy a piece of lamb and cut it into chunks myself.....but I don't think was thinking very much at all.  I didn't read through the recipe before making so when I got to step 1 where it says refrigerate at least one hour, preferably overnight at 5 PM.....well, that wasn't happening!  And then I forgot to add the cinnamon at the end.....So, this recipe is really adapted and it's probably not even really Afghani anymore....but hey, I tried! I served this with Cauliflower Gulpea (see tomorrow's post), rice, and naan.  The kids, especially my daughter really enjoyed this and asked for "rice and meat" for lunch the next day.

Tender Beef Kebabs
recipe adapted from Afghan Culture Unveiled

½ cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. dried ground coriander
½ tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 lb. beef stew meat, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 large onion, peeled, sliced thin

Preparation:In a large bowl mix together the yogurt, oil, garlic, coriander, pepper and salt and stir well. Add the beef and onions and coat evenly with the yogurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pull the beef out a half hour before you a ready to cook. Put the beef into large pot or Dutch oven and cover with a lid. Put it into the oven and cook until it is very tender (about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours). Remove the lid, give it a stir, and continue to cook another 20 to 30 minutes until some of the liquid has reduced and you have a thick, oniony sauce.

Sprinkle the meat lightly with cinnamon and serve with warm naan bread and plain yogurt. You can season the yogurt with a little salt and stir in some rated cucumbers or chopped mint if you like.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Chapter Book Review: The Great Cake Mystery

The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case

The Great Cake Mystery:  Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case
Written by:  Alexander McCall Smith
Illustrated by:  Iain McIntosh
Published by:  Anchor Books, 2012

Have you ever said to yourself, Wouldn’t it be nice to be a detective?

This is the story of an African girl who says just that. Her name is Precious.

When a piece of cake goes missing from her classroom, a traditionally built young boy is tagged as the culprit. Precious, however, is not convinced. She sets out to find the real thief. Along the way she learns that your first guess isn’t always right. She also learns how to be a detective.

* I have read several books from Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Books.  When I found out that he was writing a children's chapter book I was very excited.

 I borrowed this book from the library.  My daughter and I have a tradition of taking turns reading from a chapter book while we wait for her bus to pick her up in the morning.  We'll sit on the steps and depending on how much time it took to get ready, sometimes we'll be able to read only one page and sometimes we'll read four or more pages.  So, it definitely takes us some time to get through a book, as was the case for this book.

My daughter has recently been interested in reading mysteries.  She's been borrowing a lot of the Cam Jansen books from her teacher to read.  So, I thought she'd enjoy this book.  Precious wants to discover who's been stealing everyone's sweets.  Everyone's blaming poor Poloko, but Precious believes his innocence and wants to prove it.  Taking place in Botswana, there are many illustrations throughout this chapter book.  I thought the story had some good lessons to be learned.  For readers there is a character guide at the end. For teachers there is a guide in the back with pre- and post- reading activities, discussion questions, and curriculum connections.  This was a mystery book that was refreshing and different than the normal "cookie-cutter" series types. 

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Around the World: Afghan Dumplings (Aushak)

This dish, which I ended up serving as a side, due to timing, was the star of the night!  I had bought the ground lamb for this dish a couple of days earlier when I was doing the weekly grocery shopping.  My husband had taken the kids to the park and then to the grocery store to get stuff for the Mother's Day dinner he was cooking for me.  When I was getting this dish ready and pulled the lamb out of the fridge it had this grayish brown color and smelled rancid.  My huband pulled into the driveway when I had to send him back out to the store to exchange the lamb.  Finally the dish was finished! This was different than most dumplings in that it was only filled with sauteed scallions.  It was then topped with a yogurt sauce and ground lamb. Can I tell you how much we all enjoyed this?!  I started the kids with one each.  They both asked for seconds.  Then my daughter asked for thirds.  I think I cut her off when she asked for fourths!  I didn't realize how much my daughter liked dumplings!  I have wontons leftover and definitely plan on making other types of dumplings in the near future!

Afghan Dumplings (Aushak) from Afghan Culture Unveiled

4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground lamb
1 cup tomato sauce
1 ½ tsp. paprika
1 ½ tsp. ground coriander
3 teaspoons Kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 lb. green onions, washed, stems removed
1 package won ton wrappers
1 tsp. vinegar
1 cup plain yogurt
½ teaspoon ground dried garlic

Saute the onion over medium heat in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the lamb and sauté until cooked through, breaking it up. Add the tomato sauce, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, the paprika, coriander and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring regularly for 20 minutes.

While the meat is cooking, finely chop the green onions. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and add the green onions and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Turn heat to low and sauté until tender, 10 minutes.

To assemble the dumplings, fill a small bowl with water and put it at your work station. Set a won ton wrapper on your work surface and dip the tip of your finger in the water. Moisten the edges along two connecting sides of the wrapper. The water will serve as glue for the dumpling. Put about a teaspoon of green onions in the center of the wrapper. Fold the dough in half over the green onion in the shape of a triangle. Use the tip of your finger to firmly press the edges of the dough together to form a tight seal. Next, lift the two longest points of the triangle and press them together, creating a little circle over the dumpling. It will look like a fancy napkin fold.

While you are assembling the dumplings, bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil. Add the vinegar. Once all of the dumplings are done, immerse them in the water and boil according to directions on the won ton package (about 4 minutes). While the dumplings are boiling, quickly stir together the yogurt with the garlic and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt.
Gingerly scoop the cooked dumplings out of the water with a slotted spoon, a few at a time, and arrange on a large platter. Spoon the yogurt over the dumplings and the ground meat on top of that.

Family Rating:  2 thumbs up!

The Day That Henry Cleaned His Room

The Day That Henry Cleaned His Room

The Day That Henry Cleaned His Room
Written and illustrated by:  Sarah Wilson
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1990

The day that Henry cleaned his room, reporters came. It had been a year since anyone had seen the inside of Henry's room. Henry was the only one who knew the secret path from the door to his bed. "Okay, everybody out!" shouts Henry, and what follows is the funniest parade off the pages of a picture book!

* As we continue the bibliotherapy process to try to help the kids keep their rooms clean, we read this book. Henry's room hadn't been clean in over a year.  The day he attempts to clean his room, the reporters come.  I didn't like all of the animals that had made homes in Henry's room.  Similar to other books about messy rooms that we've read, this book shows that when you clean up your room you may find things that you thought you lost, presents from long ago, and things you didn't even remember you had!  While the kids thought the book was okay  I have to say that I wasn't a big fan of this book.

Family Rating:  So-so.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Children's Book Review: Surfer Chick

Surfer Chick

Surfer Chick
Written by:  Kristy Dempsey
Illustrated by:  Henry Cole
Published by:  Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012

“Two birds of a feather, a chick and her dad, lived by the shore, in a radical pad. A legend in surfing, Chick’s dad ruled the Roost. Chick’s dream was to learn every move he produced.”

So begins the story of a little chick and her dad who take to the beach so she can finally learn how to surf. At first Chick’s mood is foul as she struggles through some gnarly waters, but soon she is catching waves on her own board and even doing righteous tricks, just like her rad dad!
 Filled with cool surf lingo, this sweet rhyming picture book is perfect for summer at the beach and for celebrating the love between a father and a daughter.

* Told in rhyming text, this is a story about Chick.  She wants to learn to surf just like her dad.  However, she has some difficulty and discovers that it isn't as easy as it looks.  She perseveres and of course ends up finding success.  The kids were not familiar with the surfing lingo.  I had to try to explain what gnarly meant and luckily wasn't questioned about "breakers" and "shredding!"  Overall, I thought this was an okay story.  The kids seemed to enjoy it though. 

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Around the World: Afghan Braised Spinach (Qorma e Sabzi)

This was the side dish that I made with yesterday's Turmeric Chicken.  I ended up halving the original recipe since I didn't want a ton of leftovers and I wasn't sure if the kids were going to like this.  It also called for the optional addition of fenugreek which I could not find for the life of me! It turned out surprisingly tasty and my daughter ate all of her spinach!  Yeah! This did require a lot of cooking time (thus the braised part) though, which was okay since I made it on a Saturday night.  But this is not a week night side dish!

Afghan Braised Spinach (Qorma e Sabzi)
from Afghan Culture Unveiled

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces green onions, white and green parts, chopped (1-2 bunches)
1 box frozen, chopped spinach, not defrosted
1 tablespoon dried dill
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice

In a large deep pan, heat the oil over medium-high and saute the onions until tender, about 7 minutes.

Add the frozen spinach and cook on medium heat, stirring regularly, until it defrosts and the liquid comes to a boil, about 15 minutes. If the defrosted spinach doesn't produce any liquid, add a few tablespoons of water to pan. Once the liquid boils, add the remaining ingredients, stir thoroughly, and drop the heat a bit so the liquid bubbles gently.

Cook for another 10 to 15 more minutes until the liquid is largely absorbed and the spinach very tender. Keep an eye on the spinach as it cooks, stirring occasionally. If the pan dries up, add little more water and continue cooking.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Children's Book Review: Don't Worry Bear

Don't Worry Bear

Don't Worry Bear
Written and illustrated by:  Greg Foley
Published by:  Viking, 2008

The star of Thank You Bear returns to make a new friend, as well as a wonderful discovery. When Caterpillar tells Bear that he is making a cocoon, Bear is worried. Will Caterpillar be safe? Will he be warm? Will he stay dry? Throughout the long winter, Caterpillar reassures him that all is fine. But the day comes when Caterpillar's cocoon is empty and Bear begins worrying all over again. Until a beautiful silk moth lands on his paw. Don't worry, Bear, he says. I'm right here. Incredibly touching in its simplicity, Don't Worry Bear reveals the very heart of friendship.

* I didn't realize that this is the second book in a series.  This is a cute book about friendship.  Bear worries about his little friend it too dark?  Too windy?  Too cold?  Caterpillar is very reassuring all the way to the end.  This is a sweet story with simple, yet touching illustrations.  We all enjoyed this story and we will definitely be checking out Thank You Bear! 

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Around the World: Turmeric Braised Chicken (Lawang)

As we continue our adventure in Afghanistan cooking these next three days of recipes actually made up one meal.  As my husband commented, this was like a supper club dinner, but you did all the cooking.  Yes, the day before Mother's Day I spent cooking this dinner. 

The main dish was this Turmeric Braised Chicken.  A plus to this recipe was that is was made in the slow cooker again.  A negative, on my part, was that I didn't have turmeric.  I tried substituting with some dried mustard and saffron, but I didn't get that deep golden yellow color that turmeric adds.  So, although the chicken came out tender, it lacked in flavor.  Luckily, mixed with rice and the other dishes that we served with this the dinner was tasty.  I wouldn't make this recipe again though, unless I had the turmeric! 

Turmeric Braised Chicken (Lawang)
from Afghan Culture Unveiled

1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped or pureed in food processor
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pureed with the onions
3 lbs skinless, bone-in chicken legs and thighs, separated
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tbsp. ground turmeric
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 cup chicken broth or water
1 ½ cups Greek-style yogurt, room temperature
1 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

 Put the chicken in the crock pot.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Cook the onions and garlic over medium-high heat for 15 minutes until deeply browned. Add the salt, pepper, turmeric, coriander and water to the onions and stir well. Spoon the onion mixture over the chicken, stirring it to evenly cover the chicken pieces. Put on the lid and set the slow cooker on low for 4 hours.

When the chicken is cooked, stir the yogurt and add it along with the cilantro to the crock pot. Give everything a good stir to make sure the yogurt dissolves in the sauce.

Family Rating: So-so.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Slow Cooker Afghan Risotto

This was the first Afghan recipe that I made.  Shohla, also known as Afghan Risotto, can either be sweet or savory.  This one is savory, made with meat and split peas.  I thought I'd start out easy, with this one, since it uses the slow cooker.  I have a finnicky slow cooker that usually cooks dishes much faster than recommended cook times.  Unfortunately, I ended up cooking this a little later than I had planned.  To get dinner eaten in time I served it, though the rice still had a little "bite" to it.  I modified the original recipe by omitting the jalapeno, so it wouldn't be too spicy for the kids (though I think it would have added more flavor to the dish).  The recipe also called for dried mung beans, which I could not find.   I served this with store-bought whole wheat naan.  As our first recipe I thought this was okay. My daughter ate hers but my son only ate a bite but devoured his naan. 

Afghan Risotto
recipe adapted from Afghan Culture Unveiled

2 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lb. beef stewing meat, cut into medium chunks
1 tbsp. tomato sauce
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups beef broth
¼ cup yellow split peas
2 cups short-grain white rice, rinsed and drained in a colander
½ tsp. ground black pepper
2 ½ tsp. dried dill
6 cups water
Plain yogurt

Puree the onions and garlic in a food processor. Put the onion/garlic puree, meat, tomato sauce, olive oil and beef broth into the slow cooker. Mix well and cook on low for 4 hours until the meat is cooked through and most of the liquid is absorbed. The sauce be aromatic and it will have a rich brown color.

Add all the rest of the ingredients except the yogurt to the slow cooker. Stir thoroughly; continue to cook on low for 2 more hours. Cook until the meat is tender enough to easily cut with a fork and all the water is absorbed. If all the water is absorbed but the rice is still crunchy, add another cup of water, stir well, and cooks for another 15 minutes. Serve hot with a spoonful of plain yogurt.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons

Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons

Cookies:  Bite-Size Life Lessons
Written by:  Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by:  Jane Dyer
Published by:  HarperCollins, 2006

Everyone knows cookies taste good, but these cookies also have something good to say. Open this delectable book to any page and you will find out something about life.

Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons is a new kind of dictionary, one that defines mysteries such as "fair" and "unfair" and what it really means to "cooperate."

The book is by turns clever, honest, inspirational, and whimsical. Go ahead, take a bite!
* My daughter first read this book on her own and told me that it wasn't a good book.  I forget her reasoning behind that statement but I had to read it myself to see.  So we read it together as a family before bed one night.  I have to say that I really enjoyed this story.  We've read a bunch of Amy Krouse Rosenthal's books over the past couple of months and we haven't enjoyed them all.  However, this one could definitely be on my list of children's books I'd like to own.  It's written almost in a dictionary-like format, where each page introduces us to a word.  However, the author defines the word or gives an example of the word by relating it to cookies.  These are "Life Lesson" words that you want your children to know, like cooperate, patient, fair, greedy, and courageous, with simple, easy to understand definitions.  The illustrations help reinforce the "lessons" using both people and animals.  This is a book that can be revisited time and time again and is one where children can take more from it as they get older.
Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Around the World: Afghanistan

Inspired by the new Bravo television show Around the World in 80 Plates and the upcoming Summer Olympics, we have decided to take a trip around the world, from our own home.  This idea came up at dinner one night with me and the kids.  We decided that we'd go through the alphabet in ABC order and choose a different country to learn about and cook dishes from.  We didn't really set a time limit for how long we'd spend on each country and with this being our first one it ended up taking a couple of weeks.

I showed my daughter a list of "A" countries and she chose Afghanistan.  So off to the library we went to find a book about Afghanistan.  We read the book and found Afghanistan on a world map and now my daughter can tell you the capital is Kabul.  The kids colored print outs of the Afghani flag and I made several different Afghani dinners.  Now, this is not a cuisine that I could easily find a cookbook or recipes online for.  I found the site Afghan Culture Unveiled, where I got all of our recipes. I have to say upfront that I did have to modify several of the recipes due to not being able to find ingredients or to make them more kid-friendly. 

We are all excited about this educational and culinary journey!  Not only will we all learn about different countries of the world, but I will get to expand my cooking skills, and we all will get to try new foods.  Join us tomorrow for our first recipe on our journey to Afghanistan.

Children's Book Review: Alpha Betti

Alpha Betti

Alpha Betti
Written by: Carlene Morton
Illustrated by:  Margeaux Lucas
Published by:  Upstart Books, 2007

* I somehow stumbled upon this book during a library catalog search on books about "messy rooms."  After getting the book and reading it to the kids I realized it's more about ABC order and library skills than keeping your room clean. In her school library class Alpha Betti becomes a "Super ABC Hero." After learning about alphabetizing Betti comes home and cleans her room by organizing her things in ABC order.  It was definitely a little advanced for the kids so I didn't really focus on the ABC order aspect too much while reading and we read it for enjoyment purposes only.  For older kids who are learning ABC order skills this would be a cute story to help them reinforce those skills.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Italian Sausage and Artichoke Stuffed Shells

Before today's recipe, I had never made stuffed shells.  Yes, this week we had a lot of pasta....and artichokes! Yesterday's Spaghetti used marinated artichokes, this recipe uses canned artichoke hearts.  We had two leftover sausage that I wanted to use up, and this recipe only needed two sausage....perfect! I knew the kids wouldn't eat the artichokes so I made them some ravioli but again, gave them the each 1/2 of a stuffed shell to try.  I ended up using jarred spaghetti sauce (something that I rarely use).  Overall, this dish was tasty, but a bit time consuming.  Definitely not a quick week night meal!

Italian Sausage and Artichoke Stuffed Shells
recipe slightly adapted from The Captivating Life

1/2 jar of spaghetti sauce, divided
1/2 a box of Jumbo pasta shells
2 spicy Italian sausages, finely chopped
2 canned artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, diced
Penzys Pasta Sprinkle
Olive oil
1 1/2 cups of ricotta cheese
1 egg
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a large baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta shells until they are al dente. Drain and set aside. Put the tomato sauce in a saucepan and heat through.

Fry the garlic, Italian sausage and artichoke hearts in olive oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle Penzys Pasta Sprinkle, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook until the sausage is browned and then drain the fat.

Mix the ricotta and egg together until it is smooth. Add some salt and pepper and a ladleful of tomato sauce and mix well. Add the sausage mixture to the ricotta and combine everything together well.

Put a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the greased baking dish. Stuff the shells with a couple of tablespoons of the filling and set them on the tomato sauce in the baking dish.

Cover the shells with the remaining tomato sauce and then sprinkle them with mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is nicely browned.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Spaghetti with Bacon, Brussels Sprouts, and Artichokes

This dish has some of my favorite ingredients.  Bacon, yes please, anytime!  I've started cooking a lot more with brussels sprouts and I'm a big artichoke fan.  So I was very excited to try this.  I was smart in setting aside some plain spaghetti before I added the brussels sprouts and artichoke mixture to it.  I gave the kids a small scoop to try and then gave them plain spaghetti with butter, bacon, and parmesan cheese.  Of course they ate it up!  They both ate all of the "try" portion though.  The original recipe yielded 2 main servings or 4 side dish servings.  I ended up doubling the recipe so we'd have enough leftovers for lunches.  This was a quick and easy dish and very tasty!

Spaghetti with Bacon, Brussels Sprouts, and Artichokes
from Lauren's Latest

1 lb. spaghetti
8 slices thick sliced pepper bacon
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 lb. brussels sprouts
12 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
salt, to taste

Bring large pot of water to boil. Salt water and add in pasta. Cook to al dente, drain and set aside.

In the mean time, in a deep skillet, cook bacon slices to your liking. Drain on paper towels. Pour off excess bacon grease leaving 2 tablespoons. Saute onions, garlic, brussels sprouts and salt until tender, about 5 minutes. Chop bacon slices into smaller pieces. Stir in artichoke hearts, bacon, hot pasta and cheese. Toss together, taste and adjust seasonings.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Children's Book Review: Lousy Rotten Stinkin' Grapes

Lousy Rotten Stinkin' Grapes

Lousy Rotten Stinkin' Grapes
Written by:  Margie Palatini
Illustrated by: Barry Moser
Published by:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2009

Fox wants the grapes, but they're too high for him to reach. He's nothing if not crafty, and in this humorous new spin on the well-known fable, fox's scheme is taken to new heights.

* Unfortunately, my kids are not familiar with the classic Aesop's fable "The Fox and the Grapes." Although this was a tad bit repetitive with the addition of each animal character, the kids enjoyed the story.  I used different voices for the various animals which they found humorous.  I liked how it shows that everyone can come up with a good idea, you have to allow them to share it.  The kids are familiar with the "Lion and the Mouse" but I think this story was a good way to introduce the kids to more fables.  
Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.   

Friday, May 18, 2012

Children's Book Review: Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon!

Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon!

Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon!
Written and illustrated by:  Pat Cummings
Published by:  Bradbury Press, 1991

Harvey Moon's room is a mess! Clothes are everywhere, sticky comic books are shoved under his desk, and there's a cookie under his bed that's so old it's turned gray and fuzzy. What a disaster!

There won't be any cartoons until his room is absolutely spotless. But just when Harvey thinks he's finally done, he discovers that his idea of clean is not the same as his mother's!

* I've mentioned in a previous post that I'm hoping to use some bibliotherapy to get my kids to keep their rooms clean!  I know, who am I kidding, right?!  But I have to try everything!  The other day my daughter had to clean her room before my husband would take the kids to the park.  Her room looked beautiful when she was done.  By bedtime, it was a mess again! 

Told in rhyme, this book tells the story of Harvey Moon.  He wants to spend the day watching cartoons but his mom is making him clean his room.  As Harvey begins cleaning, even my kids were grossed out by some of the stuff that he found in his room! He cleans up most of his things, but ends up hiding the rest in hopes of watching a show.  I like how mom is smart enough to realize what he's up to and calls him out!  I need to show the kids that they can't get away with trying to be sneaky! Overall, this was an okay book about cleaning up a messy to whether it helped my kids learn to keep their rooms clean.....we'll have to see about that!

Family Rating:  1 thumb up.

Velveeta Cheesy Bacon Hash Brown Bake

I found this recipe in a "velveeta recipes" internet search.  I thought it was perfect since we hadn't had breakfast for dinner in awhile.  Plus, it had bacon in it.....and my family LOVES bacon! This was pretty easy to put together, but it does need to cook for 40 minutes.  I didn't need to give the kids a shower tonight, so it was nice to play a game with them and then let them relax by watching a little television before dinner.  This was surprisingly tasty to me (since I'm not a big fan of the cheese!) and the kids ate theirs up, minus the mushrooms.  This made enough for us to have plenty of leftovers.  My daughter took some for lunch the next day, while it made a nice breakfast for my husband and I. 

Velveeta Cheesy Bacon Hash Brown Bake
from Mommy's Kitchen

8 - slices bacon, chopped
2 - cups frozen shredded hash browns, thawed
1/2 lb. - fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 - onion, chopped
12 - eggs
1/3 cup -sour cream
3/4 lb. (12 oz.) - Velveeta Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product, thinly sliced

HEAT oven to 350ºF. COOK bacon in large skillet on medium heat 10 min. or until crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon from skillet, reserving 2 Tbsp. drippings in skillet. Drain bacon on paper towels. Meanwhile, add potatoes, mushrooms, and onions to drippings; cook approximately 10 min.  until onions are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. SPREAD vegetable mixture onto bottom of 13x9-inch baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Whisk eggs and sour cream until well blended; pour over vegetable mixture. Top with bacon and VELVEETA. BAKE 40 min. or until center is set and casserole is heated through.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Children's Book Review: Dancing with the Dinosaurs

Dancing with the Dinosaurs

Dancing with the Dinosaurs
Written by:  Jane Clarke
Illustrated by:  Lee Wildish
Published by: Imagine Publishing, 2012

Elegant and swellegant, hilarious and hysterical: Come one, come all to the show that's cooler than the Ice Age, and wackier and wilder than any dance competition on TV. It's Dancing with the Dinosaurs - and the awesome, clawsome contestants are ready to party.

* Dinosaur books come in a close second to car and truck books with my son.  Told in rhyme, this book is about dinosaurs in a dance competition.  There's a cute introduction of all the different dinosaur contestants.  Each type of dinosaur does a different dance with a matching costume.  There's a cute surprise ending that the kids loved.  This was our first book by Jane Clarke.  Although I wasn't a huge fan of this book, the kids thought it was cute.  I'm going to try reading some of her award winning picture books. 

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Velveeta Italian Sausage Bake

Awhile back I bought a block of velveeta cheese, planning to make something, which of course I never did.  Luckily, I was searching through my cabinets for something and found it and happened to notice that the use by date was coming up in about two weeks.  So, off I went on a search for velveeta recipes!  I found this one at one my favorite sites Moms Crazy Cooking.  I have to say that I'm not a big fan of the block of cheese.  The kids ate this up and even had it for lunch the next day.  But it was cheesy and had salty meat (sausage!), so of course they loved it!  If only I loved it as much as they did would it earn a 2 thumbs up.  This is one of those dishes that requires a little prep and then cook time, but during the cook time I can get the kids showered!

Velveeta Italian Sausage Bake
recipe slightly adapted from Moms Crazy Cooking

1-1/2 cups Penne pasta
1 lb. Italian sausage
1 small zucchini, halved and sliced
1 can (6 oz.) tomato sauce
1 Tablespoon Penzys Pasta Sprinkle
1/2 lb. (8 oz.) VELVEETA Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook pasta as directed on package. Brown sausage in large skillet on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to break up sausage. Drain; return sausage to skillet. Stir in zucchini, tomato sauce and pasta sprinkle; cook 5 to 6 min. or until zucchini is crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Drain pasta; Add to sausage mixture with velveeta cheese; mix lightly. Spoon into 13x9-inch baking dish sprayed with cooking spray; top with Parmesan. Bake 15 to 20 min. or until heated through.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ranch Doritos Taco Salad

I saw this recipe and it brought back memories from my childhood.  My mom made a similar salad using regular Nacho Doritos, but the same premise.  And I remember really enjoying it.  My husband ended up going to a Yankee game with my dad last minute the night I had planned to make this.  I was hesitant about making this for just me and the kids.  But the produce was ripe and ready to use and the next night we were going out to dinner and I couldn't make it then.  So I ended up making it but wish I had waited.  The kids wanted nothing to do with this meal but eat the doritos.  I really enjoyed it.  But warning, the doritos get soggy overnight.  The next day my husband and I both had some for lunch.  I forgot to remind him to bring some fresh doritos from the bag, so he ended up with a soggy mess for lunch.  I added some crunched up new doritos to my salad and it was better.  Definitely not as good as the first night, but better than the soggy mess my husband ate!

Ranch Doritos Taco Salad
recipe slightly adapted from Moms Crazy Cooking

1 lb ground turkey cooked with 1/2 envelope Taco Seasoning
1/2 cup corn
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1 tomato, diced
1 avocado
1/2 cup shredded cheese
1 head of lettuce
Ranch Doritos Chips
1/2 cup Thousand Island Dressing

Directions:The recipe is simple, the ingredients are easy. Add a few more, or take away a few if you don't like them. But the secret ingredient is the Thousand Island Dressing (even people that don't like Thousand Island LOVE this recipe) and the Ranch Doritos... make this salad taste like no other Taco Salad you've ever had before. It's DELICIOUS!!!

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: The Big Fat Cow that goes Kapow

The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow

The Big Fat Cow that goes Kapow
Written by:  Andy Griffiths
Illustrated by:  Terry Denton
Published by:  Feiwel and Friends, 2008

Look! It’s a book
With a mouse and his house,
And a mole in a hole,
And a bike with a spike,
And, of course,
A big, fat cow that goes . . .
5,4,3,2,1 . . . KAPOW!

New York Times-bestselling author Andy Griffiths, follows up his slimy, rhymey, easy-to-read hit, The Cat on the Mat is Flat, with ten more hilarious short, rhyming stories guaranteed to make kids laugh.

* I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked this book off the library shelf.  I gave it to my daughter to read, which she did and then gave back to me and told me that she didn't like it.  I was a little suprised since she loves reading poems by Shel Silverstein and this book had similar rhyming, nonsensiscal text.   I didn't realize the text was so simple and the chapters so short.  So, I read it to my son one night.  Well, he was hysterical laughing while I read it.  Yes, these rhyming stories are super silly.  The text is pretty simple that my son could have read some of it if I had him try but I didn't.  The cartoon-like illustrations help add to the humor and silliness of the stories. 

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Guava Cheese Turnovers

I'm once again participating in Brenda from Meal Planning Magic's Eating the Alphabet Challenge.  This month's letters were G & or H.  I metioned in a previous post that I thought about using the Grapefruit Avocado Salad.  However, I'm really trying to challenge myself with this challenge and wanted to try a fruit/vegetable/legume that I hadn't tried or cooked with before.  So, I finally decided on guava.  Now, when I was looking for recipes, most recipes did not use fresh guava.  After a stroll through my local grocery store, I couldn't even find fresh guava!  Most recipes either called for guava nectar or guava paste.  After doing a precheck at the grocery store I saw that both were available.  So, I went with trying these Guave Cheese Turnovers, which uses guava paste.  In case you don't know, guava paste is found in a round tin, similar to a tuna fish can, but much larger!  The one that I bought was made by Goya and came in a 21 oz. can. (Now I need to figure out what to do with the rest of it, since I only needed 4 oz.!) These turnovers were easy enough that my 3 and 6 year old children helped me.  I set them both up on opposite ends of our large cutting board.  After giving them each a square of pastry puff, they put in the cream cheese, guava paste, and brushed the dough with the egg.  I helped my son fold and crimp the edges with a fork, but my daughter was doing hers just fine.  She also helped make the glaze.  After they were done cooking and we put the glaze on, the kids and I were all excited to try our guava creations.  They were surprisingly good!  My son gobbled his all up.  My daugher liked the dough with glaze, but wasn't a big fan of the guava/cream cheese filling.  These were different, with the guava paste giving them a kind of tart taste which complemented the cream cheese.  These aren't something that I'd make a lot but I'm glad that I was able to try guava (really guava paste!) and make something new!

Guava Cheese Turnovers
from - courtesy of Daisy Martinez from Viva Daisy!

Yield:  8 turnovers
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time:  20 minutes

1 (1-pound) package frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cut into 8 equal pieces
8 (1 by 1-inch) squares guava paste (about 4 ounces)
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Sprinkle the sugar on your work surface to prevent the dough from sticking. Roll out each sheet of puff pastry to an 8 by 8-inch square. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut each sheet into 4 squares.

Make the turnovers: Set a pastry square in front of you with 1 of the corners pointing toward you. Place 1 piece of cream cheese diagonally over the center of the bottom of the square. Top with a piece of guava paste. Brush the edges of the square with beaten egg. Fold the upper half of the square over the filling to make a neat triangle. Crimp the edges with a fork. Repeat with the remaining turnovers, placing them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet as you go.

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and puffy.

While the turnovers are baking, mix the confectioners' sugar with the milk and vanilla, stirring to dissolve any lumps. Set aside.

Cool the turnovers on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes, then drizzle the glaze over them. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Family Rating:  1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant

Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant
Rah, Rah, Radishes!  A Vegetable Chant
Written and Pictures by:  April Pulley Sayre
Published by: Beach Lane Books, 2011

Know any kids who don’t like veggies? Here is a book that’s sure to change their hungry minds! With a raucous, rhyming text, Rah, Rah, Radishes! celebrates fresh vegetables, nature’s bright colors, and the joy of healthy eating. The book’s interactive spirit encourages kids to join in on the read-aloud fun, and little ones won’t be able to resist the book’s vibrant photographs—they’re a feast for the eyes!

* Told in rhyme, I thought this was a great children's picture book about vegetables.  The photographs were taken at the South Bend Farmer's Market and feature vegetables that I had never seen before....kohlrabi?!!  Even for vegetables your children may be familiar with, like carrots or peppers this book will offer something new for them to look at.  Have they ever seen red or yellow carrots? Or Brussels sprouts growing on the plant?  This book is truly a feast for the eyes.  It was enjoyable not only to the kids but myself as well, a lover of food!

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Weekend Chef/ Meatless Monday: Lentils and Rice with Fried Onions

 Our weekends have been pretty busy recently so my husband, The Weekend Chef, hasn't had that much of a chance to really get to cook.  A couple of Sundays ago we had been visiting our neighbors and had spent most of the afternoon outside.  By the time we got back home I was exhausted and ended up taking a nap on the couch while my kids watched a show.  I had my husband, who was responsible for cooking dinner make this.  This was one of those recipes that I had picked out awhile ago and had all the ingredients for. Although it takes a little time to cook, it was easy to make.  Although I'm trying to eat more lentils and other "good-for-me" foods, I wasn't a big fan of this dish.  The onions and yogurt really helped make it palatable for me.  The kids barely ate theirs.  But please don't let the opinion of someone who doesn't really like lentils sway you!  My husband who does like lentils enjoyed this. 

Lentils and Rice with Fried Onions - by Melissa Mueller

Yields:  4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes

6 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white onion, sliced into rings
1 1/3 cups uncooked green lentils
3/4 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup plain yogurt

1.Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onions, and cook about 10 minutes, until browned. Remove from heat, and set aside.

2.Place lentils in a medium saucepan with enough lightly salted water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer about 15 minutes.

3.Stir rice and enough water to cover into the saucepan with the lentils. Season with salt and pepper. Cover saucepan, and continue to simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until rice and lentils are tender.

4.Mix half the onions into the lentil mixture. Top with yogurt or sour cream and remaining onions to serve.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Children's Book Review: Chopsticks


Written by:  Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by:  Scott Magoon
Published by:  Disney Hyperion Books, 2012

This charming picture book--a companion to "Spoon."--tells the story of two chopsticks who have been best friends for as long as they can remember. Witty and inventive, "Chopsticks" celebrates both independence and the unbreakable bonds of friendship.

* Amy Krouse Rosenthal is an award winning author and has written books for both children and adults.  This book is a follow up to "Spoon" which sounds familiar but I'm not sure that we have read.  In this story chopsticks are best friends and do everything together....because don't they come together and are used as a pair?  Until one chopstick gets hurt and the other chopstick is finally convinced to go out exploring on his own.  When he comes back the chopsticks find their friendship even stronger than it was and they have learned new things by being apart that they get to share with each other.  The illustrations in this book are cute and there's some humor in both the illustrations and text that may be a little lost on younger kids but humorous for the older child or adult reader!

Family Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

In honor of Mother's Day I am not posting a recipe, because today, no mothers should be cooking!  Or at least I certainly don't plan on doing any cooking!

As of now, Friday, when I'm writing this post, we don't actually have any plans for Mother's Day.  My daughter has said that she wants to give me six surprises and breakfast in bed.  I told her that I don't need (or really want!) breakfast in bed.  She can wake me up and have breakfast and my coffee waiting for me in the kitchen.  She has her little heart set on bringing me, "coffee on a little plate and some toast in bed." 

Back in preschool my daughter's teacher asked her different questions and typed up her responses as part of her mother's day present to me.  I still have it and have told my husband I would like him to ask the same questions to the kids and type them up, so I have a record of how their responses have changed. 

It's nice that there's nothing that I need or really want for Mother's Day.  All I have requested is to be able to sleep in and to spend a nice afternoon with the family, in what's supposed to be beautiful weather.  I hope that all of you mothers out there have a very happy Mother's Day! 

Children's Book Review: T. Rex and the Mother's Day Hug

T. Rex and the Mother's Day Hug

T. Rex and the Mother's Day Hug
Written by:  Lois G. Grambling
Illustrated by: Jack E. Davis
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books for HarperCollins, 2008

It's Mother's Day, and T. Rex wants to plan something really special for his mama. He wants to "do" something, not just give something. In this sweet, funny story, Grambling and Davis demonstrate that sometimes less is more.

* Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers out there!  When I was working Mother's Day was a difficult holiday for me. It was hard trying to balance what the mothers wanted to do (mine and my husband's) and what I wanted to do.  At the time, I was a working full-time mother.  For me, being able to sleep in and have some quiet time to myself was all that I wanted.  I didn't want to wake up super early so that I could sit in the car for a 90 minute drive to have brunch with the family.  Now that I'm not working I'm not sure what we're doing today (as I'm actually writing this post several days in advance!).  As long as it involves spending time with my husband and kids I'll be happy!

Although this was my first "T.Rex" book, my daughter is familiar with the character from other picture books that she's seen at school.  Similar to my situation, all Mama T. Rex wants for Mother's Day is a hug.  However, T. Rex wants to do something really special for Mama.  As Mama thinks back to previous Mother's Days (decorating the living room, wall papering the dining room, etc.), she fears what T. Rex has planned.  As much as she loves her son, she's happy that Mother's Day is only once a year!  This was a cute story to celebrate the holiday.

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

I have had this recipe bookmarked for awhile.  It sounded like a great breakfast bread, which would be a nice change from the muffins that I usually make.  I made the recipe as is, with no changes.  The kitchen smelled heavenly while this was baking.  And it was so easy to whip up.  I thought that we might save it for breakfast, but the kids and I couldn't help ourselves and had to taste it.  It was moist and delicious!  They wanted more, but after having some of the Guave Cheese Turnovers (see the upcoming May 15th post!),  pizza for dinner, and some fruit from an edible arrangement that my sister sent us.....well, I didn't want them to explode!  So we will be enjoying more of this bread for breakfast tomorrow!

Cinnamon Swirl Bread - by bettina

1/3 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup white sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. In a small bowl, mix together 1/3 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon; set aside.

2.In large bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt and remaining 1 cup sugar. Combine egg, milk, and oil; add to flour mixture. Stir until just moistened.

3.Pour half of the batter into pan. Sprinkle with half the reserved cinnamon/sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining batter and cinnamon/sugar mixture. Draw a knife through batter to marble.

4.Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Wrap in foil and let sit overnight before slicing.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: Cat Secrets

Cat Secrets

Cat Secrets
Written and illustrated by:  Jef Czekaj
Published by: Balzer + Bray, 2011

I'm sorry—this book is not for you. This book is for CATS ONLY.
What's that you say?
You are a cat?
Okay . . . get ready to prove it!

* Don't we all want to read a book about Cat Secrets?!  Well, in this book, before we can read the Cat Secrets we have to prove to the cats that we are also a cat.  So the cats test us, the reader, to make sure we really are cats.  They make us meow and purr.  They make us stretch and nap.  This book was interactive and fun for the kids with a cute ending.....though I'm still trying to find out what the Cat Secrets are! If your kids are cat lovers they will probably enjoy this book!

Family Rating: 1 thumb up.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

I first thought about making this recipe for the Eating the Alphabet Challenge but thought it was too easy/simple.  Plus, I've already made something similar before.  But I love grapefruit and avocado so I ended up making this to serve with the Pepperoni Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.  I thought it would be nice to have something nice and light.  Effort wise though this salad probably took more time to prepare than the sandwiches!  Segmenting a grapefruit is not something I do very often and am not very good at, as seen in the photo below!  My husband and I enjoyed the salad a lot.  The kids are not avocado fans though and wanted to only eat the grapefruit.  I ended up quartering the recipe knowing that the kids probably wouldn't be big fans.  I didn't want leftovers because I didn't think they'd hold up very well.  I'd definitely make this again though for a nice, light side.  Especially over the summer when it's hot and I don't want to turn the oven on, I think this would make a great side for something barbecued on the grill!

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad - by Sugar-N-Spice

4 large red grapefruit, peeled and sectioned
4 avocados - peeled, pitted, and sliced
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
salt and cracked black pepper to taste

1.Arrange the grapefruit sections and avocado slices attractively in a shallow serving dish. In a bowl, whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, lime juice, and honey until well combined; drizzle the dressing over the grapefruit and avocado slices. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately.

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up.

Cookbook Review: The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook

The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook
Written by:  Emily Ansara Baines
Published by: Adams Media, 2011
256 pages

"Here's some advice. Stay alive." --Haymitch Abernathy

When it comes to The Hunger Games, staying alive means finding food any way possible. Katniss and Gale hunt live game, Peeta's family survives on the bread they make, and the inhabitants of the Seam work twelve-hour days for a few handfuls of grain--all while the residents of the Capitol gorge themselves on delicacies and desserts to the heart's desire.

For the first time, you will be able to create delicious recipes from the humble District 12 to the extravagant Capital, including:

French Bread from the Mellark Family Bakery
Katniss's Favorite Lamb Stew with Dried Plums
Rue's Roasted Parsnips
Gale's Bone-Pickin' Big Game Soup
Capitol-Grade Dark Chocolate Cake

If you're starving for more from Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, this cookbook is sure to whet your appetite!

* I am a huge fan of The Hunger Game series.  I enjoyed it so much I made my husband read the first book, which after reading, he immediately read the rest of the trilogy!  While perusing the library catalog for Hunger Game related items I found this cookbook.  I put it on hold and read through it in a day.  As I was reading I put plenty of sticky notes in it for things that I wanted to try cooking.  Unfortunately, time ran out and I had to return the book, only having enough time to try the Katniss Craved Cheese Buns (see picture below).  These were super easy to make and might have tasted exactly like those served at a large seafood chain restaurant!  Some of the cookbook was just enjoyable for reading, like the chapter on wild game, which I would not be cooking!  And the recipes that called for obscure ingredients like stinging nettles and yucca stalks.   However, there were plenty of other recipes that I did want to try, including breads of the different districts and some desserts.  Most of the recipes looked easy to make, which I would assume is the point, since the series itself is really aimed towards the young adult. The fancier Capitol dishes definitely had much longer ingredient lists and were more time consuming to make.  Included in the book are references relating each recipe to the book (although some of them are a bit of a stretch!).  Even if you're not a foodie and don't plan on making any of the recipes, if you're a fan of the series it's a fun read.

                                    Katniss Craved Cheese Buns

Mommy Rating:  1 1/2 thumbs up.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Weekend Chef: Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey & Chorizo Breakfast Hash

My husband, the Weekend Chef, originally found and made this dish for our supper club brunch.  He was purposefully looking for a dish that used leftover turkey, since we had so much leftover from my daughter's family birthday party, which was the day before our supper club.  When I think of hash, I think of the canned corned beef stuff that I can't stand.  So I have to admit I was a bit skeptical.  Can I tell you how amazing this dish was?!  Everyone at supper club loved it!  It had a nice, slight heat to it and I thought the brussels sprouts were a really interesting addition.  Well, I loved it so much and we had leftover ingredients (Brussels sprouts, chorizo, etc.)  that I did something so uncharacteristic of me.....I ended up making it again during the week with some scrambled eggs (I don't eat fried, runny yolk eggs!) as a breakfast for dinner dish....yes, I thought it was THAT GOOD!  I just scooped some out for the kids before I added the Sriracha. 

Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey & Chorizo Breakfast Hash
recipe slightly adapted from Cooking and Eating From Away in Maine

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 ounces fresh Mexican chorizo
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups Brussels sprouts, raw or cooked, thinly sliced
1 large russet potato, cooked, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
2 cups roasted turkey meat, white and dark meat, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon chili sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sriracha hot sauce (optional)

Directions:1.In a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, heat vegetable oil. Add chorizo, and break up with a spoon. Add onion, garlic, Brussels sprouts, and potato and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions become translucent and potatoes begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add turkey meat, heavy cream, chili sauce, a dash of salt and pepper, and stir until combined.

2.Using a spatula, press mixture into bottom of pan. Let cook without stirring until crust forms, about two minutes. Scrape up hash, mix, and press mixture back into bottom of pan. Repeat every two minutes, until brown crusty bits appear throughout, about ten minutes total.

3. Add a swirl of Sriracha, if desired, and serve.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: How Groundhog's Garden Grew

How Groundhog's Garden Grew

How Groundhog's Garden Grew
Written and illustrated by:  Lynne Cherry
Published by: The Blue Sky Press, 2003

Little Groundhog learns how to plant and tend to his own food garden through every season in this beautifully-illustrated, thoroughly researched picture book by naturalist Lynne Cherry.

Little Groundhog, in trouble for stealing from his friends' gardens, is taught by Squirrel to grow his very own. From seed-gathering to planting, harvesting, and eating home-grown fruits and vegetables, children join Little Groundhog in learning about the gardening process. At the end, Little Groundhog invites his animal friends to a Thanksgiving harvest feast.

Beautiful illustrations and thorough research on plants and insects make this sweet story an engrossing read, as well as a great picture-book introduction to how plants grow. Children and schools can follow Groundhog's lessons.

* After Groundhog is caught stealing food from his friends' gardens Squirrel suggests that he grow his own.  When he tells her that he doesn't know how, Squirrel sets out to teach Groundhog how to grow his own food.  This is a great book to introduce kids to gardening and where food comes from.  In the book Squirrel and Groundhog collect seeds from various fruits and vegetables to dry out out so they could plant them in the spring.  The other day my daughter picked out some seeds from here kiwi and told me that she wanted to plant a kiwi tree!  I told her that I didn't think kiwi trees grew where we lived but we could try!  Not only was the story great but the illustrations are beautiful as well.  Most pages have a border that various seeds, fruits, vegetables, and insects drawn and labeled.   The author also includes an author's note at the end of the book where she describes her childhood experiences of gardening and includes resources to learn about gardening.  Although I haven't had very much success with gardening, it's been an annual spring tradition where my children help me pick out and plant various seeds.  We then move them into containers to put on our deck (since our yard isn't really big enough to have a garden).  I thought that this was a great book about gardening to share with them!

Family Rating:  2 thumbs up!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fruit Salad With Honey-Yogurt Sauce

This was another dish that I made for my brunch themed supper club.  As easy as fruit salad is to make it's a bit time-consuming with all of the peeling, chopping, etc. Plus, you have to eat it pretty quickly or it gets kind of mushy.  I loved the honey-yogurt sauce on top of the fruit.  It was slightly sweet and citrusy which complimented the fruit nicely.  It was nice to have something light on the table with the egg casserole, hash browns, muffins, etc.! My kids lucked out because there was some leftover fruit salad which they gobbled up!  I'm linking this recipe up to This Weeks Cravings at Moms Crazy Cooking blog. 

Fruit Salad with Honey-Yogurt Sauce
from Cooking Light, November 2004

1 cup vanilla low-fat yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lime rind
3 cups cubed pineapple (about 1 medium)
1 1/2 cups chopped Braeburn apple (about 1 large)
1 cup orange sections (about 2 oranges)
1 cup chopped peeled kiwi (about 2 large)
1/3 cup flaked sweetened coconut
1 medium banana, sliced
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Combine yogurt, honey, and lime rind in a small bowl.

Combine pineapple and next 4 ingredients (through coconut) in a large bowl; toss gently to combine. Just before serving, stir in banana. Top fruit mixture with yogurt sauce; sprinkle with almonds.

Family Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Children's Book Review: What Will Fat Cat Sit On?

What Will Fat Cat Sit On?

What Will Fat Cat Sit On?
Written and illustrated by:  Jan Thomas
Published by:  Harcourt Inc., 2007

What will Fat Cat sit on? The pig? (Oink!) The chicken? (Cluck!) How about the dog? (Grrrr.)

Everyone in this bumbling animal gang (understandably) hopes the victim will be someone else! Leave it to Mouse to come up with a brilliant solution that satisfies everyone, even Fat Cat himself. Filled with hilarious asides and an interactive question-answer format, this irreverent young picture book will delight toddlers who love to shout "NO!"

* Jan Thomas is becoming one of our new favorite picture book authors.  We've recently read some of her other books Rhyming Dust Bunnies and Is Everyone Ready for Fun? among others.  What I like is the simplicity of the books.  The illustrations are super simple, but are set on colorful pages with large text.  The text is repetitive and simple enough that my 3 1/2 year old son who has just started reading can read it to us.  In this book we are trying to find out What Will Fat Cat Sit On?  Mouse comes up with a great (yet obvious) idea but then it's time for lunch.  My son and I were both huge fans of this book, while my daughter was "a little weird."

Family Rating: 1 1/2 thumbs up (since my daughter didn't love it as much as the rest of us!).