Archive | May, 2012

And the winner is…..

31 May

You have won a copy of Mari Passananti’s book, The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken!

As promised, I’m announcing the winner today for the new book, “The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken,” written by Mari Passananti.

The winner is……Sue Meyerson!

Congratulations Sue! I know you will enjoy Mari’s book. It will be arriving in your mailbox just in time for summer!

 

The Big Salad

31 May

You can load almost anything into a salad.

Anyone out there a Seinfeld fan?

Anyone remember the episode with “The Big Salad?” According to The Big Salad’s very own Wikapedia page, “”The Big Salad” is the 88th episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld. This was the second episode for the sixth season. It aired on September 29, 1994.”

So there you go. More information than we needed to know about that episode, and there’s even more if you click on the link to the page itself if you so desire, but that’s not crucial today’s post.

I recently got one of those AllRecipe.com emails for a Wonderful Berry Salad and when I clicked on it to see, it was a Raspberry Walnut Dinner Salad which looked so good and reminded me of my Strawberry Salad from a few weeks back. But it also reminded me of The Big Salad episode on Seinfeld and the fact that we often will make a Big Salad ourselves either as the dinner or to go alongside the dinner.

The one shown here is one we made a few weeks back. The thing I like about salads is 1) you can put just about anything you want in them and 2) people can eat what they want to and skip the rest that they don’t like, so basically it’s something everyone likes. I often get tired of the traditional lettuce/tomato/cucumber salad, and throwing in random “stuff” makes it more fun to serve and eat. I like hearing my family say that the love this part or that part of the salad. The salad above has lettuce, olives, craisins, cheddar cheese, strawberries and grape tomatoes.

So the next time you’re at a loss for what to make, consider The Big Salad. See what you have in your house and throw it all in there!

Enjoy!

What’s For Dinner Wednesday: Chicken and Veggies with Rice

30 May

This may not have been on Alex’s Like List, but it sure was on mine!

If you’re a regular reader, you know I’ve been going through my friend Karen’s cookbook from college almost page by page, making all my old favorites again. Last week I made one that was a big hit with everyone, except Alex, who took one look and said, “THIS is NOT on the Like List.”

But for the rest of us it was. Don even had it leftover a day or so later for dinner and said it was just as good leftover as the first day.

Like List or not, I’d make it again. According to Karen, she still makes this at her house too, and she sometimes adds shrimp, which does happen to be on Alex’s Like List, so maybe next time I’d throw some in. It’s the kind of thing you can put in whatever you want, as you’ll see from the recipe.

Super easy, super delicious, super good.

CHICKEN AND VEGGIES WITH RICE

I put all my fresh cut veggies into one bowl and threw the whole thing in at once when it was time. Saves on cleanup.

INGREDIENTS

1 lb. chicken (I used tenders)

2 cups fresh veggies, cubed (she suggested broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, peppers, squash etc. I used broccoli, peppers, mushrooms and carrots. I almost did onion too, but quit while I was ahead.)

1pkg. rice pilaf (I might double it next time, I felt like we needed more rice for all the other stuff we had in there.)

1/4 cup parm. cheese

Italian Dressing

DIRECTIONS

Marinate chicken in the dressing.

Cube and cook in large skillet on stove.

Remove.

Prepare rice according to stove top directions in the same skillet.

Halfway through the cooking, add veggies. Cover and cook until rice is done. (This steams the veggies right in the rice.)

Add chicken and parm cheese, toss and simmer 5 more minutes and serve.

Quick, easy and delicious!

Top 10 Worst Foods for Kids to Eat

29 May

Do we cut them out altogether or just keep eating them once in a while?

It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of these lists and shared it with you, but since we’re just coming off a holiday weekend, I thought it’d be a good time to post this.

The list came from the Livestrong website. I see several foods we eat on this list. Do you?

I wonder to myself: do I stop feeding my kids these foods or do I continue to do so in moderation?

What do you think? No more hot dogs and mac & cheese???

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TOP TEN WORST FOODS FOR KIDS TO EAT

Hot Dogs

Soda

Sticky Candy

Doughnuts

Prepacked lunch kits

Sugary breakfast cereals

Microwavable prepackaged dinners

Juice Drinks

French Fries

Toaster Pastries

Memorial Day: Not just for cookouts

28 May

Last week on Facebook a cartoon was posted by the official page for “Wreaths Across America” and it really caught my attention. I even “shared” it on my own wall. Although it was a cartoon, and cartoons are often funny, this one really had a powerful message. It started me thinking, and I thought I’d share it here as well, to pass along a very important reminder on this Memorial Day.

In the above cartoon, the little boy holding his plate of food, is asking his dad, “How much did all this cost?” and the answer, rather than being about the food, shows what looks to be a military cemetery such as the one in Arlington, Virginia, but it could be any veterans’ cemetery anywhere.

I thought about it for days. I really made me remember once again, that freedom truly isn’t free, and it reminded me just how grateful I am to all those who serve our country, to all those who give up the things we take for granted, to give us those things that we do take for granted, such as time with our loved ones. In that, I include all of the moms, dads, siblings, spouses and children of those who serve. They too, sacrifice the time with their families so that I can have mine.

I have always treasured the time I have with my children and my other family members, and I have always put my family first above all. It is because of those who give their lives and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, that we are able to have our family time together.

I once asked a military wife that I know if she minded her husband being gone for the year-long tours of duty. To me that would seem unbearable. Her answer surprised me, staying with me to this day, and although I can’t remember her word-for-word answer, I’ll paraphrase:

“Being in the military makes him who he is. He loves it and it’s a part of him. How can I say no to that?”

Happy Memorial Day and God Bless all who serve our country, as well as their families.

The dessert that almost wasn’t: Brownie Dessert Pizza

25 May

The final product was well-worth the journey, although at the time I was questioning it!

Ever have one of those days where nothing seems to go quite right? Well Sunday was one of those days and we almost didn’t have dessert for our dinner company because of it.

It started out that I was supposed to hit the store on my way home from our troop’s car wash at 1:00 that afternoon to pick up the stuff I needed to make the dessert: brownie mix, strawberries and cream cheese.

I forgot. I hate that.

I got all the way home and I realized I hadn’t gone to the store.

I went back out to Aldi’s at 2pm.

Strawberries: check. Brownie mix: check. Cream cheese: check.

Go home, start the recipe, which I’ve had before as a Pampered Chef recipe, but came across my desk in an email from the 24/7 Moms blog that I follow, which listed five outrageous dessert pizzas. (Of course I had to check them out!) The email directed us to Simply Healthy Cooking with Pam to get the recipe, which I did. Apparently she changed it slightly to make it healthier. (Me throwing chocolate chips into the brownie mix probably canceled out whatever she did to make it healthy.)

The recipe said to use a 15″ round pizza stone and parchment paper so that the mix won’t run off the stone and into the oven. I didn’t have a round pizza stone but I had a large rectangular stone, so I used that.

Parchment Paper: check.

Big mess in the oven: check.

Using the stone didn’t quite go as I’d planned.

About five minutes into the bake time, I smell something burning. Sure enough it’s dessert. I peek in and the brownie is literally dripping down in big, huge, chunky drips, into the oven. I quickly pull out the stone, throw the whole thing into the sink next to me and proceed to wash the brownie mix down the drain.

“Hmmm…technical difficulties with dessert,” I post on my status update on on Facebook as I decide what to do.

Don volunteers to run back out and get me another brownie mix. I take him up on that (he’s such a good guy) and off he goes.

He comes back around 3:30, and in the meantime I’ve decided to use the large bar pan that Pampered Chef sells. It’s long like my pizza stone but has low edges, which apparently I needed to keep the  batter IN the pan.

So I try again. All goes well with the baking, the brownie pizza comes out looking just fine.

Brownie Pizza, Take II

I begin making my cream cheese topping with my block of cream cheese. But now, I’m looking at my topping and looking at my very long brownie pizza and I’m thinking, “I don’t have enough topping.”

My next thought: “I have to go back to the store for more cream cheese.”

I won’t write what my next thought was after that, but it’s at this point where I decide that I should’ve just put a bag of Oreo’s on the table for dessert and called it a day.

It’s now 5:40 pm as I sneak out the door while Don showers, and our company was due in 20 minutes.

This time I ran to Price Rite and got my second block of cream cheese and came home.

The good news is, it all worked out and everyone liked the dessert except Elizabeth who picked off the cream cheese layer and put the strawberries back on top.  Whatever…

I’d definitely make it again and you can too, in fact, I highly recommend that you try it. It was incredibly delicious.

The recipe and directions are below, and now that you know my story, none of these trials and tribulations will happen to you.

See? So beautiful! Sooooo delicious and so just not my day that day!

BROWNIE DESSERT PIZZA

INGREDIENTS

1 box Ghiradelli Brownie Mix (I wonder if this was my first problem. I just bought any mix and I wonder if it yields more batter than Ghiradelli does. )

Parchment Paper

1 lg. rd. 15″ pizza stone or a round pizza sheet (you now know, I used the large bar pan.)

8 ounces cream cheese, softened (I’d grab two, just to be sure you have enough.)

1/4 cup powdered sugar (double for two blocks of cream cheese)

Handfuls of fresh strawberries, sliced or any fruit you like with chocolate  ( I also served a bowl of extra strawberries on the side so people could add more if they wanted to.)

Melted Semi-sweet Ghiradelli Chocolate Chips (I used Hershey’s syrup instead)
DIRECTIONS

Prepare the brownie mix as per the instructions on the box.

Cut the parchment paper to the shape of the pizza stone (I didn’t use parchment in the bar pan, I sprayed it with cooking spray.)

Spread the brownie mixture on the parchment paper within 1 ” of the edges. It’s important to use the parchment paper because it will help prevent the brownie mixture from seeping over the stone while in the oven cooking (we all now know how that worked out.)

Cook the brownies until the center comes out clean with a knife or toothpick (15-20 minutes).

Cool completely. Flip brownie crust over onto a cooling stone and carefully remove the parchment paper then flip the round brown crust back onto the stone or a nice plate for serving. (I did none of this and served it right in the bar pan.)

Mix the softened cream cheese with the powdered sugar well and spread on the brownie pizza base within one inch of the edge.

Layer cut strawberries around the crust and then drizzle with melted chocolate (or in my case, with Hershey’s syrup.)

Enjoy!

A new book review and giveaway: The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken

24 May

You can read the full review of Mari’s book, and win a copy for yourself!

You all know how much I love to read.

Any spare second I have, I spend it reading, and I try to always have a book with me for those little wait times you often have as a taxi-driver-I-mean-mother.  In between the books I read for my book club, I try to squeeze in books I read by choice. The last one I chose was one written by a girl my brother went to high school with. I was so excited to hear she’d written a book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

Once I had it…I couldn’t put it down.

To see my full review of Mari Passananti’s debut novel, “The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken,” check out my “What I’m Reading Right Now” page.

To win your very own copy of the book from Mari Passananti, like her book’s Facebook Page and then leave me a comment on this post telling me why you’d like to win this book.

I will choose a winner on May 31, 2012.

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: A new-to-me chicken recipe and an oldie but goodie

23 May

This meal was new to us, and we all gave it thumbs up. I’d definitely have it again.

For the past few months, my local paper has been featuring my blog’s recipes on their Facebook Page each Wednesday in a feature called “What’s for Dinner Wednesday,” so I have been trying to coordinate my blogging schedule to coincide with that feature by showing a dinner recipe each Wednesday.

Today, you’ll get a bonus, two recipes in one post.

The recipe in the photo to the left is one that was new to us, but I was inspired by an old recipe I used to make, one that was given to me by the math coach I used to work with in New Jersey when I taught there. It was a one-dish chicken and rice recipe. It called for cream of mushroom soup and rice. We used to make it a lot.

I wanted to make something similar to that, but not a baked casserole, so I searched for recipes using Cream of Mushroom Soup and Chicken until I found one here that was sauteed, and that’s the one we used and the one that is shown in the photo here. I wanted to be able to use brown rice with it, and be able to serve the rice “on the side” if someone didn’t want it all together, even though in this particular instance I do actually let my foods touch by putting the chicken on the rice.

I know, that’s big for me.

What I’ve decided to do is feature both recipes here and you can choose to make the one you’d like to make.

Enjoy!

ONE DISH CHICKEN AND RICE CASSEROLE

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup rice (not minute rice)

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 cup water

boneless chicken breasts

DIRECTIONS

Combine soup, water and uncooked rice in layers with the boneless chicken on top, in a casserole dish.

Sprinkle with paprika and pepper.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

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This recipe is a great new addition to our family’s menu.

BIG OVEN CREAM OF MUSHROOM CHICKEN

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon Olive Oil

1 cup mushrooms (we had none so I skipped this part)

4 medium skinless/boneless breasts (I used tenders)

1 ten ounce can cream of mushroom soup

2 dashes salt

2 dashes pepper

cooked rice (I used Aldi’s Instant Brown Rice)

DIRECTIONS

Heat oil in a medium skillet.

Add chicken and brown both sides for 5 minutes over medium heat.

Add mushrooms and cook for 2 more minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add can of cream of mushroom soup (Do not add water).

Stir until chicken and mushrooms are well coated.

Cover and simmer for 10 minutes (or until chicken is no longer pink), stirring once or twice.

This dish is best served over rice.

Grandma Grello’s Green Bean Marinade

22 May

Marinated green beans are great for cookouts and great to bring to a party. This is one of our favorite summer “regulars.”

Grandma Grello’s birthday is this week. There’s a story surrounding her birthday where she was born on one day but it didn’t get recorded for a few days, making the date on her birth certificate different than the date that she was actually born. This makes her birthday date a little sketchy, but we always celebrate it some time this week. In honor of that, I thought I’d share her Green Bean Marinade recipe with you today. Summer is here and we’ve already made this once, one time of many over the upcoming months.

One thing we’ve discovered, is that if you want to, when you’re done marinating the green beans, you can re-use the marinade to marinate broccoli, which is also very good.

Last time I made this, Caroline picked the beans, minced the garlic and pretty much did the entire recipe herself with my supervision, so it’s a good recipe for kids who like to help in the kitchen, as mine do, and I love the idea of passing along family recipes to my kids at a young age, so that when they’re old enough to do their own cooking, they’ll have all their favorite recipes on hand and they will have made them, too.

GRAM GRELLO’S GREEN BEAN MARINADE

Caroline made most of this recipe by herself last time around. Her garlic was so perfectly minced, I thought Grandpa Grello had come back and done it himself, as he was always known for the most perfectly cut ingredients when he cooked.

INGREDIENTS

1 pound clean, snapped fresh green beans, the ends picked

1/3 cup blend of olive oil and vegetable (or canola) oil

1/4 cup white vinegar or cider vinegar (we use white mostly)

salt

pepper

parsley

garlic

Caroline has the marinade ready and awaiting the cooked beans.

DIRECTIONS

Bring salted water to a boil in 2 qt. sauce pan.

Drop in beans.

Bring to a boil and cook for 10-15 minutes uncovered.

Remove with a slotted spoon (apparently this step is the most important. Spoon must be slotted.)

Don’t drain or rinse and place beans into the bowl that has the marinade.

Marinate in the fridge for several hours.

Remove garlic and serve. (We never remove the garlic.)

Wings, roasted potatoes and marinated green beans; a simple summertime meal.

Thinking outside the birthday party box

21 May

Birthday parties for kids can have a tendency to take on a life of their own.

Our family is full of rules.

We more often say no than yes, it seems, and we have a rule for everything.

We can’t help it, that’s just how we are and it works for us, at least for now. That being said, we have birthday party rules at our house. I know I’ve talked about it before, but I’ll tell again just so I can get on with my story for today.

Our rules are as follows: You can’t have a “friend party” until you are five and when you do, you can have it at the house with five kids. At six, seven, eight and nine, you can have your birthday party out of the house, with more people (within reason, and we never invite the entire class or grade, or even “all the girls”).

At ten you’re back to having it at the house with just a few people. We like the “Almost Sleepover” or “Mock Sleepover” (come in pj’s stay late, go home to bed) at ten because many people (ourselves included) do not allow their kids to sleep at someone else’s house and our kids tend to turn ten before other people’s kids are ten. At 11 and beyond they can have a sleepover if they want, with a few kids (our house is not huge and there are already five of us in it at all times, so space constraints are an issue) or we can discuss another inexpensive, small outing option if desired.

Now that you have the back story on our birthday party rules, here’s where I was going with all of that.

We have to give Alex all the credit for thinking out of the box for this party.

Our youngest daughter turned seven at the end of the month a couple of months ago. We opted to hold off on the friend party until after the Easter holidays and after school vacation, which led us to the end of April. However, way back in October, she already knew what kind of party she wanted: a cooking party and she wanted it to be at home. She planned the entire thing out herself. It would be a Hello Kitty theme. They would make homemade pizza (we do that a lot here) and decorate cupcakes (which turned into decorating donuts when we got the Babycakes Donut Maker as a Christmas gift) and decorate aprons.

We were thrilled. Birthday parties out of the house tend to be expensive: $10 per kid on the low end and as much as $17 per kid or more on the higher end, with some having a minimum of paying for ten kids whether they are there or not. Some include food, some do not. Some include invitations, some do not. However, “everyone does it” so we have tried to keep up while establishing what we feel are fair rules and reasonable budgets for our parties, and having had to say no to some party options our kids have thrown out at us as suggestions in the past.

But I can’t lie: we were jumping for joy in our heads when she explained what she wanted for her party.

The day of the party came, and she had invited seven kids to come. They all were able to come except one, so there were seven little girls plus my two older daughters who served as the helpers.

First activity: making a variety of homemade pizzas.

We bought enough dough that every pair could make one pizza (and Elizabeth helped out when the seventh friend didn’t arrive). We had two cheese and sauce pizzas, one mushroom, olive and cheese pizza, and one cheese and pepperoni pizza.

That week, I found a “20% off your whole purchase” coupon for Michael’s Crafts, so I went and got 8 aprons. I already had fabric markers here, but I bought a set just in case mine were dried out, but I didn’t need them so I returned them along with an extra apron.

I made the donuts from scratch with Caroline ahead of time, along with the chocolate frosting with Elizabeth while the kids were making their aprons, and each child was able to decorate and eat four donuts. I had purchased one Hello Kitty cake decorating kit which contained sprinkles, cupcake wrappers, candies and tooth pick decorations, and I split it for use between the family party and the friend party. I bought all my paper goods at the dollar store in time for the family party and used what was left for the friend party.

And no, I didn’t care that the paper goods weren’t Hello Kitty. Apparently no one else cared either.

Second activity: decorating aprons.

The kids had a blast.

Alex had a blast.

The moms that stayed, loved it.

We had fun, and it was an easy party. I was relaxed at the end, not exhausted and not broke. It was as much fun (maybe more so) than any party we’ve had out of the house, and best of all, she was happy.

The entire party cost us $32.

We didn’t figure that part out until the end, as we weren’t trying to keep it that low on purpose, but when the party was over and we sat back and realized all we’d been able to do at such a low price, we were amazed.

It just goes to show that even though we sometimes live in a “top this” kind of world and there’s lots of keeping up to be done, that it doesn’t always have to be that way. You can think out of the box, as Alex did back in October, and do something different and still have fun.

It may not always be this way. She may want to have her next party somewhere else, and we’re more than willing to oblige, as long as it stays within the parameters we’ve set, but for now, we’re celebrating the success of this year’s party and remembering more often than not, that it can be done.

PRICELESS.

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