Archive | February, 2013

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Nicoise Salad

27 Feb
This old favorite has made several recent appearances on our menu.

This old favorite has made several recent appearances on our menu.

About 15 years ago when we lived in New Jersey, our friends Max and Jamie introduced us to Nicoise salad (pronounced Knee-Swah). I remember Jamie telling us that it was kind of a “poor man’s meal” in France when she was studying abroad, and that she and her friends ate it often because as students they pretty much fit into that income bracket.

Poor man or not, we loved this salad, and for the longest time we had it often. It reminded me of the Italian Antipasto salad that we have on big holidays because it has a few of the same items on it, but yet it’s very different.

Then, it seemed like we didn’t have it at all for months and months and months. I guess we just kind of forgot about it! I recently remembered it when I came across another version of it somewhere, and we’ve since had it several times.

The thing I like about it as a meal option is that it’s got many components to it, so you can pick and choose what you do or do not like and leave the rest on the platter. I like every part of it, but my kids each have at least one part they don’t like.

And, being that it’s Lent, this makes a great, meatless meal for those who do not eat meat on Fridays.

Traditionally, at least as we know it, the components to the salad are:

Boiled string beans

Hard boiled eggs

Quartered, boiled red skinned potatoes (*see note below)

Black olives

Tuna

There’s a dressing that you toss on the green beans and potatoes before adding the eggs and olives on the top, and then you can add more dressing to the rest as you like.

This time we grilled the tofu on the countertop griddle, but in the past we have used a frying pan.

This time we grilled the tofu on the countertop griddle, but in the past we have used a frying pan.

*Recently however, we have changed out the potatoes and subbed in sauteed tofu. The reason is two-fold: the first is that my kids don’t eat potatoes hardly ever, so this was not a popular item in the salad. I don’t know why, and it still shocks me that they don’t like potatoes hardly at all, especially since I love them. The second reason is that we’ve been doing our very best to stay as far away from carbs as possible, and white potatoes aren’t the greatest for you. On the flip side, they love the tofu. It made me wonder the other day why we didn’t try tofu sooner, since they all love it. (Except Alex. Shocker.)

I’ve found tofu to be like a cameleon, in that it takes on the flavors of whatever you cook it with. That makes it very adaptable and very delicious. When you cook it til it’s crispy, it’s like eating homefries, but healthier.

See, I’m all about potatoes.

So anyway, the photo at the top is the salad with tofu instead of potatoes. You can try it out either way, or try it both ways and see which one you prefer! It’s really a very good-for-you type of meal and it’s light, especially with the tofu. On a day when you might have a big lunch somewhere, this is a nice, light dinner.

Dressing

3 to 1: Olive Oil to Balsamic Vinegar (You can increase this to however much you’d like.)

Equal parts honey and Dijon mustard. (We do about a teaspoon of each.)

Season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic powder and basil.

New friends, new recipe!

25 Feb
An exciting Kids' State Dinner reunion took place on Sunday afternoon at our house!

An exciting Kids’ State Dinner reunion took place on Sunday afternoon at our house!

Yesterday was a very exciting day!

Our new friend Debra, one of the moms from the Kids’ State Dinner, visited us at our house! She was traveling from her home in Virginia to see family in nearby Massachusetts so we were able to reconnect for a couple of hours.

Debra stopped by in time for lunch, so Don cooked up some of his yummy pizzas and a meatball calzone, and I made a new dessert.

I know that in general you shouldn’t try out a new recipe on new guests, but I thought that Debra would be okay with it, being someone herself who cooks and experiments with recipes.

Until about an hour before she arrived and I realized I was going to have to make a change to the recipe, and then at that point I got a little nervous.

But, luckily it all worked out great. We had a wonderful visit, which flew by, and before we knew it, it was time for dessert.

Debra brought us this pretty trivet, which makes a pretty backdrop for our Fudge Meltaways!

Debra brought us this pretty trivet, which makes a pretty backdrop for our pretty Fudge Meltaways!

That too, was wonderful as well.

It all ended much too soon, but luckily Debra has family here, and we have family in Virginia, so we know we’ll get to reconnect again and again.

In the meantime, here is the new dessert recipe for you. I got it from one of my cookbooks and as I write it for you I’ll explain what happened partway through and how I solved it.

Lately, I often go to the internet when I’m looking for something new to cook, but this time I grabbed a cookbook off my rack, opened up to any random page and moved a page or so beyond it, and found one to try. It ended up being a no bake recipe too, which was a bonus.

There were three layers to the recipe, so I’ll write it out and explain it layer by layer for you.

FUDGE MELTAWAYS (from the Betty Crocker Cooky Book)
INGREDIENTS

First layer.....

First layer…..

First layer:

1/2 cup butter (We used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter)

1 sq. unsweetened chocolate (one ounce)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 beaten egg

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

(We did not use the next two ingredients: 1 cup coconut, 1/2 cup chopped nuts)

Second layer....

Second layer….

Second layer:

1/4 cup butter (We used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter)

1 tablespoon milk or cream (We used skim milk)

2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Third (top) layer....

Third (top) layer….

Third Layer:

This was our issue. The third layer was supposed to be 1 and  1/2 squares of unsweetened chocolate, melted and spread over the top of the second layer. However, the unsweetened chocolate tastes terrible by itself and we couldn’t guarantee it’d taste any better on top of the dessert. At Caroline’s suggestion, I made a half-batch of Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook instead, and spread that across the top. It was delicious. Essentially it was almost the same as the second layer, but chocolate, but it worked.

So here is the recipe for the top layer, , so for a full recipe, double this one:

2 1/4 cups confectioners sugar

1/8 cup milk (add more as needed)

1/4 cup cocoa powder

3/4 tsp vanilla

DIRECTIONS FOR FUDGE MELTAWAYS

1) Melt 1/2 cup butter and 1 sq. chocolate in saucepan.

2) Blend in granulated sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, eggs, crumbs (and coconut and nuts if you choose to use them).

3) Mix well and press into 11×7 or 9×9 dish.

4) Refrigerate.

5) Mix 1/4 cup butter, milk, confectioners sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Spread over crumb mixture.

6) Chill.

(I left this overnight before completing the top layer. )

7) Using the Better Homes and Gardens frosting recipe above, combine and spread across second layer.

8) Refrigerate and later serve.

Enjoy, but tell me, what would you have done with that third layer? Would you have served it as is? Or, would you have changed it too?

A Great Friday Snack: Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips

22 Feb
The simplest things, like these Mardi Gras masks can provide hours of fun on a week like this one!

The simplest things, like these Mardi Gras masks can provide hours of fun on a week like this one!

Happy Friday everyone!

I hope you all had a great week! We’re finishing off February Vacation week here and it’s flown by, despite the fact that we had no set plans really.

We got to see real, live raptors VERY close up on Wednesday afternoon at the library. Very. Close.Up.

We got to see real, live raptors VERY close up on Wednesday afternoon at the library. Very. Close.Up.

We had a great week it turns out, thanks to the Cranston Public Library. We went there on Wednesday to return our books and realized that there were lots of great programs lined up for this week: a great Raptor program from a local wildlife preserve (Born to be Wild Nature Center in Bradford, RI) and the showing of a movie we had not yet seen, were the two things we took advantage of.

Little things like that give the kids something to look forward to and make the week go by.  And, it gives them the chance to take out new library books. We came home Wednesday with a new slew of books for them to read. Gotta love that too.

Best of all, those activities are all free, from the reading to the raptors to the movie.

Gotta love that even more.

They sounded like rock stars on Tuesday afternoon!

They sounded like rock stars on Tuesday afternoon!

We also had the opportunity to participate in a fun recording session at Reel to Real Recording Studio right here in Cranston. The girls were singing like rock stars for the whole afternoon on Tuesday. If you’ve never been there, it’s great fun so check it out!

We had a great time talking all about our trip and showing lots of photos and memorabilia.

We had a great time talking all about our trip and showing lots of photos and memorabilia.

And finally, we made a visit to Grandma Grello’s assisted living facility, where we got the Mardi Gras masks and matching bead necklaces too, and where Caroline presented her power point presentation about the Kids State Dinner trip.  It was her second such presentation in one week’s time and she did a great job with it, as usual. Reliving that trip is always amazing for us and the audience really enjoyed the presentation. Even better, it sparked some great conversation from the residents about their memories of Washington DC., some dating back to WWII. Living history: a privilege for us to be a part of.

Below is a great Friday recipe for you, taken from the blog, The Girl Who Ate Everything.  We made this on Valentine’s Day but it makes a great after school snack and actually we had leftovers and my kids put it on their homemade waffles this weekend too.

We had barely any of the awesome fruits they have in their recipe below, but we made it work anyway. I used a red apple, a green apple and a green pear and they ate it right up. It’s super colorful, and I always love colorful foods.  I think it’s a plus when you can adapt a recipe to suit what you have on hand and it still comes out great.

So whether you are looking for something for an after school snack or something for vacation week’s end, this is a great choice for you!

This was a great, healthy snack. We used fat free tortillas and sugar free jelly.

This was a great, healthy snack. We used fat free tortillas, fat free cooking spray and sugar free jelly.

Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips

Ingredients

    • 2 kiwis, peeled and diced
    • 2 Golden Delicious apples – peeled, cored and diced
    • 8 ounces raspberries
    • 1 (16 oz) carton of strawberries, diced
    • 2 tablespoons white sugar (more or less to taste)
    • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (more or less to taste)
    • 3 tablespoons fruit preserves, any flavor (I used strawberry)
    • 10 (10 inch) flour tortillas
    • melted butter or butter flavored cooking spray
Cinnamon sugar:
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cinnamon

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix kiwis, apples, raspberries, strawberries, white sugar, brown sugar and fruit preserves. Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 15 minutes.
  2. It didn't matter that we didn't have the exact fruits listed in the recipe. We used what was on hand and it was great!

    It didn’t matter that we didn’t have the exact fruits listed in the recipe. We used what was on hand and it was great!

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  3. Coat one side of each flour tortilla with melted butter or butter flavored cooking spray. Sprinkle tortillas with desired amount of cinnamon sugar. Cut into wedges and arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Spray again with cooking spray (not necessary if using melted butter).
  4. Bake in the preheated oven 8 to 10 minutes. Repeat with any remaining tortilla wedges. Allow to cool approximately 15 minutes. Serve with chilled fruit mixture. This salsa can also be served with cinnamon graham crackers or cinnamon pita chips. Best when made and eaten the same day otherwise the fruit gives off too much juice and it gets runny.

Notes

Source: Allrecipes

What’s For Dinner Wednesday: Cream of Broccoli Soup

20 Feb
This soup is perfect for a cold winter day!

This soup is perfect for a cold winter day!

We have had some pretty chilly days this winter. Some days there’s nothing that hits the spot like a hot bowl of soup, and I’m a huge fan of creamy soups, which is why today’s post is a favorite of mine.

The other reason it’s a favorite is that it brings back memories, and I love recipes that remind me of the past.

This recipe is from my college roommate Karen, from the cookbook she made for me when we graduated.  The thing is, I can distinctly remember a time when we were roommates that I had a terrible sore throat and laryngitis.

Karen made me this soup. I can picture myself sitting at our kitchen table that day, eating her soup. Every time I eat broccoli soup actually, I think of that day.

And a few weeks ago when I made the soup, I thought once again, of that day.

This was the first time I actually made the soup. I’ve never been very brave with soups before, I’ve mostly left them to Don other than a basic chicken soup. But since my friend Paula’s My Soup For You blog has been in existence, I’ve gotten very brave and I’ve since made several soups. In fact, she and I each made a version of a cream of broccoli soup within a day of each other and we didn’t even know it.

As far as my family goes, Caroline and I loved this soup the most. Between the two of us, we enjoyed it over several days’ time, and she liked coming home and having a mug of it after school on cold afternoons.

Here is the recipe for Karen’s Cream of Broccoli Soup. I hope it warms you up on a cold winter’s day!

I used fresh broccoli for my soup.

I used fresh broccoli for my soup.

CREAM OF BROCCOLI SOUP
INGREDIENTS

6 cups chopped broccoli

3 and 1/2 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup flour

2 cups skim milk

1 tsp. butter

8 oz. cheddar cheese, cubed (I used fat free cheddar, shredded.)

Although I used a blender for this, it was definitely more of a food processor recipe, and I didn't use ours!

Although I used a blender for this, it was definitely more of a food processor recipe, and I didn’t use ours!

DIRECTIONS

Simmer broccoli in chicken broth until tender.

Remove bulk of broccoli and in blender or food processor, process the broccoli, onion and celery until smooth. Set aside.

Combine milk and flour in a separate container until dissolved.

Slowly add to broth, stirring until it begins to thicken.

Add puree, butter, salt and pepper to taste.

Stir until it begins to simmer.

Add cheese and stir until melted.

It’s February Vacation Week: Welcome [Back] to the Jungle!

18 Feb
Vacation week idea: Let them write on all your windows, mirrors and doors!

Vacation week idea: Let them write on all your windows, mirrors and doors!

Not every school system has February Vacation Week, but ours does. A lot of people dread vacation weeks, but I look forward to the break. I like having my kids home with me and I like the break from all the stress and running around.

At work, Don gets a lot done through the week while the school building is quiet and it airs out from all the flu and virus germs that fill it all winter.

However, if you’re home for the week you may be looking for ways to fill the time. I find that no matter what, the week flies by, but it helps to have some fun little ideas in your back pocket, just to be safe.

Valentine’s Day was just last week so we have received some new games, crafts and activities which will be perfect for this week. As with last year’s Welcome to the Jungle posts, I’ve decided to feature some of the things we’re doing throughout the week, passing along any fun ideas to you.

Today’s activity idea is one that may or may not shock you: if your kids are bored, let them draw on all your windows, mirrors and glass doors!

Yup, that’s right: day one and I’ve already lost my mind.

Fun gift idea and February Vacation activity!

Fun gift idea and February Vacation activity!

Elizabeth received a new activity as a Valentine’s Gift from my mom and dad this weekend. The Crayola Crystal Effects Window Markers were an instant hit when the girls opened them up. We let them use any glass surface: windows, mirrors and the sliding glass door served as their canvasses.

It was so awesome.

The mirror in our bathroom is huge, a perfect place to try out the new markers.

The mirror in our bathroom is huge, a perfect place to try out the new markers.

The way the markers work is simple: you write on your chosen glass surface and then watch as right before your eyes the regular-looking marker turns into a beautiful crystalized image.

As you watch, it actually looks as if the image is moving while it changes. It’s very, very cool.

We had friends over on Sunday with kids of their own and we let the girls take out the markers while their friends were here and they all seemed to have a blast with them, even the one boy out of the group had a great time, so it’s definitely something a boy would enjoy also.

The one issue we had with using the markers in the bathroom was that we left the artwork up during showers.

Ooops.

It all dripped down the mirror and we had to take it off and start over again. It actually says on the box not to use it in a high humidity area, such as a bathroom. But, our bathroom mirror is so huge, we did it again anyway, but this time we’ll wash it off before the next shower.

You can see how the writing goes on like a regular-looking marker before turning to the crystal effects.

You can see how the writing goes on like a regular-looking marker before turning to the crystal effects.

Which leads me to my next tip: taking off the artwork.

You can take it off very simply with a wet paper towel, followed by a dry one to wipe off any remaining residue. Those are the instructions on the box, and it worked just as they said.

Mirrors seemed to be the best option for us because the windows tend to be cold, at least in the winter, and the crystal effects take longer to work when the glass is cold.

Mirrors seemed to be the best option for us because the windows tend to be cold, at least in the winter, and the crystal effects take longer to work when the glass is cold.

I’d definitely keep this in my arsenal of birthday gift ideas for the future, it was lots of fun and it’s a gift that they can use over and over again, each time with a different result.

Although I don’t know the cost of these, I am pretty sure I’ll be able to find them in my local craft store, and most likely be able to use a coupon for them there.

I think these markers have tons of potential in our house! I can foresee writing special birthday messages on mirrors or windows, or writing fun messages for special house guests when they visit our home, the way we write on our message boards and chalk boards.

If you’ve ever used the Crayola Crystal Effects Window Markers yourself and you have any fun tips or activities to share, leave a comment and let us know! We have all week to experiment with them!

Our bathroom has a mirrored medicine cabinet and a huge mirror, double the fun!

Our bathroom has a mirrored medicine cabinet and a huge mirror, double the fun!

Happy Birthday Bella!

15 Feb
Happy Birthday Bella!

Happy Birthday Bella!

Today is Bella’s third birthday!

If you’ve been a reader since waaayyyyy back when, you may remember my first post about Bella. When I started my blog, we had just recently gotten her.

Bella was 18 months old when we got her, and today she is three.

Last year for her birthday we got her some new toys. However, being the punky kind of dog she is, she’s often rough on her toys, pulling off the eyes, ripping out the stuffing.

This year, rather than spending money on toys that end up in the trash soon after, we decided to give her a different kind of gift.

We decided to bake her some homemade dog biscuits.

My friend from my Stampin’ Up! days, Lucia Kaiser, has a blog called Lucia in the Kitchen, and I often see her posts on Facebook. Recently she posted a recipe for homemade dog biscuits. I sent it to myself for future reference. I knew one day it’d come in handy.

Today is that day. Valentine’s Day and the day before Bella’s birthday.

Lucia’s recipe was quick and easy, just like I like my people food recipes to be. I had everything for it and it was easy to set each of the girls up with their own pile of dough and let them go to town with cookie cutters, making Bella her very own cookies.

Here is Lucia’s recipe from her blog. If you have a dog and you’d like to make him or her some special treats, I recommend this recipe!

All healthy ingredients for Bella's birthday gifts!

All healthy ingredients for Bella’s birthday gifts!

Homemade Dog Biscuits
Ingredients

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup toasted wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 egg
2 tablespoons canola oil
One scoop of dough for each daughter to make her own biscuits for Bella.

One scoop of dough for each daughter to make her own biscuits for Bella.

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, wheat germ and cinnamon. Stir in the water, peanut butter, egg and oil. On a floured surface, roll dough to 1/4-in. thickness. Cut with a 3-in. bone-shaped cookie cutter.

Place 2-in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned (tops may crack). Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: 31 dog biscuits.

Editor’s Note: Reduced-fat peanut butter is not recommended for this recipe.
Nutritional Facts 1 dog biscuit equals 61 calories, 3 g fat (trace saturated fat), 7 mg cholesterol, 12 mg sodium, 8 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 3 g protein.
Lots of different cookie cutters to choose from.

Lots of different cookie cutters to choose from.

We filled at least three or four trays with dog biscuits!

We filled at least three or four trays with dog biscuits!

Happy Birthday Bella!

Happy Birthday Bella!

What’s For Dinner Wednesday: Choose-Your-Own Chicken

13 Feb
They say life is like a box of chocolates.

They say life is like a box of chocolates.

It’s the day before Valentine’s Day and do I have a gift for you!

It’s not a recipe, per se, but rather an idea that might save you some frustration at dinner time in your house too.

A few weeks back, maybe a month ago, we came up with Choose-Your-Own-Chicken for dinner.

Here’s what it is and here’s how it happened:

One night, we were contemplating our dinner plans and Don and I really wanted what we call “California Chicken,” which is a grilled chicken with melted cheese and avocado. It’s a meal we really enjoy. (By the way, you can add sprouts to the top if you’d like.)

We’re the only ones who really enjoy it. If given the opportunity, I’d eat an entire avocado myself, but I think I might be the only one who loves avocado that much.

Back to my story.

We wanted California Chicken for dinner and no one else did. I came up with a plan: let’s make it for us and then cook up a bunch of plain chicken tenderloins without the cheese and avocado and put out some other toppings and dips to choose from.

Kind of like a chicken buffet.

Or, like a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Everyone chooses the one they like the best and then everyone is happy.

So that’s what we did.

Our toppings included barbeque sauce, duck sauce, and ketchup. If one so desired, they could opt for nothing at all on their chicken and just eat it plain.

It’s nothing so amazing, but it really worked out well for us. We were happy, everyone was happy.

In general we won’t make five separate dinners, but we found a way to make one dinner work for five people’s tastes.

So that my friends and loyal readers, is my Valentine’s gift to you: Choose-Your-Own-Chicken.

Enjoy!

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