Archive | February, 2014

Fun Friday: 50 best read-alouds for parents and kids

28 Feb

library shelvesI recently saw this article that a friend posted on Facebook. It’s about the 50 best books for parents to read aloud to kids, and it focuses mainly on books for ages 10 and under, because of the read aloud factor.

I love seeing lists like this for two reasons: first and foremost, I always love book recommendations for kids and second, I like to see how I match up.

I was so pleased as I scrolled through the list (and yes, there is a “view all pages” option at the bottom of the first page) to see so many of our favorite books and books we have here at home on our shelves, even still, on the list.

We have always participated in story hours and reading programs at our local library and really tried to foster a love of books and reading in our house since the kids were infants, and it was great to see so many of those books we’ve read to them and that they’ve chosen to read on their own, on that list.

Seeing this list makes me want to start the read aloud process with my kids all over again, especially my youngest, who didn’t get as much read aloud to her, I don’t think, as my oldest or next oldest. I know too, from teaching middle grades and upper elementary grades that even kids at that age enjoy having a story read to them. I read aloud across our city during Reading Week, and even the oldest elementary kids enjoy a good story.

I encourage you to take a look at the list and see how many familiar “faces” you recognize as well!

And I ask you, what’s your favorite read aloud?

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Breakfast for dinner

26 Feb
These were a fun, different kind of dinner! Of course, they'd be great for breakfast too!

These were a fun, different kind of dinner! Of course, they’d be great for breakfast too!

I’m a football widow.

Not all the time, not all season long, which is FOREVER long, but towards the end, during the playoffs and the Superbowl itself.

I can’t fault my husband in any way. He loves the sport, but even so, he’ll record a game and watch it later on so that he’s available for our family’s needs.

So, during playoffs and the Superbowl itself, it’s only fair that he be able to hang out with his friends and watch the game.

That leaves the girls and I with a few meals that are just for us, and sometimes I try to do something fun. Sometimes I’m just totally out of ideas.

Today’s meal is one of the totally out of ideas meals. It was a Sunday night playoff game and I had no idea what to cook when I got home that night with the kids. We’d been running errands, it was evening, it was winter, it was dark, and it was really any other excuse I can come up with not to want to make dinner.

But, then I remembered that a friend had sent me a fun looking recipe to try, some pancake cups, which she thought looked right about my style. She was right! Except they were breakfast, not dinner. But really, does it matter? Nope! Not in my house it doesn’t.

So on that night (the cold, winter, dark night where I didn’t want to make dinner) I made breakfast instead, trying out these cute little pancake cups, which I have fondly renamed Upside Down Pancakes, because they are made in muffin tins, and when I cooked them there was a better well for my fruit compote when I turned them upside down than there was when I left them right-side up.

And so, with a recipe from “Racing and Saving Mama,” sent to me by my friend Gina, here are the Upside Down Pancakes for your next brunch, or dinner! I have put any modifications I may have made, in parentheses.

When I flipped my pancakes over after taking them out, they had a great well for toppings!

When I flipped my pancakes over after taking them out, they had a great well for toppings!

UPSIDE DOWN PANCAKES
INGREDIENTS
1 cup milk (we use skim)

6 eggs

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp orange zest -optional- (I didn’t use it)

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

(I also added in some Jimmy Dean Turkey Sausage Crumbles to half of my tins.)

The directions state to serve the pancakes with your favorite toppings so I created an apple-cranberry compote and served with whipped cream. YUM!

The directions state to serve the pancakes with your favorite toppings so I created an apple-cranberry compote and served with whipped cream. YUM!

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Blend first six ingredients in a blender. (I used a hand blender to blend them.)

Be careful to see that any flour clumps are well-blended.

Blend in butter a little at a time in order to temper the eggs.

Grease muffin tins well and distribute the batter evenly between the 24 tins (I got 12 but I think my tins are larger than hers.)

The author of the recipe recommends using 1/4 cup of batter in each tin.

Bake for 15 minutes until puffy and golden on top.

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Not your Grandma’s Fried Chicken

19 Feb
With the added spices and Panko bread crumbs, this chicken was a huge hit!

With the added spices and Panko bread crumbs, this chicken was a huge hit!

Ever think you just can’t do one more original thing with chicken? Ever feel like you have just done it all and can’t look at another piece of boneless, skinless chicken?

It’s not just me, is it?

Usually when I shop, I grab a bag or two of frozen chicken tenderloins, and this time when I did I thought to myself, “I don’t even know what to do with this chicken, I’m so done with chicken.”

But then, a wonderful thing happened! I got a surprise goodie bag in the mail from SheKnows, the company I’ve been working with lately, and they saved my dinner that day. Inside my box was a new cookbook, “Chop Chop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family.” Elizabeth receives Chop Chop, the magazine, from a birthday gift she got this summer, so we were *very* excited to see this newest addition to our cookbook collection.

You’ll be seeing other recipes from the cookbook, I can guarantee, but as we thumbed through it, I saw a recipe for “Not Your Grandma’s Fried Chicken.”

Now I happen to really like my Grandma Rose’s fried chicken cutlets, but I gave this recipe a second look. It called for Panko bread crumbs, which I had, but it also called for Dijon mustard and thyme in the recipe. Most importantly, it gave a tip which I wanted to try out: It said that refrigerating the chicken after it’d been coated with the egg mixture and the bread crumbs for at least 30 minutes, would help to keep the coating on the chicken.

I love breaded chicken and I hate leaving the breading in the pan and eating naked chicken for dinner, don’t you?

For that reason alone, I decided to try this recipe out that night, and I’m so glad I did! The flavor with the added mustard and thyme was delicious and the tip about the refrigeration really did work! Everyone at this, all five of us gave it a thumbs up. That type of five out of five rating is rare in this house!

I served this dish with one of our favorite side dishes from our dinner at the White House: Quinoa Corn and Black Bean Salad. You can click on it to get the recipe.

I found the recipe online, and I have put the link to it here, but I found it interesting that the online version from the magazine doesn’t have the refrigeration tip. It was in the cookbook though and I wouldn’t do breaded chicken without it from here on in!

Here’s the recipe from the online version, with their cookbook’s refrigeration tip added in.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons

olive or canola oil

1 cup fine bread crumbs or panko

1⁄2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
large eggs
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried thyme
skinless chicken thighs
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
lemon

Instructions

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water, then gather all your equipment and ingredients and put them on a counter.
  2. With the help of your adult, turn the oven on and set it to 400 degrees.
  3. Pour the oil on the baking sheet and, using your clean hands or a paper towel, spread it around.
  4. Put the bread crumbs, flour, salt and pepper, and, cayenne (if you like it) on a large plate. Mix well.
  5. Crack the eggs into a bowl (throw the shells away). Add the mustard and thyme and mix well. Add the chicken pieces and swish them around until they are well coated with the egg mixture.
  6. Remove the chicken pieces, one at a time, from the egg mixture and let any extra egg mixture drip off.
  7. Dip the chicken pieces, one at a time, in the bread crumb mixture, rolling them and pressing down to coat each side.
  8. Shake off any extra coating, then put the chicken pieces on the baking sheet. **Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. This step is very important in order to make the coating stick.**
  9. With the help of your adult, put the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Using a spatula or tongs, turn the chicken pieces over and bake until golden brown, 15–20 more minutes. Serve right away, with a quarter of a lemon on each plate.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons

olive or canola oil

1 cup

fine bread crumbs or panko

1⁄2 cup

whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon

kosher salt

1⁄4 teaspoon

cayenne pepper

2  

large eggs

1 tablespoon

dijon mustard

1 teaspoon

dried thyme

6  

skinless chicken thighs

1⁄2 teaspoon

black pepper

1  

lemon

Instructions

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water, then gather all your equipment and ingredients and put them on a counter.
  2. With the help of your adult, turn the oven on and set it to 400 degrees.
  3. Pour the oil on the baking sheet and, using your clean hands or a paper towel, spread it around.
  4. Put the bread crumbs, flour, salt and pepper, and, cayenne (if you like it) on a large plate. Mix well.
  5. Crack the eggs into a bowl (throw the shells away). Add the mustard and thyme and mix well. Add the chicken pieces and swish them around until they are well coated with the egg mixture.
  6. Remove the chicken pieces, one at a time, from the egg mixture and let any extra egg mixture drip off.
  7. Dip the chicken pieces, one at a time, in the bread crumb mixture, rolling them and pressing down to coat each side.
  8. Shake off any extra coating, then put the chicken pieces on the baking sheet.
  9. With the help of your adult, put the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Using a spatula or tongs, turn the chicken pieces over and bake until golden brown, 15–20 more minutes. Serve right away, with a quarter of a lemon on each plate.

- See more at: http://www.chopchopmag.org/content/not-your-grandmas-fried-chicken#sthash.ceJP57AG.dpuf

Monday Musings: Making your own fun

17 Feb
Using the components from games you already have to create a new game is a fun way to spend a day out of school!

Using the components from games you already have to create a new game is a fun way to spend a day out of school!

It’s school vacation week for us this whole week ahead. Monday, President’s Day, is a day off for many kids around the country, even if they don’t have the whole week off.

For many parents, a whole week out of school during the winter months can seem daunting. What to do? Where to go?

As a mom, I often find that the most fun and memorable moments come from an unplanned event or from the kids’ own minds when left to their own devices.

And I don’t mean electronic devices.

Often we’ll allow some electronics time and then all devices go off and it’s time to find something to do, whether they need to read a book, occupy themselves in their rooms, or play a board game.

Over our last school vacation week, my younger two girls decided to play dominoes after my youngest had played them at school during indoor recess time on a rainy or snowy day. She was thrilled to find out that we had dominoes here as well, and what began as making “domino effect” structures and watching one domino lead to their demise, ended up being an hours-long project, using all of the dominoes plus all of the previously-popular “Squinkies” to create two entirely new games.

Without any parental direction or involvement whatsoever, the girls created a challenge for themselves, to each take a set of the dominoes and some of the Squinkies, and create their own game and rules for the game, which they’d then teach each other to play.

I know I said it, but this bears repeating: this took them several hours.

Creating the box for storing their game components was almost as much of a challenge for them as creating the games themselves.

Creating the box for storing their game components was almost as much of a challenge for them as creating the games themselves.

Between coming up with the game they wanted to create, coming up with the rules for it, playing it for and with each other, and then the next part: creating a box to store the games in, complete with some marketing images on the boxes, took them hours.

The box they created had a challenge to it as well. They decided to use one box, which had originally contained a pair of men’s boots, to store both games. However, they split the box down the middle and each came up with completely unique packaging to market their particular game.

I swear to you, I had nothing to do with this. I was downstairs sorting through *last* school year’s papers that I was archiving into bins to save.

They were completely engaged, not bored, not arguing, not asking us for ANYTHING, for hours.

And best of all, they had a blast. It was a highlight of their week.

It didn’t cost us a dime, we didn’t leave the house. They never even changed out of their pajamas.

It was excellent. And they were so, so proud of themselves.

Sometimes, as parents, I think we get caught up in the pressures of planning the perfect day off, the perfect vacation week, and I think sometimes if we leave some down time in the schedule it can be a good thing.

I know that there’s a fine line between leaving too much time free, and leaving no time free, but I think it’s important as we enter this school vacation week, to remember to leave at least some time for the kids to tap into their own creativity and ability to entertain themselves. Nothing pleases me more than to see my kids all playing together, laughing, talking, thinking out loud and being creative. It’s a valuable skill to foster in kids, and who knows what they’ll create!

Give it a try this week or on your next snow day, holiday, day off or weekend and see what your kids come up with! They just might surprise you.

Fun Friday: Valentine’s Day Edition

14 Feb
Valentine's M&Ms made these cookies extra special!

Valentine’s M&Ms made these cookies extra special!

It’s a Friday, and it’s Valentine’s Day! I love when special days fall on a Friday or a weekend day. It makes them all the more enjoyable.

I got a sweet treat myself this week, when my kids who give out Valentine’s Day cards both decided to hand make them and to do it with absolutely no direction from me. For years we made them together and the last couple of years I’ve had to buy them. I just couldn’t pull it all off. It warmed my heart to come home from a meeting earlier this week and see that they were making them.

In addition to Valentine’s Day, we’ve also had a snow day this week, which has provided an extra opportunity for Valentine’s treats, and school vacation is coming up next week, which even though we don’t go anywhere special, is still a fun week off.

Earlier this week, we were having a friend over for one of the kids after school so I decided that in between my morning and afternoon work schedules, I’d make a quick little Valentine’s treat to greet them when they got home.

It called for only three ingredients and one of them was Valentine’s- themed M&Ms. The recipe didn’t use the entire bag, so I used them instead of chocolate chips in the cookies you see above when we had the snow day, and that’ll make a great treat today in the kids’ lunchboxes.

The after school treat was a three ingredient Skinny Dark Kisses treat which a friend posted on Facebook, shared from the Skinny Kitchen site. I can tell it’s going to be a site that I visit often! I hope you’ll check it out.

The recipe is shown below, just as they have it on their site. It was easy, other than unwrapping all of the Hershey Kisses, and a word of warning: they say you need to cool them for two hours, or put them in the fridge to speed up that time. I had a 1:30 story to cover, so I made them on my lunch break at 12:30, left in time for my story, and when I came home with the kids after 3, it had been just enough time for them to cool and be ready to eat!

The recipe below makes 25, but I made slightly more than that since I had a bigger tray. I was able to make 45 and I still had half a bag of M&Ms leftover and a quarter of a bag of Hershey Kisses left as well.

A cute Valentine's treat, you won't be able to eat just one!

A cute Valentine’s treat, you won’t be able to eat just one!

Another word of warning: you can just eat one. They’re slightly addicting!

Prep Time: 15 minutes total (for 25 of them)
Bake Time: 5 minutes
Set Time: 2 hours for chocolate to firm up or 1 hour in refrigerator


Ingredients



25 Special Dark Hershey’s kisses, un-wrapped

25 mini pretzels

25 dark chocolate M&M’s available in bags of Valentine’s Day colors or use a regular bag


Instructions



1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.

2. Place pretzels on cookiesheet. Top each pretzel with one unwrapped chocolate kiss.

3. Bake 4 to 5 minutes or until chocolate begins to soften, but not melt. Remove from oven; top each with 1 M&M. Be sure to press it down a bit to set into the chocolate kiss.

4. Cool completely. This takes about 2 hours. To cool quickly, refrigerate until chocolate is firm.

Makes 25 total

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Skillet Lasagna…with a twist

12 Feb
This meal was a lifesaver for us one Friday night, and we'd definitely make it again!

This meal was a lifesaver for us one Friday night, and we’d definitely make it again!

Friday nights have been tough for us the past few years. It’s generally our night for Dance, at least for one daughter, although some years it was for all of them. Lately it’s also been a Girl Scout night for my youngest too.

This year, twice a month, she goes from Dance to Girl Scouts with one hour in between, so dinner has to be fast and easy. Recently, I had a Friday where I looked on my weekly menu to see what was on there, and lo and behold….there was nothing.

Friday was blank.

Well, that’s inconvenient.

My first thought was to order out pizza but I don’t love doing that. It’s expensive for one thing and it’s not the healthiest for another.

What to make, what to make?

I kept thinking on it all day.

Shortly before the end of the afternoon, I was scrolling through Facebook, and there it was: Friday night’s dinner. A friend of mine had share a recipe for a One Skillet Lasagna that she’d found on Pinterest from a blog called Number 2 Pencil. I had found my dinner. She and her family had tried it the night before and loved it. I was going to try it on my family that night.

The recipe called for a couple of things I had to modify because of what I had on hand:  Italian Sausage and Ravioli. I didn’t have Italian Sausage, but I did have some Jimmy Dean Turkey Sausage Crumbles. I didn’t have Ravioli, but I did have two 12 oz. bags of Tortellini. Both those items would work out just fine.

So, with a slight twist in the ingredients, I created Number 2 Pencil’s One Skillet Lasagna at my house too.

It was a hit, everyone loved it. I still want to make it with Ravioli next time, just to try it, but it was good with Tortellini too.

In my exploration of the Number 2 Pencil blog I have seen lots of great recipes. I hope you’ll pay the blog a visit too!

Here is their recipe just as it appears on the blog itself. Other than the switch-a-roo I pulled with the pasta and sausage, I followed the recipe to a T.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 pound of Italian Sausage, Italian Turkey Sausage or Lean Ground Beef
  • 1/2 a medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed tomatoes or diced tomatoes
  • 1 8 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups of low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 9 oz packages of Buitoni four cheese ravioli, from the refrigerated section
  • 8 oz of fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
  • 1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Flat leaf parsley for garnish

Instructions

  1. Add olive oil to large skillet.
  2. Sautee onions and garlic, over medium heat, until onions are soft and translucent.
  3. Add sausage and cook, breaking up with wooden spoon while it browns.
  4. Once sausage is cooked through, add tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken broth, and ravioli.
  5. If using whole peeled tomatoes, use kitchen shears to chop them up while still in the can before adding to skillet.
  6. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer over medium heat.
  7. Simmer until ravioli are tender and sauce has reduced and thickened, 15-20 minutes
  8. Remove from heat and stir in mozzarella and parmesan.

Fun Friday: Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bars

7 Feb
This was an after school snack that was quick to make and disappeared just as fast!

This was an after school snack that was quick to make and disappeared just as fast!

As you know, we love a good after school snack at our house! It holds us over from when we get home from school, through homework and after school activity time, until dinner, which can sometimes be pushing 7:00.

This recipe is just a slight modification from a site that I follow, Skinny Ms. I love their site and I have featured many of their recipes in the past. They always get rave reviews from my house and this one was no different.

Of course, my main modification is the fact that I had to add chocolate chips to my version of these bars. I couldn’t help it. They just wouldn’t be the same without them!

Below is their recipe with my modifications noted in parentheses.

Please visit their site and check out all their great recipes! You’ll want to follow them too!

My Version of the Skinny Ms. Peanut Butter and Honey Oat Bars

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup honey

1 tablespoon coconut oil (I used canola)

1/3 cup peanut butter

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

2 cups oats

1/2 cup chopped honey roasted peanuts (this is where I substituted 1/2 cup chocolate chips instead)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 300 F

Line an 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper, making sure the parchment paper hangs over the sides.

(I did not have parchment paper so I did not line my pan with it.)

In a microwave safe bowl, add honey, coconut oil (canola oil) and peanut butter. Microwave for 30 seconds, stir until mixture gets runny and peanut butter completely melted in. You may have to heat for another 20 seconds or so. Mix in vanilla extract and cinnamon.

Add oats and peanuts, mix until everything is combined and the mixture is completely coated with honey and peanut butter mixture.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and press down with a back of a spoon; bake in the oven for 20 -25 minutes until lightly brown.

Once you take the bars out of the oven, press down with the back of a spoon to insure the oats are pressed firmly together. Let the oat bars cool slightly and carefully take out bars by grabbing onto the parchment paper and cut into 16 slices. Let bars cool completely and harden at room temperature.

Store bars in an air tight container in the refrigerator.

Makes 16 bars.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, ground
  • 2 cups oats (I used Gluten Free Oats)
  • 1/2 cup chopped honey roasted peanuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 F

Line an 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper, making sure the parchment paper hangs over the sides.

In a microwave safe bowl, add honey, coconut oil and peanut butter. Microwave for 30 seconds, stir until mixture gets runny and peanut butter completely melted in. You may have to heat for another 20 seconds or so. Mix in vanilla extract and cinnamon.

Add oats and peanuts, mix until everything is combined and the mixture is completely coated with honey and peanut butter mixture.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and press down with a back of a spoon; bake in the oven for 20 -25 minutes until lightly brown.

Once you take the bars out of the oven, press down with the back of a spoon to insure the oats are pressed firmly together. Let the oat bars cool slightly and carefully take out bars by grabbing onto the parchment paper and cut into 16 slices. Let bars cool completely and harden at room temperature.

Store bars in an air tight container in the refrigerator.

Makes 16 bars.

Read more at http://skinnyms.com/peanut-butter-and-honey-oat-bars/#gfP0EJKu3Sr2DuA5.99

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, ground
  • 2 cups oats (I used Gluten Free Oats)
  • 1/2 cup chopped honey roasted peanuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 F

Line an 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper, making sure the parchment paper hangs over the sides.

In a microwave safe bowl, add honey, coconut oil and peanut butter. Microwave for 30 seconds, stir until mixture gets runny and peanut butter completely melted in. You may have to heat for another 20 seconds or so. Mix in vanilla extract and cinnamon.

Add oats and peanuts, mix until everything is combined and the mixture is completely coated with honey and peanut butter mixture.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and press down with a back of a spoon; bake in the oven for 20 -25 minutes until lightly brown.

Once you take the bars out of the oven, press down with the back of a spoon to insure the oats are pressed firmly together. Let the oat bars cool slightly and carefully take out bars by grabbing onto the parchment paper and cut into 16 slices. Let bars cool completely and harden at room temperature.

Store bars in an air tight container in the refrigerator.

Makes 16 bars.

Read more at http://skinnyms.com/peanut-butter-and-honey-oat-bars/#gfP0EJKu3Sr2DuA5.99

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