31 December 2008

Economize-One roast, three meals!


I fall deeper in love with my crock pot every time I use it.  Not just for the time saving aspect it brings to getting dinner on the table, but also for the grocery budget cost cutting side to it.  It takes cheap cuts of meat, and turns them into mouth watering masterpieces!  The following are three dinners made from one 4-5 lb. beef chuck roast.  The chuck roast will probably run you about $10.00, but since it makes three dinners, it's really a steal!  All of the work is done the first night so for the subsequent two nights, your only job is to reheat.  Enjoy!

For Night 1:  Beef Pot Roast (shown above with a green salad and a fruit salad) from Fix it and Forget it Big Cookbook by Phyllis Pellman Good

Ingredients:  
4-5 lb. beef chuck roast
1 garlic clove, cut in half
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 small onion, sliced
3/4 cup sour cream
3 Tbls. flour
1/2 cup dry white wine.

1.  Rub roast with garlic.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place in slow cooker.
2.  Add carrots, celery and onion.
3.  Combine sour cream, flour and wine.  Pour into slow cooker.
4.  Cover.  Cook on Low 6-7 hours.
5.  Slice for dinner the first night.  With the remaining roast, shred using two forks and split the shredded meat into two tupperwares.
6.  Prepare dinner for Night 2 and 3 and place in refrigerator.

For Night 2:  Pepper Beef Sandwiches

Ingredients:
One tupperware with shredded beef from above
16 oz. jar of sliced pepperoncini peppers, mostly drained
Hamburger buns
Slices of your favorite cheese, pepper jack recommended.

To the tupperware of beef, add the jar of pepperoncini peppers and a little of the juice.  Cover and refrigerate for Night 2.  When ready to eat, reheat in the microwave.  Serve on hamburger buns topped with your favorite cheese.


For Night 3:  BBQ beef sandwiches

Ingredients:
One tupperware of shredded beef from above
Bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce
Hamburger buns

Add enough BBQ sauce to the shredded beef to make it saucy.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.  When ready, reheat in the microwave.  Serve the BBQ beef on hamburger buns.

Three meals for about $10.00 with minimum prep and minimum cooking.  Can't beat that!  Happy New Year everyone!

29 December 2008

Slow Cooker Lasagna



My mother, living in Hawaii, likes to use her slow cooker a lot to avoid heating up her condo.  Because I was doing a lot of the cooking while we were visiting, I adopted her cooking habits.  I came upon this recipe for slow cooker lasagna from Fix it and Forget it Big Cookbook, which is fast becoming my new go to book for quick and cheap dinners.  It made an absolutely HUGE amount that we ate for a few days and then threw out, I'm sure you could halve it.

Convenient Slow Cooker Lasagna adapted from Fix it and Forget it Big Cookbook

Serves: 6-8
Cooking time: 4-6 hours on LOW
Use a 6 quart slow cooker

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
2 29oz. cans tomato sauce
1 onion, chopped
10 oz. elbow macaroni
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups cottage cheese
3/4 cups water

1.  Spray the interior of the cooker with nonstick cooking spray or line with a slow cooker bag.
2.  Brown the ground beef and the onion in a nonstick skillet.  Drain off the drippings.  
3.  Stir in the tomato sauce.  Mix well.
4.  Spread one-fourth of the meat sauce on the bottom of the slow cooker.
5.  Arrange one-third of the noodles over the sauce.
6.  Combine the cheeses in a bowl. Spoon one-third of cheeses over the noodles.
7.  Repeat these layers twice.
8.  Top with remaining sauce.
9.  Add water.
10.  Cover and cook on LOW 4-6 hours.


Papaya and Cottage Cheese Salad

My mother made this simple salad of a halved papaya filled with cottage cheese to accompany the lasagna.  At first I wasn't sure about it but the combination of the sweet/salty, lumpy/creamy consistencies really works.  Of course it helps being able to find papayas this sweet and ripe at the local farmers market.

28 December 2008

Back to the Snow!






After a wonderful, relaxing and beautiful stay in Hawaii, it's back to the COLD realities of real life.  I can't complain much, I know that most of you have been living in the cold and snow for the past three weeks without the benefit of a Hawaiian vacation.  Let me tell you though, it is a shock to the system to be back home.  We landed two nights ago on an unplowed runway due to active snowing!  Now it's back to housecleaning and catch-up work.  I know, I know, I have no reason to complain, I'm just stating the facts.

Above are some pictures from the farmers market in downtown Kailua-Kona.  No visit to the islands (or anywhere!) would be complete without a trip to the farmers market.  Check out the prices and quality of the starfruit!  The hairy, red fruits are called rambutans locally or also known as lychee nuts.  If you score around the outside of the fruit, the red, hairy exterior pops off revealing a large grape like fruit with an attached pit in the middle.  You just pop the whole thing in your mouth and eat around the stone.

Also, I had to take pictures of the Filipino Store from a little shopping center in Waikaloa.  Coming from someplace without the benefit of ethnic stores like this, browsing here was a real treat.  My mother bought some frozen lumpias here and my father was in hog heaven!

On one of my very first mornings in Hawaii, I was doing some grocery shopping as I was doing a lot of the cooking and came across these Dragonfruits.  I had never seen anything like these before.  A few days later, my mother came across some at the farmers market that were cheaper.  The ones she bought were yellow, but the same shape.  They tasted very similarly to kiwis but were less tart.  The grayish fruit with black seeds that was inside though was visually a surprise from the look of the exterior.
I can't wait to catch up on all that you have been doing over the holidays!  Don't forget that I will be hosting a read through of French Women Don't Get Fat on Friday's in January.  Our first discussion will be this coming Friday, January 2!

07 December 2008

Mele Kalikimaka

Tomorrow, the boys and I are off to Hawaii to visit my parents. We are all SO excited to be going. I may get a chance to update the blog, since my mother has informed me that I am cooking all the meals while we are visiting, but more than likely I won't get a chance to update. I'll be back after Christmas though with new recipes and some fun pictures of the islands. In the meantime, don't forget that I am hosting a read through of the book French Women Don't Get Fat, on Fridays in January. If you are interested in reading the book with me, remember to keep your food journal for the rest of December, and read the first chapter or two of French Women Don't Get Fat for the first discussion.

I wish you all a blessed holiday season. I'll catch up with you all in a couple weeks! Mele Kalikimaka!

05 December 2008

Rum Raisin Biscotti


Tonight, I've been invited to a cookie exchange.  I can't tell you how excited I am to be going!  When you are a stay-at-home mom, you don't need anything else to get your kicks than merely going out and talking to other grown-ups.  For this party, I created a biscotti recipe that I was really pleased with.  

The biscotti were my back-up plan after a disastrous attempt at something called Orange Snowballs.  After I threw those in the garbage, I had to come up with something whose ingredients I already had in my pantry.  This was the first time I've attempted biscotti but they turned out really well (if I do say so myself). I have been craving biscotti recently as accompaniments to my afternoon tea so I already had biscotti on the brain.  I always thought biscotti were too fussy to make.  Actually, they are a little fussy with the twice baking and all, but the dough came together quickly, and I waited overnight until the second baking which minimized the fussiness.  
 
If you've never heard of a biscotti (I mean, really now, where have you been?) it is an Italian cookie that is first baked in a log shape, then cut and baked again until dry and really crunchy.  They are fabulous dunked in a cup of tea or coffee, let to soften slightly in the liquid and then crunched up.  I dipped them in chocolate and put sprinkles on them just to fancy them up a little for the cookie exchange, but they are also wonderful plain.  

I think the ladies at the cookie exchange are going to love these.  I can't wait to see what everyone else makes.  I'll tell you all about it tomorrow and share some of their recipes too!

Rum Raisin Biscotti by Joie de vivre

Yeild:  about 60 biscotti

Ingredients:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cup sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. salt
6 large eggs
4 tsp. rum extract
1/3 cup rum
1 1/3 cup raisins
2/3 cup boiling water
1 package of chocolate chips (optional)
sprinkles and other decorations (optional)

Directions:
1.  Put raisins, rum, and boiling water into a bowl.  Set aside for at least 10 minutes while the raisins plump.
2.  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
3.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, and salt in a large bowl.
4.  In a second large bowl, whisk together the eggs and rum extract.  
5.  Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir with a wooden spoon.  At this point, the dough will seem really dry and it may be easier to squish it up with your hands.
6.  Drain the raisins, and add them to the dough.  Squish this up well with your hands.  The dough will be sticky at this point from the residual liquid in the raisins.
7.  Divide the dough in two.  On a parchment lined baking sheet, shape 1/2 of the dough into a log about 12 inches long, and 3 inches wide.  Repeat on another parchment lined baking sheet with the other half of the dough.
8.  Bake for 40 minutes, switching the places of the baking sheets (put the sheet that was on the bottom rack on the top rack and the one that was on the top rack on the bottom rack) halfway through.
9.  The dough should be slightly risen, slightly browned and firm to the touch.  Let the logs cool at least 30 minutes or overnight.
10.  Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees again.
11.  Cut the logs diagonally into 1/4 inch slices.  
12.  Lay the slices on a parchment lined baking sheet.
13.  Bake the biscotti for 16 minutes, switching the places of the pans, and flipping the cookies halfway through the baking time.
14.  Remove the biscotti to a cooling rack and let cool.
15.  If desired, melt the chocolate chips in a saucepan set over a pan of gently simmering water.  Stir with a rubber spatula until smooth.
16.  Paint 1/2 of the biscotti with chocolate using your rubber spatula and place on a sheet of waxed paper.  Sprinkle with edible glitter, nonpareils, sprinkles, etc. to decorate and let chocolate harden.
17.  Place in a napkin lined basket for a beautiful presentation!

03 December 2008

Crazy about walking poles!


For my birthday last week, my boys each gave me one Coleman trekking pole.  I had been eyeing walking poles for some time as a way to up the cardiovascular benefits of my walking, without having to resort to running.  (I hate running, I mean really, really hate running)  The Norwegians have been using walking poles for a few years now as a way to keep in shape for cross country skiing during the warm months.  Walking poles are used in the same fashion as cross country ski poles but are used while walking.  They get your arms moving thus increasing the calories you burn while walking.  Let me tell you, I am now a convert to the walking poles.  My first few times out with them, I couldn't walk very far because I got so tired.  My heart rate goes up much further than just walking alone.  Not only am I using my arms, but I feel I'm building muscle as well.  In just a week of using them, I'm seeing more definition in my arms and after the first use, I could tell by my soreness that I was using muscles not used to this sort of work.  I feel my biceps and triceps working, and also my shoulder muscles (deltoids) and chest muscles (pectorals).  For some reason I'm walking taller with the poles too thus lengthening my stride and engaging my stomach muscles.  After a week, I'm now back to my longer walks and I'm seeing results on the scale too.  I'm down three pounds, an awesome feat in my opinion the week of Thanksgiving.
My only complaints about the poles are the tips and the hand holds.  The Nordic trekking poles have angled tips which help to grab the ground when you're pushing off.  Since the Coleman poles don't have this, I sometimes push off the ground and the pole slips which gets a little frustrating.  Also, the hand grip bites into my hand a little bit, but this could be my technique and I might be holding on a little too tightly.
In full disclosure too, I probably look like a huge dork using them.  People have actually slowed down in their cars to watch me as they drive past.  I know this is a small town and people have to get their amusements from somewhere, but it does make me feel a little self-conscious (not that I care though).  
Dorkiness aside, if I am seeing results on the scale, and am feeling my fitness improve through increased muscle tone without really increasing the intensity of my workouts, I am sold.  I love these things.

27 November 2008

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Cooking Thanksgiving dinner with Kids: A Recipe for Stress-Free Family Fun

My two little helpers ages 3 and 5.  I bought these special aprons for them in anticipation of the big cooking day and they thought they were sooooo cool.


For the past 8 years, ever since my husband and I have been married, I've made Thanksgiving dinner.  Usually it is an elaborate affair with various family members, neighbors and friends joining in.  I would start planning at least a month ahead or more, did my shopping two weeks ahead, and had my cooking timeline written out in twenty minute increments starting two days before Thanksgiving.  The day of Thanksgiving, the kids were usually shooed out of the kitchen and my husband was put in charge of entertaining them.  I would spend all day amidst roasting pans, pots, casserole dishes, and chopping boards creating a gorgeous feast that would get rave reviews.  Of course I was exhausted afterwards and thinking back, I really didn't get to spend that much time with my family outside of eating because I was always holed away in the kitchen.
 
This year, all of the various family members whom we normally would have had to our house for the big day were going to be out of town so it was just going to be the boys, my husband and me.  Since it would be a small Thanksgiving for us, when my normal Thanksgiving meal planning started at the beginning of November (spurred on by Foodbuzz.com's proposal for Thanksgiving dinners), I realized that this year I wanted to spend time with my family instead of holing myself in the kitchen for two days.  I wanted this year to be stress-free and FUN!  This year, I wanted us to prepare our meal as a family.
 
My boys absolutely LOVE to help me in the kitchen, but the traditional Thanksgiving fare doesn't allow them to do that with all of the chopping (they are not knife safe yet), and opportunities to get burned from heavy roasting pans and hot pots.  I knew that if I wanted the boys to help cook, I was going to have to plan the menu around their attention spans, their tastes, and their abilities.  I had to think outside the "traditional" Thanksgiving box.  Thus, this "Kid-Centered" Thanksgiving menu and day was born.  The boys were able to help cook every dish in a stress-free day of cooking that accommodated their attention spans and nap schedules.  They also helped make all of the decorations.  I'll take you through our fun, family day to help give you confidence to include your kids in your next big meal.


Our cozy dinner table set for the big meal


Our edible turkey gobbler centerpiece 
Directions below



Our Turkey Gobbler centerpiece, Turkey Table topper (doubling as a bread basket) and our Sweet T.O.M. turkey cupcakes

The Menu

Appetizers:
-Turkey Tracks
-Spiced Nuts made in the crockpot

Turkey Tracks idea by FamilyFun.com
My little helper with his finished turkey tracks

Ingredients:
Whole wheat crackers
Cream Cheese
Peanut Butter
1 can of LaChoy Rice Noodles
Directions:
1.  Spread cream cheese or peanut butter on crackers.
2.  Top each cracker with the Rice Noodles arranging noodles to resemble a 3-toed turkey footprint.  Here is an example if you don't know what they look like.  (I printed this picture out so my son could see what they looked like too)




Ingredients:
4 cups of whole mixed nuts (I used a combination of pecans and hazelnuts)
1 egg white
1 tsp. water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt

Directions:
1.  Place the nuts in a single layer in a shallow baking pan.  Toast by baking them in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes.
2.  Place the toasted nuts in a 3 1/2 to 4 quart slow cooker. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg white and water with a wire whisk until frothy.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Pour over nuts and stir gently to coat.
3.  Cover and cook on LOW setting for 4 hours, stirring once halfway through cooking.  Spread on waxed paper, separating into small clusters to cool.  Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for 1 week.
My hubby taking the Sugared Pecans out of the crock pot



The Main Course
-Turkey Meatballs made in the Crock Pot
-Jellied Cranberry Sauce cooked in the microwave
-Whole wheat yeast rolls with flax meal
-Deviled eggs
-Sweet Potato Praline Marshmallow Casserole
-Olive Tray
-Green Salad
-Bamboo skewers of fresh fruit and cheese from Turkey Gobbler centerpiece


I know what you're thinking already, "Turkey Meatballs?  No roast turkey on Thanksgiving?"  Even though it wasn't traditional Thanksgiving food, we had so much fun making dinner that we didn't even miss it.  Below are the recipes.

Crock Pot Turkey Meatballs  recipe from About.com

The finished meatballs in steaming sauce

Ingredients:
3 cups barbecue sauce (your favorite)
2 cups apple jelly
3 Tbls. tapioca (for a thicker sauce)
2 Tbls. apple cider vinegar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs, seasoned
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. onion powder
2 lbs. ground turkey
vegetable oil
Squishing the ingredients together (What a face!)

Directions:
1.  In the crock pot insert, stir together barbecue sauce, apple jelly, tapioca, and vinegar.  Cover and cook on HIGH while preparing meatballs.
2.  For meatballs, in a large bowl combine egg, bread crumbs, milk, garlic powder, salt and onion powder.  Add ground turkey and squish up with your hands.  Shape into 3/4 inch meatballs.  
3.  Add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil to pre-heated skillet over medium heat.  Add meatballs and brown on all sides.  Drain meatballs and add to crock pot.  Stir very gently to coat with sauce.
4.  Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Yield:  5 dozen meatballs
Rolling the meatballs

Jellied Cranberry Sauce recipe adapted from Baking Delights
This is a super simple, and extremely tasty recipe from a blog called Baking Delights.  Marye, the author, made this with her little 4 year old helper.  I adapted her recipe slightly by using frozen cranberries thus having to cook it longer.

Ingredients:
1 pound frozen whole cranberries
grated zest from one orange
2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 cup water

Directions:
1.  In a microwave safe bowl, mix together cranberries, zest, sugar, juice, and water.
2.  Cover the mixture with waxed paper and microwave on high power, stirring every 2 minutes, until cranberries pop and mixture starts to bubble up (about 12 minutes).  Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.  It will jell slightly.
My little helper with cranberries before cooking

Whole Wheat Yeast Rolls with Flax Meal by Joie de vivre

Ingredients:
1 cup warm water
1 egg
4 Tbls. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbls. dried milk
2 tsp. yeast
1/4 cup softened butter (plus more for brushing on afterwards)
2 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup flax meal

Directions:
1.  Mix all ingredients except the flours and the flax meal together in a large mixing bowl.  Add the flours and flax meal and knead on counter for about 10 minutes until dough forms a smooth ball.
My little baker kneading the dough
Mama did most of the kneading

2.  Add dough to a generously greased (with shortening) bowl.  Roll your dough in the bowl to cover it with a thin layer of shortening.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough has doubled.  (Mine took about 2 hours)
3.  Punch the dough down gently and roll out on a cutting board to 12 x 18 inches.  (I did not need to flour my board but if you are worried about your dough sticking, flour it lightly)  Using a pizza cutter, cut dough short ways into 1/2 inch strips.
4.  Take your strips, make a knot, and then continue to thread the ends through the middle finally tucking them on the bottom.
5.  Place your rolls on non-stick baking pans or on greased baking pans.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again for 45 minutes. 
6.  Bake rolls at 375 degrees for about 18 minutes.  When you remove them from the oven, brush the tops with melted butter.


My helper and I are cutting the dough into strips

The knotted rolls during the second rise


Deviled Eggs 
This is one of those recipes that I do by feel, but everyone does this one by feel, don't they?

Ingredients:
Eggs
Mayonnaise
Dijon mustard
Sweet Relish
Salt and Pepper to taste
Paprika, for garnish

1.  Place your eggs in a pot of cold water.  Bring to a boil then turn off the heat and cover for 17-18 minutes.  Drain the hot water gently and add cold water to pot.
2.  When eggs are cool enough to handle, peel off the shells.
3.  Cut eggs in half long ways and pop out the yolks.  Put aside the whites and place the yolks in a small bowl.  Add a little mayonnaise, mustard, relish and salt and pepper and squish up with a fork.  
4.  Add the yolk mixture to the holes of the egg whites
5.  Sprinkle a little paprika on top of your deviled eggs.

Peeling eggs (truthfully he liked the cracking part MUCH more than the peeling part)


Sweet Potato Praline Marshmallow Casserole adapted slightly from Emerils.com
*Aside from the yeast rolls, this was my favorite.  It was sweet and creamy with a crunchy praline topping.  Who needs pie when they can dive into this yumminess?

Ingredients:
2 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes
4 Tbls. unsalted butter, softened and divided
2 Tbls. heavy cream
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, divided
2 Tbls. orange juice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. salt
2/3 cup pecan pieces
2 cups mini marshmallows

Directions:
1.  Place the sweet potatoes in a large, heavy pot and add enough water to cover by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil.
2.  Cook the potatoes at a low boil until they are fork-tender, between 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes.  
3.  Drain the potatoes in a colander.  Set the potatoes aside and let cool for about and hour.
4.  Meanwhile, place the oven rack in the center position and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
5.  When potatoes are cool enough to handle, place the potatoes on a cutting board and cut in half lengthwise.   Gently but firmly squeeze each potato to remove the meat from the skin.  Discard the skins and place the potatoes in a large mixing bowl.
6.  Add 2 Tbls. of the butter, the heavy cream, 1/4 cup of the brown sugar, orange juice, cinnamon, allspice, and salt to the potatoes and mix well with a large wire whisk until smooth.
7.  In a separate bowl, combine the remaining 2 Tbls. butter, the remaining 1 cup brown sugar, and the pecan pieces.  Stir with a fork to blend well.
8.  Spoon the mashed sweet-potato mixture into a 12" x 8" casserole dish.  Dot the top evenly with the pecan mixture, then sprinkle the marshmallows over the nuts.
9.  Bake until the marshmallows are golden brown, about 30 minutes.
10.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

My helper adding the marshmallows.  This was also his favorite dish of the evening.

Dessert
-Sweet T.O.M. turkeys


Our table set for dessert with our turkey place mats and Turkey Table topper

Sweet T.O.M. turkeys adapted slightly from FamilyFun.com
A Sweet T.O.M. turkey

Ingredients:
Cupcakes
Chocolate Frosting
3 oval shortbread cookies (I used Keebler Sandies 100 calorie pack shortbread) per turkey
6 to 10 candy corn pieces per turkey
White icing
A chocolate sprinkle, for the eye.  One per turkey
Red icing

Directions:
1.  Frost the cupcakes, then press in a cookie head and two cookie wings.
2.  Press in a row or two of candy corn tail feathers
3.  To make an eye, add a small dot of white icing to the head, then add a chocolate sprinkle in the middle for the pupil.
4.  For the beak, cut the white end off one candy corn.  Put a little dab of white frosting in the correct spot and press the white end into it.  Add a line of red icing at the base of the beak for the wattle.

The men mixing up the chocolate cupcakes

The dog, hoping that a cupcake will fall, as the boys frost them




The Crafts:
-Edible Turkey Gobbler Centerpiece
-Turkey Bread Basket
-Thumb print turkey placemats
From Left to Right:  Edible Turkey Gobbler Centerpiece, Sweet T.O.M. turkeys, Turkey bread basket

Edible Turkey Gobbler Centerpiece adapted slightly from FamilyFun.com


Making the fruit and cheese skewers for the Edible Turkey Gobbler

Ingredients:
1 Spagetti Squash (body)
1 Bosc pear (head)
Cheese cubes (beak and tail feathers)
Red pepper (snood, feet, and side feathers)
Raisins (eyes)
Grapes (tail feathers)
Mandarin oranges (tail feathers)
Pineapple chunks (tail feathers)
Bamboo skewers
Toothpicks

Directions:
1.  Stabilize the squash body by cutting a slice off of one side so that the squash will have a flat base.  Using a section of bamboo skewer, attach a Bosc pear head to the melon as shown.  (Close up photo at the very top of this post)
2.  Cut a cheese triangle beak and a red pepper snood.  Attach both, along with the raisin eyes, to the head with sections of toothpick.
3.  Cut red pepper feet and set them in place.  For the tail feathers, skewer cheese cubes, mandarin oranges, pineapple chunks and grapes, then insert the skewers as shown.  
4.  Attach red pepper side wings to the sides with toothpicks.


Turkey Bread Basket adapted from FamilyFun.com
Painting the paper plates that make up the feathers, wings and head of the Turkey Bread Basket

Supplies needed:
Cheap white paper plates
Washable acrylic paints and paint brushes
Clothes pins
Hot glue gun
Two google eyes
Large brown paper bag
Piece of corrugated cardboard
Clothes pins

Directions:
1.  The day before assembly, paint a bunch of paper plates and let dry.  These you will cut into feather shapes.  Also, paint one paper plate red on both sides, and three others red on one side only.
2.  When the plates are dry, cut them into large feather shapes.  Save your red plates, as well as two other plates that will form the side wings.  Hot glue the feathers onto clothes pins.
3.  For the turkey's body, trim the brown paper bag so that it measures about 8 inches tall.  Then, fold down the sides so that they are half the height and double the thickness.  Hot glue these sides together.  Cut the cardboard to fit in the bottom of the bag and hot glue in place.
4.  Take one of your red paper plates and place on the inside back of the bag, glue in place.  Take another red plate and place on the outside of the bag to reinforce the first paper plate.  Glue together.  Another red paper plate will be folded in half and attached to the inside plate halfway down so that two rows of tail feathers can be attached.  Glue to the first plate.
5.  For the side wings, take two paper plates and fold in half, glue one to each side of the bag.
6.  For the head, using the red paper plate that was painted on both sides, fold in the sides to make a point.  Fold down the point to make the head.  Glue onto the front of the bag.  
7.  Attach google eyes with glue and attach feathers with clothes pins to the paper plates in the back in a fanned out position.
8.  Place a napkin in the middle of the bag and add your dinner rolls!
9.  If you are confused, just click on the FamilyFun.com link.  I adapted their directions slightly, but they have better diagrams.

Thumb Print Turkey Place Mats idea adapted from Thrifty Fun
The boys, holding their freshly laminated Thumb print turkey placemats

Supplies needed:
One place mat sized poster board per person
Washable acrylic paint in brown, red, orange and yellow
A white acrylic paint pen
A permanent black marker

Directions:
1.  Using a paper plate as your paint pallet, put a small amount of each color of paint onto the plate.
2.  Dip your thumb in brown paint and make one print for the turkey's body.  Wash your thumb and then dip in Red.  Stamp a ring of red around the brown for the turkey's tail feathers.  Repeat for orange and yellow. 
3.  Set aside to dry.
4.  When dry, use the white acrylic paint pen to make the whites of the turkey's eyes.  Let dry.
5.  When dry, use the black permanent marker to make the turkey's pupils, draw legs and three toes on turkey, and write "Happy Thanksgiving" around the turkey.
6.  Laminate your finished place mats (I took mine to Kinkos) to make wiping up Thanksgiving spills easy.
The little Picasso's working on their Thumb print turkeys

The End Result:
Thanksgiving was so much fun this year.  No one was stressed, we had a great dinner, and there were lots of fun memories and funny conversations.  This was definitely trial by fire in terms of initiation into letting the kids help in the kitchen, but the result and process was so positive, I will not hesitate to let them help in the kitchen again.  (Unless they have snotty and drippy noses, but that is for a different reason!)  Just look at the smiles!



How to cook with your children:

1.  Keep it simple.
2.  Keep them on their schedules.
3.  Take breaks.
4.  Have FUN!
Although the cooking was done in a day, the crafts were started 4 days beforehand.  This allowed us to enjoy each activity and not get overwhelmed with things that needed to be done.  The cooking started around 9:00 a.m. for a 5:00 p.m. supper, so the pace was slow.  Also, utilizing the crock pots helped immensely as it allowed us to put things on early and move onto other things.  When the boys needed a break, they took it, and spent the better part of an hour in the morning playing cops and robbers.  They were always excited to come back and help cook when they were done playing.  We also kept them on their schedules, ate lunch (the turkey tracks with some fruit and ham slices) when they normally did and put the little one down for his nap at the right time.
When doing this on your own, think of what your children can do and be successful at in the kitchen, adding ingredients, stirring, kneading, etc. and keep it simple.  But most importantly, have fun!  Enjoy your time together because they won't be little forever!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

25 November 2008

Cooking with Kids: Dog Bone Cookies


Yesterday my oldest came home from pre-school beaming.  He had been chosen to take their class mascot, a stuffed Clifford dog, home for the week.  When students take Clifford home, they also take Clifford's "overnight" bag with them filled with fun activities the kids can do.  There is a View-master with  Clifford pictures in it, several Clifford books to read, a Clifford video, a journal to chronicle Clifford's adventures with your family, as well as a recipe card for "Dog Bone Cookies" that had a dog bone cookie cutter attached to it.  
I knew that if my son wanted to make the cookies and share them with his class, we would need to make them for class today since they are out of school for the rest of the week.  So, last night, my two little ones pulled up chairs to help me make the dough for this very simple sugar cookie.
I have decided that I need to cook/bake with them more.  They love it so much but I'm often reluctant to let them help since it often takes 3 times as long.  But I knew when I gave my oldest a cup of flour to add to the bowl and he poured it in from a height of about 18 inches thus powdering himself in a fine dusting of flour as it plopped in the bowl, that cooking is not necessarily intuitive.  I know somehow that you should not add flour to a bowl from a height of 18 inches and should instead add the flour gently from a height close to the bottom of the bowl, but where did I learn that?  Probably through trial and error when I was their age.  I resolve right now to let them help me in the kitchen as often as I can so that when they are 18, they are no longer learning through trial and error, but are self-sufficient and comfortable in the kitchen.
The sprinkles on the cookies are very uneven, but again, the kids did it themselves and loved every minute of it.  They were so proud of their work.  As for the taste, the cookies were just okay.  They had a nice soft texture to them and were mildly sweet.  I'm sure there are lots of better recipes out there, but this one scored points on the ease of the recipe, and the smiles it got out of two little boys who were able to help make them.


Dog Bone Cookies  *For human consumption only!

3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Cram butter and sugar.  Add eggs, vanilla, flour, baking powder and salt.  Mix.  Chill dough for at least 1 hour or overnight, placing it in a ziplock bag first.  Roll dough to 1/4 inch and cut with dog bone shaped cookie cutter.  Sprinkle with sugar.  Bake for 11-12 minutes at 375 degrees or until bottoms start to brown.

24 November 2008

Clean Out your Fridge Week!

It seems I missed National Clean Out Your Fridge day on November 14 (who knew?), but I am using these last few days before Thanksgiving to clean out my fridge.  It's leftovers for us this week as well as wiping down the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator.  While I'm at it, I may even go through my condiments as well and throw out those pickles that have been in there a few months.  There is nothing like the feeling of being able to fit all of your Thanksgiving leftovers into your newly cleaned fridge.

21 November 2008

Kids' Choice Chip and Fruit Oatmeal Cookies AND French Fridays


The folks at the King Arthur Flour blog have come up with another winner in the form of their Kids' Choice Chip and Fruit Oatmeal Cookies.  Of course they had me when they professed these cookies were for every time challenged parent who didn't want their reign as the home baked goods king/queen to vanish when their teenage son comes home and "reminds" them of the hockey potluck that night and "don't you remember you promised to bake 5 dozen cookies?"
I was just that parent yesterday except it was me saying to myself, "Oh yeah, you promised to have play group over here today and wouldn't it be nice to offer them something warm from the oven?" that got me to try this recipe.  King Arthur Flour promised 10-15 minutes of hands on time before popping the cookies in the oven and I needed them to be that quick.  Play group was expected at 9:30am, I started mixing ingredients at 9:17, and at 9:31am, when the doorbell rang, I was scooping the last tablespoons of dough onto the pan to pop in the oven.  Talk about quick and I was even putting the ingredients back in the pantry as I went!
The cookies were VERY yummy!  I usually love to try new recipes but this will be one that I pull out again and again as it was just too good and too quick not to.  I will print out the recipe as King Arthur Flour blog wrote it, and then I'll also (in parenthesis) write how I adapted it.  It was Kids (Mom's) choice after all!

Kids' Choice Chip and Fruit Oatmeal Cookies slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour blog


Hands on time:  10-15 minutes
Baking time:  12-14 minutes per batch
Total time:  22-29 minutes
Yield:  4 1/2 dozen

1/2 cup butter, right from the fridge, or at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar, light or dark
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbls. cider or white vinegar
1 large egg
1 tsp. baking soda
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
3 cups chips, chunks, dried fruit and/or nuts of your choice.  (I used 2/3 cup chopped dates, 1 1/3 cup chopped pecans, 1 cup dried cherries)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease or line with parchment two baking sheets.  (I did not grease or line my non-stick cookie sheets and the cookies didn't stick.)

1.  In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, shortening, sugars, vanilla, salt and vinegar.
2.  Beat in the egg, then the baking soda, flour and oats.  Stir in the chips, fruit, nuts, or whatever combination you chose.
3.  Drop the dough, by tablespoonfuls, onto the prepared baking sheets.
4.  Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes, until they are golden brown.  Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool on a rack or right on the pan.  Lighter colored cookies will be chewier; darker colored, crunchier.

Your reputation as the home baked goods king/queen is saved!



French Fridays

*On a side note, a few of you expressed interest in reading French Women Don't Get Fat after my previous post.  I am very exited to invite you to a "book club" of French Women Don't Get Fat, Fridays in January.  I'll call it French Fridays.  We'll take those 5 weeks to read through the book which will be very slow but will allow for incorporation of new ideas and shedding of old ones.  For me, the timing will be perfect.  I have maintained my 34lb. weight loss for six months now.  However, I am ready, and will be MORE than ready after the holidays, to re-read this book that helped me lose the weight and to start losing more.  The format will be a discussion format either through the comments, or if you are interested, through links to your own blog if you have a lot to say.  If you don't own the book already, you can order it through my Amazon store here, or put it on your Christmas wish list and hope that Santa brings it for you.  If you are planning on joining in, just drop me a comment so I know how many to brew some virtual tea for!  Your first mission, should you choose to accept it, is to keep a food journal for the month of December.  There will be no one checking it but you so be honest with yourself.  So you had two (or six) of the above cookies, and then also had ice cream after dinner, this journal is for informational purposes for yourself so you can gauge your weaknesses (petite demons) so be honest with yourself.  Good luck with your food journal and I'll see you here Jan. 2 for our first discussion!  Bonne chance!

19 November 2008

Leek Soup


In the book French Women Don't Get Fat, the author recommends, as a kick off to becoming French, that you start your French journey with a leek soup weekend.  A leek soup weekend is when you eat nothing but leek soup and drink leek broth and water.  When I first "became French" I was very scared of leek soup weekend and skipped it.  However last April I went to visit my parents in Hawaii for two weeks and gained 4 pounds while I was there!  To offset the weight gain and get myself back on track, I decided to do a leek soup weekend.  The leek soup I made was so thin, very watery, extremely unappetizing with yucky chunks of boiled leek in it.  Needless to say, I didn't make it 24 hours eating this disgusting fare.
However, for the past two weeks, we have been receiving leeks in our final CSA baskets of the season.  Finally, I had about 10 of them crowding my crisper drawer and it was time to clear some space.  Last night I decided to make a starter of leek soup as I knew I could do so much better than last time if I just put my mind to it.  What I created had very subtle flavors from white wine and chicken stock, had a little "meat" to it with added olive oil, and was chock full of yummy, sauteed pieces of leek.  Much, much better.  Now I understand leek soup weekend.  I could happily survive the weekend on this soup.  Last night it was relegated to a mere starter to a main course of baked salmon, but I can't wait for lunch today to give it a starring role all it's own.

Leek Soup by Joie de vivre

Made at least 8 big servings

10 leeks, cleaned and chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
3-4 Tbls. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup white wine
2 quarts of chicken stock

*Note*  If you have never worked with leeks before, the key to using them is getting them clean.  The way farmers grow them is to mound dirt around the base to make for a longer usable white part.  This results in lots of dirt in those little groves.  What I do is chop off the green leaves.  These are good for stock but are not going to be used for the soup.  We are working with the white parts here.  Chop off the root of the white part, turn sidewise and slice long ways down the middle.  Then turn the leek and chop short ways into 1/2 inch size chunks.  Put these chunks into a salad spinner.  Continue in this manner until all of the leeks are cut.  Put the salad spinner insert containing the leeks into the salad spinner bowl and fill the bowl with cool water.  Swish around the leeks with your hands, lift out this insert and drain the water.  Repeat 3-4 times until you are convinced the leeks are clean.  
 
Instructions:

1.  Heat the olive oil in a big soup pot over medium low heat.  
2.  Add the leeks and sautee them, stirring frequently, until they are very limp and starting to stick to the bottom slightly (maybe 10 minutes)  Don't let them burn!
3.  Add the white wine and scrape the bottom of the pot clean with a wooden spoon.
4.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, give the pot a good stir and then add the chicken stock.
5.  Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the soup to a boil.
6.  Ladle into soup bowls and enjoy.

18 November 2008

Osgood Pie


I love the library.  If it weren't for the library, I think I'd have to get a second job to pay for my cookbook addiction.  I love how all of the books are together by subject too.  I've recently been boning up on Christmas cookies and low and behold, right next to the book I'm looking for are other wonderful books on Christmas cookies.  It was while I was searching for Christmas cookie books, that my eye fell upon Pie by Ken Haedrich.  Being a cookbook addict, I naturally picked it up.  At 639 pages, this is one enormous book devoted to all things pie.  Flipping through, I was filled with giddy wonder as I found delicious sounding recipes for pies I had never imagined or heard of.  Every few pages there was a new recipe for a pie I am going to have to try.  From his notes, it sounds as if the author has personally tried all 300 of the pie recipes this book contains.  Not wanting to regain the 34 lbs. I have lost, I know I have to reign in my desire to make all of these at once, but the author did have the fabulous idea of sharing your pies with neighbors.  This makes for good neighborly friendships, and keeps you from devouring the whole pie alone.  This idea kept in line with "French" living and enjoying small amounts of desserts so as not to feel deprived.  After an enthusiastic reassurance from a neighbor yesterday that she would OF COURSE eat pie, I started out to make something called an Osgood Pie.  The author wasn't sure of the origin of the name, but after tasting the pie, I thought it might be named after some hard working midwestern farmer, who after tucking into this pie, responded with a full mouth, "Os good".  Translation for those of us who aren't dentists:  "That's good".
The pie was creamy and very sweet, studded with pecan and raisins in a custardy middle.  My favorite part was a crunchy meringue topping which floated to the surface during baking.  It was yummy, yummy and well worth consideration for gracing your Thanksgiving table.


Osgood Pie adapted from Pies by Ken Haedrich

Ingredients:
1 recipe worth of single pie crust (I used refrigerated pie crust)
1 cup dark raisins
4 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1.  Place pastry in a 9 inch pie pan.  Sculpt the edge into an upstanding ridge.  Line with foil, place beans or pie weights into the foil and partially bake your pie crust in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 12 minutes.  Remove the foil and the beans and set the crust aside to cool.
2.  Put the raisins in a small bowl and cover with hot water.  Set aside for about 10 minutes.
3.  Combine the egg yolks, sugar, butter, and vinegar in a large bowl.  Using an electric mixer, beat on medium-high speed for a bout 2 minutes.  Drain the raisins and stir them into the egg mixture along with the pecans, vanilla, and spices.
4.  In a medium-size bowl using clean, dry beaters, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Add to the filling, folding them in gently but thoroughly with a large rubber spatula.  Slowly pour the filling into the cooled pie shell.  Using a fork, gently rake through the filling to distribute the raisins and nuts more or less evenly in the shell.
5.  Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake for 10 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until the filling is set, about 35 minutes.  Rotate the pie 180 degrees , so that the part that faced the back of the oven now faces forward, about 15 minutes before it is done.  Give the pie a little nudge and watch the surface carefully.  The filling should not move in waves, not even slight waves.  If in doubt, bake 5 minutes more.
6.  Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool thoroughly.  Serve at room temperature or cover with loosely tented aluminum foil and refrigerate it before serving.

Opus One


It's not often in life (at least in my life) that one is able to open a $120 bottle of wine, but when you do, oh, enjoy it.  When my husband started graduate school, he made a deal with his mother that when he finished, he would like to celebrate with a bottle of Opus One.  Not knowing what she was agreeing to, my mother in law replied, "Sure, why not?".  Fast forward seven and a half years, my husband has finished graduate school and my mother in law realizes that the bottle she agreed to buy was $120 dollars!  Being a fabulous mother who was proud of her son, she bought two bottles, one to drink soon after he graduated, which we drank a few years ago, and one to cellar, which we opened Sunday night.
My mother in law pulled out all the stops Sunday night, fixed a prime rib, creamed spinach, carrots, and a green salad and we reverently opened the bottle she had been storing for a few years now.  I kind of chuckled to myself as I pictured a younger version of my husband just starting graduate school with his wildest desire for celebrating the completion of the next seven and a half years of slave labor in graduate school being a fabulous bottle of wine.  (Can you see why I married him?)  
My husband was like a kid in a candy store Sunday night.  The wine was so smooth and the dinner and conversation lively with our loved ones.
By the way, at the same time my mother in law promised the bottle of Opus One, she also promised that she would take my husband to a celebratory dinner at the French Laundry in the Napa Valley.  I also don't think she knew what she was agreeing to then, and has yet to make good on that promise with my husband being 5 years out of graduate school now, but he won't let her forget.  Moral of the story moms:  Know the price point of what you are promising your foodie sons BEFORE you promise.  Being a foodie can sure get you into trouble sometimes!

13 November 2008

Taco Soup


My diabolical plan to set myself up with leftovers for an easy weekend of cooking is complete.  Mwah ha ha haaaa....  Last night we had taco soup made in the crock pot and it was quite tasty if I do say so myself.  We have enough of this soup leftover for one more dinner and a few lunches.  I love planned leftovers.  Not only is it economical, but I know that I can just kick my feet up this weekend, rely on the microwave to heat things up, spend time with the boys, and have the only dinner dishes be our plates and bowls.  Ahhhh....
A disclaimer:  my oldest didn't LOVE this soup, but he ate it because it had sour cream and cheese on top.  My youngest contented himself with the tortilla chips and little sips of soup when prodded.  So this may not be a kid favorite yet (although one would sure think it was).  However I loved it and would call it a winner myself, my husband loved it too.  Try it and let me know what you think!

Taco Soup by Joie de vivre

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

1 large onion, chopped
1 lb. extra-lean ground beef
1 envelope dry taco seasoning
2 16oz. cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 16oz. can of corn, drained
2 quarts of tomato juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
black pepper according to taste
tortilla chips, optional
shredded cheddar cheese, optional
sour cream, optional

1.  Brown the meat and onions in a skillet until onions are slightly brown (the meat doesn't need to be cooked completely).  Drain and add to the slow cooker insert.
2.  Add taco seasoning, black beans, corn, tomato juice, sugar, salt and black pepper to the slow cooker insert and give everything a stir.
3.  Cook on Low in your slow cooker for 6 hours.
4.  Ladle into soup bowls and top servings with crumbled tortilla chips, shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream if desired.

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