Monthly Archives: February 2011

Dr. Seuss breakfast.

This Wednesday is Dr. Seuss’ birthday! Did you know that? It’s also Read Across America Day. “On March 2, the National Education Association calls for every child to be reading in the company of a caring adult” (their website). This week I hope to bring you a few ways to get your kids excited about reading.

How about we start with the most important meal of the day?

Let’s have some Green Eggs & Ham (& cheese & sauteed onions) omelettes with some Cat in the Hat Pancakes!

We just made our usual weekend breakfast (or “brinner,” or in this case, “brunch”) the same way as always, except I added 4 drops of green food coloring to our 2-egg omelettes (The Munchkin’s 1-egg omelette got 3 drops), & my husband, the Pancake Master, made the white pancakes (including a slightly larger “brim”) & then added “lots” of red food coloring to the pancake batter for the last couple batches. Easy & fun!

The Munchkin was so excited to pull the books out for me to photograph. I didn’t take as much time as usual to set up the shot because we were hungry & the BYU-SDSU game was starting. Priorities, people!

BYU games aside, though, we do make time for reading every day. The Munchkin loves her books, & we love reliving some of the stories we grew up with (like those Dr. Seuss books — I had forgotten exactly how little of One Fish Two Fish really was about fish), as well as enjoying new ones (my parents brought Who’s in the Loo? back from London a couple years ago — it’s a riot!). It’s a great learning, cuddling, & bonding experience for all of us.

What’s your favorite thing about reading with your kids?

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MY chocolate-chip cookies.

I had been planning to post this for TidyMom’s I’m Lovin’ It Fridays, & then when I saw that the Make & Takes Saturday Spotlight this week was cookies, I thought, “It was meant to be!” UPDATE: I was also invited to Sweet Tooth Fridays at Alli-n-Son!

I was a music major in college. More specifically, I was a French horn performance major. Not a composition major. Why should you care? Because I can’t write to save my life. Sure, I can personalize & interpret composers’ instructions to make my performances my own, & even wrote a few formulaic cadenzi & Theory assignment chorales, but I can’t pull music out of thin air like my more-talented classmates.

Again, you’re asking why you should care. Because, while I’ve “improv’d” on other people’s recipes & hopefully improved them a little, I’m still just a performer, not a composer. I only have one recipe I can call my own.

Here it is.

I’ve gone back & fiddled with ingredients & amounts time & again, solicited critiques from tasters & even from the ridiculously gifted Lindsey Johnson of Cafe Johnsonia, & I feel like it’s finally right. For now, anyway. I mean, hey, Mahler wrote at least 6 versions of his first symphony.

These cookies are thick, ooey-gooey out of the oven, & even once they’re cooled they maintain that soft center with just the right amount of crunch on the outside.

So here’s what you need to make 3 dozen cookies:

  • Stand mixer
  • Cookie dough scoop (mine has a silicone bottom that leaves a cute little “dimple” in the top of my cookies)
  • 1 cup original shortening
  • 1/2 cup butter flavor shortening (for that buttery flavor without the flattening effect that real butter can produce… but you can just use all original flavor if you want)
  • 1 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 cups flour (this may vary depending on how dry the air is; see below)
  • half a 12-oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Cream together shortenings & sugars in stand mixer.
  3. Beat in eggs & vanilla, but don’t overmix.
  4. Add soda & salt, then gradually add flour, stopping in the middle to scrape sides of bowl. If the air is dry, slowly add the last cup of flour. Stop adding & mixing when the dough starts coming together in one mass. The dough below is a little too dry; the heater had been going 24 hours a day. So use this as a cautionary example: stop just before it gets crumbly like this. If you do get to this point, the cookies will still taste fabulous; they just won’t be quite as soft on Day 2. Assuming they last that long.
  5. Lock the mixer head & slowly add the chocolate chips with the mixer on low. Don’t overmix or you’ll pulverize your chips. You could remove the bowl & fold them in by hand, but my tendonitis (I told you I was a musician) says NO to that, thankyouverymuch!
  6. Scoop the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake 8-9 minutes or until just golden brown. Let cool on the cookie sheet 1 minute.

Look at that ooey-gooey goodness! This is my favorite way to enjoy them: straight out of the oven.

With a glass of milk, of course.

Tidy Mom I'm Lovin It Fridays

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3 easy meals, 1 grocery list: Chicken Stuffing Bake.

After last night’s insanity-induced interruption, here is the last installment of “3 easy meals, 1 grocery list.”

In case you missed them, the list is here, as is recipe #1, Baked Pesto Chicken. Recipe #2, Pesto Chicken Pasta with Carrots, is here.

Today’s recipe came from Kraft’s Food & Family magazine, years ago, when they used to send it out for free. Then they wised up, started charging for it, & I stopped getting it. I’ve tried looking on the website for the original recipe, but can’t find the exact one, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that I’m citing my sources correctly. They call it STOVE TOP Classic One-Dish Chicken Bake with Vegetables.

I’m all about one-dish meals. Fewer dishes, less effort, less time. Like yesterday’s recipe, this has all 4 food groups, so I don’t need to slave over a veggie side! Win-win!

NOTE: This recipe serves 6 & makes for great leftovers. However, I adjust the amounts (especially of the stuffing) a little because a) there are only 3 of us & b) I used 1/2 cup of the stuffing on Tuesday. So I usually just make this in a smaller baking dish with the remaining stuffing, 1 cup water, 1 lb. chicken, & around 12 oz. veggies.

  1. Thaw 1 1/2 lbs. chicken breasts & a 16-oz. pkg. frozen mixed veggies.
  2. Preheat oven to 400. Add 1 2/3 cups hot water to 1 box stuffing mix; stir just until moistened. Set aside.
  3. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces & lay in bottom of 3-qt. or 9×13 baking dish.
  4. In medium-sized bowl, mix 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1/3 cup sour cream, & 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella with thawed veggies.
  5. Spread veggie mixture over chicken.
  6. Top with prepared stuffing.
  7. Bake 30 min. or until chicken is done through.

That’s it! I hope you liked “3 easy meals, 1 grocery list.” If you give any of the recipes a try, please post comments! I’d love to hear what you thought!

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Murphy’s brownies.

Let me begin by stating the following:
The pile drivers in the construction site behind us have been clanging deafeningly & continuously for weeks.
Thanks to a hangup with our car registration, our tags are expired & we haven’t been able to drive anywhere for a week & a half. & we’re running out of food in our cabinets.
I’m in charge of putting together our church congregation’s talent show, which is this Saturday.
Today is my husband’s long day at class, made even longer by a makeup class the professor decided to schedule for tonight until 8.
I’m on Week 2 of no sugar… & I’m a stress eater.
And yesterday The Munchkin decided to get sick.

Suffice it to say, my sanity is hanging by a thread.

Today I was working on signs for the talent show, when The Munchkin decided to wake up from her nap after only 40 minutes. Murphy was really piling it on today, wasn’t he?

Late this afternoon I sent my husband an email. The subject line was “say a prayer for us.”

Even though she promised to go to sleep after “Nemo” (we shook on it & everything), she of course didn’t. I’ll choose to thank the pile drivers for choosing that exact moment to STOP being quiet. I literally started beating my head with my hands. At any rate, she was wired & asking for cookies. I gave her some Teddy Grahams & realized that, rather than resort to self-abuse to retain my sanity, I got the brilliant idea that she & I could bake something together. It would take up time, & I could get some sugar in my veins. We have no brown sugar, so cookies were out of the question, but we could make brownies in a regular mixing bowl so she could help & wouldn’t be afraid of the mixer noise. I went online & found a recipe with cocoa powder & we got to work. It called for melted butter, so I shoved it in the microwave… & it exploded. Didn’t know butter could do that! Meanwhile, as usual, Munchkin was emptying the drawers. While I was wiping molten butter out of the inside of the microwave, she must’ve pulled too hard because she fell backwards off of the stepstool. I was quick enough to keep her from whacking her head on the floor too hard, but still. This was going awesome.

It did get better though. She enjoyed helping me mix & make a huge mess of the cocoa powder. As I was pouring the batter into the pan she stuck her whole hand, fingers spread, into the batter in the pan. She didn’t realize she could lick her fingers, so she proceeded to… wipe it on me. Looks like I should start wearing aprons more often for my own protection. She eventually did figure out she could lick her fingers, but I got her to wash her hands before she consumed too much raw egg. Because salmonella would be an AWESOME addition to this week. Just in case, I licked a hefty amount of batter myself, so I’ll know to expect it if she gets it. (Just so you know, I was planning on setting a good example & not eating the batter for once.)

Please say a prayer we survive even until 7.

I love you tons! I hope that this entertained you in class a little. I can’t WAIT to see you tonight, relax, eat brownies (maybe with ice cream!) & watch “White Collar!”

So I’m off the wagon sugar-wise, but at least I’m sane & The Munchkin survived the rest of the day just fine (though apparently quite blurry… thanks auto-focus) on 40 minutes of sleep.

You’ve stuck with me this long, so you deserve to see the recipe & a pretty picture. The brownies were tasty & just the right fudginess, so at least 1 good thing (besides this totally AWESOME blog post, of course) came out of the ordeal! I found the recipe here & used most of the modifications from the first comment.

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup applesauce (I used the on-sale single-serve applesauce I bought for food storage, & didn’t realize until I got home that the second ingredient was high-fructose corn syrup; if you’re using natural applesauce, you may want to increase the amount of added sugar below)
  • 1 3/4 cups white sugar (I used 1 1/2 & it could’ve used a little more sweetness. But that could be my sugar-deprived self talking.)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease bottom of 8-inch square pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together butter, applesauce, sugar, & vanilla. Beat in eggs. Add dry ingredients & mix well.
  3. Bake 30 minutes or until brownies are done in the middle & just start to pull away from sides of pan.
  4. Let cool several minutes before cutting & enjoying.

Chocolate solves a multitude of problems, doesn’t it?

So, how was your day?

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3 easy meals, 1 grocery list: Pesto Chicken Pasta with Carrots

Welcome back to “3 easy meals, 1 grocery list!” In case you missed the list & first recipe, they’re right here. In honor of Works for Me Wednesday, I’m posting my personal favorite of the 3, Pesto Chicken Pasta with Carrots. The sweet carrots complement the herby-but-not-overwhelming pesto, & this dish actually reheats quite well for leftovers or for husbands who get home late from class. Because it has all 4 of the (antiquated) food groups in 1 dish, I don’t usually feel the need to prepare a side dish, but tend to pull out whatever bowl of fruit is in the fridge (usually grapes, knowing The Munchkin) to munch alongside.

(This serves about 4; amounts are approximate, so adjust as needed.)

  1. Thaw 3 chicken breast halves (or more if you want more chicken).
  2. Set some water to boil in a large pasta pot.
  3. Peel 4 carrots (The Munchkin loves carrots, so we make a lot, but you can use less if you want) & slice on the diagonal into approx. 1/3-inch slices.
  4. In a high-sided skillet or your go-to saute pan, melt 1 Tbsp. butter on medium heat. Add carrots.
  5. Hopefully your pasta water is boiling. Add half a pound (or box) of whole-grain or Smart Taste penne or rotini (it goes further than the regular stuff) to the water.
  6. Meanwhile, while carrots are softening (stir occasionally), trim fat off of chicken breasts & cut into 1-inch cubes. Add to pan.
  7. Continue sauteeing, stirring regularly, until chicken is done through. If carrots start burning, add a little more butter. If it looks like your chicken will be done before the pasta, turn down the heat.
  8. When pasta is nearly done, turn saute pan down to low & stir 1/8 to 1/4 cup prepared pesto (depending on how much your family likes pesto) into chicken mixture.
  9. Drain pasta; return to pot. Add 1 Tbsp. butter & a couple Tbsp. parmesan (to taste). Stir well until butter is melted.
  10. Add pesto mixture to pasta mixture. Enjoy!

Come back tomorrow for the final installment, Chicken Stuffing Bake!

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3 easy meals, 1 grocery list: Baked Pesto Chicken.

I’m about to make your week a whole lot easier. What? The 3-day weekend already did that for you? Well, then jot this grocery list down & I’ll make next week a whole lot easier for you. If you have some of these things in your pantry already, so much the better!

  • frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • frozen mixed veggies
  • cream of chicken soup
  • shredded mozzarella
  • chicken-flavored stuffing (the boxed kind)
  • prepared pesto (in the refrigerated section; I use Buitoni)
  • Rice-a-Roni or your favorite rice recipe
  • carrots
  • penne or rotini pasta (I use the Smart Taste kind with extra fiber, or whole-wheat)
  • parmesan cheese
  • sour cream
  • butter

Okay, got that jotted down? Those ingredients will make 3 meals for you this week, & they all have very different flavors so your family won’t get sick of them. Here’s the first one; the other two will come over the next two days.

Baked Pesto Chicken

  1. Thaw 1 chicken breast half for each person you’re serving.
  2. Preheat oven to 400.
  3. Start prepping your Rice-a-Roni or favorite rice dish. The former takes 22-28 minutes to simmer, so get it boiling. Once the rice is covered & simmering…
  4. Pour about a half cup (or more, if you’re making a lot) of stuffing into a Ziploc bag. Using a rolling pin, crush the stuffing into fine crumbs. Or get your kid to do it for you!
  5. Coat each chicken breast half in the crumbs using the Shake-n-Bake method: stick it in the baggie, seal it, & shake all of your pent-up aggression out. Put coated chicken breast halves in the bottom of a Pyrex baking dish.
  6. Bake, uncovered, 18-20 minutes. Towards the end, prepare the appropriate number of servings of frozen mixed veggies (I use the microwave method, don’t add any water, & sprinkle some Goya Adobo Seasoning on top before nuking it).
  7. Pull chicken out of oven, & spread some of the prepared pesto (to taste) on each breast half. Sprinkle mozzarella over the top.
  8. Put back in the oven for 5 minutes. While it’s in the oven, your rice should be finishing up.
  9. Voila! A complete meal in less than a half hour!

Tune in tomorrow for pesto chicken pasta with carrots, & Thursday for the chicken stuffing bake.

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Service Paper Chain.

Like yesterday‘s Random Acts of Kindness Week craft, this easy paper craft was inspired by the LDS children’s magazine The Friend. The magazine suggested that families who live far apart (like if Dad is stationed abroad with the military or something) could use one to count down to when they’ll be reunited.

But I had a different idea.

Why not use this as a service paper chain? Every time a family member does an act of service, either within or outside the family, they can break a link. Better still, if your family does an evening prayer or devotional together like ours does, each family member can share their acts of service for that day & break the links together, so that everyone can learn from each other’s examples. When you’ve reached the end of the chain, you can plan a fun family outing to a restaurant or amusement park, or even a family vacation.

This helps incentivize service & gets the whole family excited about actively looking for opportunities to serve.

Of course, The Munchkin took the whole “breaking a link” thing to a bit of an extreme:

By the time I got to the scene of the crime, she’d already done a fair bit of damage, so I went with it.

Here’s a tip: keep your paper chain up a little higher than I did.

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Treat-holding door hanger.

Here’s a fun craft to do with your kids for Random Acts of Kindness Week, or just anytime for fun. I got the idea from the Friend, our church children’s magazine.

Just take a small box, like a single-serving cereal box or the 2/3 of a mac-n-cheese box I used, & cover it in pretty paper. Then string a ribbon through the sides & hang it over a family member’s doorknob.

The Friend suggested leaving it unpersonalized & selecting a different family member each week for the month of February (it’s a little late for that now) to give small gifts, treats, & simple, handwritten notes. The whole family can take part in anonymously “spoiling” that family member. You could even just choose a different family member each day! But I thought it looked too plain without a label on it, & since I’ll be helping The Munchkin anyway, we put her dad’s name on it. He’ll be getting some of The Munchkin’s leftover Valentine’s candy & some sticker-covered coloring pages, I’m sure.

Tomorrow we’ll have another easy paper craft to help your kids think about service. What have you been doing with your kids for Random Acts of Kindness Week?

P.S. Don’t you love the paint smudges on the doorknob? Hooray for apartment living.
Tidy Mom I'm Lovin It Fridays

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Random Acts of Kindness.

Photo courtesy of RAK Foundation

Did you know it was Random Acts of Kindness Week? This week, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is challenging Americans to be just a little nicer to one another. Their Facebook page is providing “challenges” for each day of the week; yesterday’s was to give at least 10 people a smile. In the city, finding 10 people to smile at isn’t challenging at all! The trick is having the courage to do it. I actually got a couple people to smile back at me, believe it or not! Maybe they were tourists.

Photo courtesy of BYU Magazine

As you may or may not already know, we’re kind of ridiculous BYU sports fans around here. (Jimmer & the Cougs are going ALL. THE. WAY. this March! Go Cougs!) Dave Rose, the coach of the men’s basketball team (see outburst of Cougar pride above), was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer almost 2 years ago after collapsing on a flight. He spoke at BYU’s Homecoming opening ceremonies last October about the many acts of kindness he received from total strangers: people like the woman who gave him her jacket to rest his head on during the flight & deplaned before the flight attendants could give it back to her, & the 10 anonymous blood donors whose gifts saved his life. He said that it “bothered” him that he couldn’t thank them, so the only solution he could come up with was “to be the stranger for someone else.” He, his wife Cheryl, & the entire basketball team continue to commit random acts of kindness, & it continues to change their lives. You can read an adapted version of the address at the BYU Magazine website.

Photo courtesy of I Am Baker

This week, let’s all try to find little ways to be kind without expecting something in return. Or thank someone who’s done you a great service.

Amanda over at I Am Baker baked these adorable cookies for her mail carrier to thank him for braving the even-more-frigid-than-usual temps they’ve been having in Minnesota. Isn’t that thoughtful?

Tomorrow & Friday I’ll have a couple simple paper crafts to do with your kids to help them look outside themselves for opportunities to serve. But the best way to raise kind kids is to set a positive example.

What are you doing for Random Acts of Kindness Week? Writing a note to a friend? Calling a relative you haven’t spoken to in awhile? Giving a treat to your mail carrier or child’s teacher? Helping a mom drag her stroller up the stairs in the train station? (Thank you in advance!) Tell me all about it!

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Single Serving Split Pea Soup

Here’s another great contributor post, this one from my awesome sister-in-law Lisa. While most of us cooks/crafters/etc. have learned what we know from observation &/or muddling through, Lisa actually MAJORED in this stuff! Aside from being a fantastic cook, she is a terrific seamstress (she sewed her own prom dress & The Munchkin’s blessing dress), & knits & crochets. She lives in Utah, but would probably rather be in St. Petersburg, as you’re about to see. наслаждайся! Enjoy!

St. Petersburg

When I read about Tidy Mom’s Soup-a-Palooza, I was excited to share my favorite recipe, yellow split pea soup. I first had it in St. Petersburg, Russia, as a student. The lady I lived with served soup as a part of every supper, which was new to me. She would make a large pot of soup that simmered on the stove all day and it would last two or three days.

One day, she asked my roommate and I if we would eat pea soup. We said yes, but I was a bit hesitant because I thought it would be more like French split pea soup.  I was pleasantly surprised with this variation. There are two main differences. First, (most obvious) the peas are yellow and not green. Second, the finished soup is not blended.

After coming back to the States, I researched different recipes to see if I could recreate her soup. I also wanted to find a way to make smaller portions, since I was cooking for myself and didn’t want many leftovers. This recipe is what I came up with.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp chicken boullion
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup yellow split peas, rinsed
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 small red potatoes
  • 1/2 small yellow onion
  • 3-5 cooked slices of bacon
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • dill (optional)

Carrot, potatoes, split peas, bacon, onion (l-r)

Directions:

1. In a small saucepan, dissolved the chicken boullion into the water. Add the peas and bring to a simmer. Simmer 30 minutes on medium heat.

2. Chop the carrot, potatoes, onion and bacon slices. Add to the soup. Bring back to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and cook at least 30 minutes.

Before adding the other vegetables.

I prefer to cook my soup for 1-2 hours longer, so all the vegetables become very soft.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add dill, if desired.

Everything that had dill in Russia had a lot of dill. Practically a forest. Dried dill is okay, but fresh dill really tastes better. If you are on a budget, like me, dried is a better deal.

This recipe will make about 2 servings.

For other ideas, come join Soup-a-Palooza at TidyMom and Dine and Dish sponsored by Bush’s Beans, Hip Hostess, Pillsbury and Westminster Crackers!

Tidy Mom

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