Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Last Minute Valentine's

Valentine's Day is one of those days I have big plans for, but never actually execute them.  Last night at 8:00 I realized all I had were some red and white gumdrops, and the only reason I had those was because they called my name earlier in the week when I ran into the drugstore to pick-up a few odds and ends.   So, last night after the kids went to bed I rummaged through the kitchen and came up with some stale marshmallows, chocolate chips and decorating sugar.  Twenty minutes later the kids Valentine's were done and I was on the couch ready to veg out to The Voice.

The kids loved their treat and I was able to send three kids off to school all sugared up. And my Valentine's treat is the kids being returned non-sugary.   The girls' school has a no candy policy for Valentine's Day and Will's class is celebrating the 100th day of school instead of Valentine's Day - that is the best way the teachers can show their love.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sushi and Lego

We just finished a wonderful 7th birthday celebration and like last year the birthday boy requested a sushi and lego birthday.

The LEGO Store's Pick a Brick WallThis year the Lego aspect was fulfilled by a trip to the Lego store.  My boy loves Lego.  He plays with it constantly and has many sets on his wish list, but in his opinion no set compares with the wall of bricks and the create a guy station.  He can spend a crazy amount of time selecting just the right pieces to fill up a huge cup and even more time creating the perfect guys.  I find Lego an absolutely fascinating toy and I love hearing all the different approaches with which it is used.  There is the buy a set, put it together and leave it together to play with approach. There is the Lego as a puzzle approach where all the pieces to a set are kept together and built over and over.  And then there is the throw all the pieces together and build new creations each time approach.  I think it would be very interesting to study how Lego is used and personality types, but that is a study for another day, for now lets just study some of the yummy birthday treats.

As I said sushi was the other aspect of the birthday celebration and this year Will decided to have lunch at Wasabi rather than a birthday party.  Yes my boy chose eating out over a party with friends and presents.  But, the restaurant he chose wasn't just a regular old sushi place.  Wasabi is in the middle of a mall and the food is served on a conveyor belt and really how can you say no to food served in this style.
This is Bolt, the mascot for Will's class, he came home for the weekend to help celebrate.  
The birthday cake was simple this year.  The girls helped me decorate the cake and while I had envisioned a simple finish  with just a few sprinkles this is what we ended up with.  I was fine with this final product as I love sprinkles and this cake reminded me of my favorite summer treat  - a soft twist sprinkles, oh how I love soft serve ice cream.  

For the school treat we continued the sushi theme with Rice Krispie sushi treats.  I love krispie treats and don't usually like messing around with their simple perfection, but the addition of a Swedish fish is pretty yummy.  The Fruit by the Foot and Gummy Worms were too much for me, but the kids loved them and that's what's important.

Nigiri Krispies
Printer Ready

¼ cup butter
32 large marshmallows (or 4 cups mini marshmallows)
6 cup crispie rice cereal
½  cup white chocolate chips
1 bag Swedish Fish

Butter 9x13 sheet pan.  

In a 2 quart saucepan, over medium heat melt butter.  Once butter has melted add marshmallows and stir until smooth.  Remove from heat, add cereal and stir until combined.  Pour mixture into prepared pan, lightly butter hands and press mixture to evenly distribute.  Let cool for 5-10 minutes.  

While treats are cooling melt chocolate.  Fill bottom half of double boiler with water, bring to a simmer.  Put chocolate in top of boiler pan and place over simmering water.  Gently stir chocolate until smooth.  

Cut the krispies into 2"x1” pieces.  Dip the top of each piece into chocolate, top with Swedish Fish  

Family Fun has a great tutorial on the rolls and the kids had a great time making these.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Making Myself at Home

As always it was a tough decision when trying to to decide on just one recipe for this month's Secret Recipe Club.  Catherine of Make Myself at Home has a wonderful blog filled with delicious looking recipes and a cute little munchkin who gets to enjoy all the wonderful treats Catherine makes.

I finally decided on the Oatmeal Breakfast Bars.  We needed some lunch box treats and this sounded like the perfect option.  I did make a couple of changes to the recipe, but only to the add-ins.  Catherine used Craisins, chocolate chips and walnuts. I substituted with my current favorite combination of dried blueberries, white chocolate chips and almonds.  Either option would be great and that is what I love about this type of treat you can easily customize it with your family's favorite flavors.  

Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
Printer Ready

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
6 oz. fat-free yogurt
2 egg whites
2 Tbsp.  milk
2 Tbsp. Applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 cups oats
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup whit chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped almonds

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×13 pan.
In a large bowl combine sugars & wet ingredients.  Add flours, baking soda, salt, and  cinnamon, stir until combined.  Mix in oats, fruit, chips, & nuts.  Spread dough into bottom of prepared pan.  Bake 22-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool before cutting.

This is a wonderful recipe to add to your collection. It is super easy to make, with very little clean-up and can be done when you need a last minute treat. It has a light sweetness and of course a wonderful nut and oat flavor. The bars are soft, but hold together well making them a great lunchbox snack or an afternoon treat in the car between activities.

I had hoped to make it with my youngest, but a nap was more important, but this is also a terrific recipe to make with young children. The measurements are easy, it is done all in one bowl and the ingredients are all familiar and many can be snacked on while cooking, or while waiting for the final result to come out of the oven. I think I might try it the next time I am helping in the girl's school and if I do I will let you know how it goes.

In the mean time check out the rest of the Secret Recipe Club and all the goodies that were baked and cooked this month.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Potato Soup

It has been a while since I have gotten Will in the kitchen with me.  With school and extracurricular activities there isn't as much time available and when the choice is between cooking and Wii, Wii will always win.  He says cooking is his favorite thing to do and he wants to be a chef when he grows up, but it is still hard to get him in the kitchen.

To help get him and the girls, in the kitchen a little more often I have started having a sous chef of the week.  Each week one of the kids is the special assistant.  They get to help plan the menu and the two of us go shopping together.  Going to the grocery store may not sound very special, but when it is just the two of us and they get to choose a special item to cook with it is a lot more enjoyable than being dragged to the store with your siblings and a grumpy mom. The sous chef has to help prepare one meal and can make a fun treat.  By being the assistant every three weeks they get to help and have additional responsibilities, but it is not so much that they get bored or feel like it is a chore.

For our inaugural week, Will was the sous chef and not surprisingly he chose to make soup for his meal.  Since he first started in the kitchen with me my boy has loved making soups and salads.  He wasn't sure what kind of soup he wanted, so I suggested potato soup - mainly because I had potatoes that needed to be used up before a garden began growing in the pantry.

Soups are a great meal for beginner chefs and for kids who are a little more experienced and want to try to prepare a meal by himself.  They provide lots of practice chopping and are a great way to introduce a  variety of different ingredients.  Granted potato soup doesn't introduce a lot different ingredients, but it is great for working on those cutting skills.  And potatoes are good for kids who have had some practice cutting and are ready to move to a sharper knife and beyond super soft foods.  Will is very comfortable using a knife, but I still make sure I cut the item, making a flat surface before he begins cutting it up.

I also like soups because they are good for those little cooks who start off super interested, then become distracted, then become super interested.  Will got 2 potatoes diced then lost interest, but rejoined once the immersion blender came out, who can resist the immersion blender.  We did learn a valuable lesson - pulling the blender out, while on causes the soup to fly, which is cool to see, unless it lands on skin, then it burns, which isn't so cool.  So, if you do use the blender with kids remind them to be careful.

I had Will write his recipe when we were done and this will be added to our sous chef cookbook.  He thoughtfully didn't add bacon since his dad is allergic to pork, but potato soup really is much better with a little bacon fat.

Potato Soup

4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup whole milk
1 (12-ounce) bottle light-bodied beer
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar (about 8 ounces)

In large pot melt butter.  Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic, saute until vegetables are soft.   Add flour to vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Slowly whisk in chicken stock, then add milk and beer.  Add potatoes, bring liquids to a boil, once at a boil reduce heat and simmer until potatoes become soft.

Remove from heat.  Using an immersion blender puree until smooth.  Return to soup to stove, over low heat slowly stir in the cheese until melted. To serve top with sour cream, bacon, chives, additional grated cheese, or your favorite topping.