Favorite Thing: Lunch with a Friend

Who doesn’t love to have lunch with a friend?  That’s exactly what I’m doing today.  I’ve know my friend Angela since my elementary school days back in Texas.  We lived in the same neighborhood and were even in Girl Scouts together-fun times! Twenty years later we’re both living in New Jersey, less than hour away from each other!  As adults we have a lot in common, including the fact that we both write blogs! Her’s in one of my favorites.  Have you checked it out yet? Another thing we have in common is that we both love to cook, eat, and try out new recipes, so it’s always fun and DELICIOUS when we get together. Here’s a preview of the recipes I’ll be trying out today.

(Spicy) Roasted Tomato Soup from Joylicious

 

 

 

 

 

Some combination of this wrap and this wrap mel’s Kitchen Cafe.

It’s kind of a southwestern-y themed menu, and since we both miss Tex-Mex, I think it’ll work!

And for dessert we’ll be sampling these….

Red Velvet Cheesecake Squares. The recipe is from Our Share of the Harvest.

I’ll let you know how they each turn out.  Hope you have a fun LEAP Day too! xo

Student of Martha: February 2012

The February issue of Living did not disappoint!  So many great ideas for me to choose from!

First, they’ve brought back the cookie of the month feature (I’m not sure what they really call it, but you get the idea), and this month’s it was “Coconut Thumbprint Cookies with Salted Caramel.” Seriously, could these sound anymore delicious?  I haven’t tried them out yet, but they actually sound very simple.  Soon…and I’ll share the recipe when I do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then there was a feature detailing an absolutely adorable Valentine’s Day Sock Hop.  I’m already mentally planning one for the future.  Such a darling idea.

But let me hurry and get to the recipe I choose to try out before nap time is over.  There was an article about “super veggies,” more scientifically know as cruciferous vegetables.  These include things like arugula, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts (plus about a dozen others). These vegetables in particular are super stars because they are high in fiber and antioxidants which can help reduce the risk of cancer.  The article included a few recipes highlighting these green heros.  Now, I’ve been hearing a lot about the wonders of mashed and pureed cauliflower, so I decided to give “Bake Shells and Broccoli with Ham and Cheese-Cream Cauliflower Sauce” at try.  And because that name alone is quite a mouthful, I’ve just been calling it “Cauliflower Mac & Cheese.”  Of course, to make the recipe work for my family’s tastes (and to work with what I had at home) I changed the recipe a little.  If you’d like to see where my inspiration came from the original recipe is posted here.

Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

1 teaspoon olive oil

½ small head cauliflower, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)

¼ cup onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

salt and pepper

2 teaspoons flour

1 ¼ cups skim milk

2 ounces cheese (To make it mild I used American cheese, but cheddar, or many other cheeses, would be good too.)

1 small bunch broccoli, trimmed (about 2 cups)

4 ounces ham, chopped (I used leftover ham I had in the freezer from the holidays, but thick sliced deli ham would work as well.)

2 ounces pasta (I used medium shells, but almost any shape would work.)

Preheat over to 400 degrees.

Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add cauliflower, onions, and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until cauliflower is soft but not brown, about 10 minutes.  Sprinkle with flour and stir well to coat.  Cook 1 minute more.

Carefully stir in milk and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until cauliflower is very soft, about 15 minutes. Add cheese and stir to melt.  (If sauce seems too thick add a little more milk.) Transfer mixture to food processor or blender and puree until smooth.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cook pasta according to package instructions, adding broccoli during the last 2 minutes.  Drain well and return to pot.  Add ham and cauliflower sauce.  Toss to combine. Transfer to an ovenproof casserole dish.  Bake 25 minutes.

Results:

I really enjoyed this dish, so much so that I’ve made it again.  Andy, who is a little more picky and does not like cauliflower did not care for it.  He says he could taste (and feel) the cauliflower still.  Andy is an adult, and he did see me with cauliflower, so maybe you still pull a fast one on your family if you’re more sneaky than I am.  Then again, I loved it so maybe it doesn’t matter at all.  And, our Little Sweetie?  Well, Lauren’s picky-picky, so no, sadly, it was not a hit with her (either time), but I’ll keep trying.

Click here to download a printable version of my recipe.

Notes:

-As my ingredient quantities indicate this makes a small amount, but the recipe could easily be doubled.  I would say my recipe yields 2 main dish servings.

-I didn’t do the math on this recipe, but it’s bound to be fewer calories than traditional mac and cheese, since it only uses 2 ounces of pasta (that’s only 1 serving’s worth according to the box) and ONLY 2 ounces of cheese.  The cauliflower really does make the sauce creamy and rich.

-The original article also included a great recipe for Maple Roasted Brussel Sprouts that I’m looking forward to trying.

 

 

 

 

 

More Dr. Seuss Activities

I am a planner.   Even when it comes to spending time at home with Lauren doing “preschool” I find that I do better if I have a plan.  Here’s my plan for some fun, age-appropriate Dr. Seuss activities this week.

First of all we have TONS, I mean TONS, for Dr. Seuss books.  I’m going to read as many of them as possible to her this week, and then we’ll try out some activities inspired by the stories…

For example, my first idea, inspired by The Foot Book, involves a large canvas drop cloth, washable paint, paper, and some adorable baby feet. Hopefully the weather will be as nice as it is today and maybe we can do this outside. Wish me luck!

Lauren LOVES The Cat in the Hat, so of course we’ll be reading that book a time or two.  Since Cat stacks and balances many, many things in the story we’re going to spend some time stacking and balancing things around here too.  Sure, we have lots of blocks, but I saw the idea for making a tower with things from your pantry the other day,and I think that would be great fun. (Especially since Lauren loves pulling everything out.) We’re also going to try and make our own “cat”.  I’m hoping we come out with something like this:  

I don’t have specific instructions, but this looks pretty self-explainitory.  I’ll be sure to share if I end up making any templates.

We’ve been working on “same” and “different,” a lot lately and the last activity I have planned for sure is a Dr. Seuss matching game. Talented momma and former teacher, Alison, who writes one of my favorite blogs, Oopsey Daisy, created an adorable printable game.  Click on over and subscribe to her blog, you’ll be SO glad you did.  Then you can download your own copy of the matching game and take a look at all her other wonderful ideas.

We’ll probably end up doing a few other things too.  Although I’m sure we won’t read the book (too long), we might make Oobleck for a fun sensory experiment.  (Equal parts cornstarch and water + green food coloring.) I used to make it every year with my class so I’m sure I could handle it with one toddler, right? Of course the culmination will be our Dr. Seuss birthday playdate with our playgroup on Friday.  I’ll try to post pictures of what I come up with for our celebration.

Are you looking for even more Dr. Seuss ideas? Click here and here for hundreds (really, hundreds) of ideas.  I’d also love for you to leave me a comment with your ideas!

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

One week from today, Friday, March 2nd, is Dr. Seuss’ birthday!  In the past, I celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday with my students. Among other things, we’d eat green eggs and ham and graph our preferences, decorate Cat in the Hat hats, and make Oobleck, messy but fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year I’m looking forward to celebrating with Lauren and our playgroup! As luck would have it, March 2nd is our Friday to host!

To prepare for our celebration, I started a “Dr. Seuss” board on Pinterest.  (Are you following me on Pinterest yet? Click here.) I’ve been pinning ideas for decorations, treats, and crafts.  I wanted to share some of my favorites.  Maybe they’ll inspire you to host a celebration of your own.

For general party inspiration and decor ideas of course I checked out Hostess With the Mostess.

Click on over and check out all the great details of this adorable party.

Looking for more great Dr. Seuss party inspiration?  Shea, from the blog Eventful Possibilities, shares a round up of some of the best here.

Next up treats:

These “green eggs and ham” treats from The Girl Who Ate Everything couldn’t be cuter, and I bet they’re delicious too! From my own experience, I’d guess they’d probably be a bigger hit with kids than real green eggs.

I just love these fantastic fish jello cups I found over on Simple Girl! Too cute.

Now for a crafts…

If you follow me on Pinterest, you’ve probably notice that I’m a little obsessed with handprint crafts, so of course this is right up my alley.

Photo from Little Warriors

Of course, there are tons of other great project and activity ideas out there, but, realistically, I know Lauren’s still a little too young for most of them.  The time will come.  In meantime, I’m working on a few age appropriate (for a 20 month old) ideas.  I’ll try to share some next week.

 

Penguin Update

I wanted to give you a little update on our “penguin preschool” fun.  In addition to our Heart Penguin craft, we’ve completed a few other super easy and fun projects and activities.

One of Lauren’s favorite, favorite things to do is play with her water table.  Since it’s winter and we can’t go out, I’ve been bringing it inside and letting her play.  (I just put a few beach towels on the floor to control the mess.) When it snows, which sadly it’s done very little, she LOVES for me to fill her table up with snow. Her little hands get bright red, but she’s crazy for snow play.  I also recently filled it with cotton balls.  It was a fun, wintery sensory experience. For our little penguin unit I knew we had to do something with the water table.

I purchased this “Penguin Toob” at Michaels.  (I’ve seem at PB Kids too.) They’re normally between $8 and $12, and I had a 50% off coupon, but you can image my excitement when it rang up on clearance for only $0.69! (I was, maybe, a little too excited, which I’m sure you can imagine if you know me.) After that, I went back and used my coupon to purchase the “Arctic Toob,” which contains things like a polar bear, seal, and igloo! Then while Lauren was napping I excitedly set everything up.

In the side of the table meant for sand (which we’ve yet to try out), I placed crushed ice.

I filled the water side of the table with water and a few “ice burgs.” I filled plastic yogurt and take-out containers from my recycling bin with water and froze them the night before.  Then the mini-burgs just popped right out!

When I carried Lauren downstairs she practically jumped out of my arms to run to the table and start playing.

Even if you don’t have a water table, you could replicate this activity in a large plastic tub, a big mixing bow, or even your kitchen sink.  (Playing with soap and water in the kitchen sink is another one of Lauren’s favorite activities.)

Another great sensory activity that we incorporated penguins into was shaving cream play.  I remember doing this outside on the sidewalk with my mom when I was a little girl.

Since it’s February and going outside isn’t really an option, I set up this activity in the highchair to contain the mess.

First, we took turns shaking the $1.17 can of shaving cream, and then Lauren watched in amazement as I squirted a mound onto the highchair tray.

She dove right in, and, not surprisingly, really loved the soft, foamy texture of the shaving cream.  (And, great news, she only tried to taste the shaving cream once, in the very beginning.) After a few minutes she said, “sticky,” so I wiped her hands a little with a towel. Then she went right back to playing.  The white shaving cream made perfect “snow” for the penguins to slide around in, and after a bit we added some sand toys to the mix just for fun. I couldn’t resist and I got in on the fun too.   We’ll definitely be doing this activity again soon.

Shaving cream isn’t just a great sensory activity for little ones, I used to use it in my classroom all the time.  It’s great for everything from practicing handwriting and sight words to learning addition and multiplication facts.  It smells good and it’s relatively easy to clean up so give it a try.

We also read an adorable penguin book this week.  It was a gift from Aunt Lizzie last year and it’s called Lost and Found (by Oliver Jeffers).

It’s a very sweet story about an unlikely friendship between a little boy and a penguin.  It’s a very peaceful story and in some ways it reminds me of my all-time favorite, Where the Wild Things Are.

To go along with the penguins and continue our wintery arctic/antarctic theme, we’ve also talked about polar bears.  Have you seen this adorable book?

It’s the true story of an abandoned polar bear that became the star of the Berlin Zoo a few years back. It’s actually very long, but Lauren loved sitting on my lap looking at the precious pictures and listening to my paraphrasing.  The back of the book has some interesting facts about polar bear.  For example, did you know that female polar bears dig a den in the ice in which to have their babies?  Also, polar bear cubs only spend between 1 and 3 years with their mothers.  Of course, this seemed sad to me, and I told Lauren she had to stay with me much, much, much longer. :)

To go along with the book Lauren colored a polar bear and glues fuzzy white fur (more cotton balls) onto it.  She’s really into gluing right now, so it was a great project.

I let her squeeze glue onto a paper plate and then she dipped the cotton balls into the glue before sticking them on her bear.

I love how she put one right on the nose!  You can download a printable copy of this project sheet from EarTwggles.com for your own little polar bear here.

We’ve had fun with our arctic projects, and hopefully Lauren will get to see some of these creatures in person soon.  We’ll be starting on some new “units” in the next couple of weeks, check back tomorrow for a preview of what’s up next.

Favorite Thing: Better Homes & Gardens

My love for Martha Stewart is no secret, but I have a confession to make: Living is not the only magazine I love.  I’m also a big fan of Better Homes & Gardens. I’ve been meaning to express my adoration in a post for a while now (things come up), but when my renewal notice came in the mail it reminded me.

A whole year for just $5.99! I’d have to be crazy not to renew!

What I love about BHG is that it’s classic and simple.  EVERY recipe I’ve tried has turned out and many have become regular favorites (like this one or this one).  I also LOVE all the decorating and organizing tips.  I will admit, I often just skim the “Garden” parts of the magazine. I’m not much for gardening, and I definitely don’t have my mother’s green thumb.  I probably should be reading the articles to learn something…

Here are a few things I loved from the February issue:

*The idea for scratch-off Valentine’s (page 22).  I’ll be trying those next year.

*All the chocolate recipes (page 108), especially the “Peanut Butter, Jelly, and Brownie Sandwich Cookies.” YUM!

*The article about making the perfect pizza at home (page 118) because who doesn’t love pizza?

*The “Chicken Noodle Casserole” recipe (page 128) is something I’d like to try since Lauren LOVES chicken noodle soup.

*Printable Valentine Food Labels (page 170).

If you don’t already subscribe, why not give it a try? Or why not gift a subscription to a relative, friend, or teacher? It feels a little odd to say it, but BHG is a “good thing.”

Mid-Winter Luau

Despite an early start, it’s been a mild winter here in the Northeast. None-the-less, I’m still looking forward to the warmth and sun of summer.  I’m excited to spending afternoons out on the deck or by the pool with Lauren, and I really can’t wait for our family trip to Destin.  All this got me thinking, why not enjoy a little summer fun now?

I decide to host a “mid-winter luau” themed playdate for our friends.  The holidays had just ended and I was still a little worn-out, so I was determined to keep this easy (preparation wise) and inexpensive.  Keep reading to see how it turned out…

To get started, I searched the house for anything that could serve as decor.  I found we actually had a lot to work with.  What can I say, we LOVE the beach (and Andy and I were married in Hawaii)! I pulled out beach towels, beach toys, shovels, pails, beach balls, beach chairs, and even our huge colorful beach umbrella. I even found some Hawaiian leis mixed in with our Easter decorations!

The look on Lauren’s face when I brought her downstairs the morning of the playdate was priceless.  She was so excited and it made the effort I’d put into doing something different worth it! All the kids got a kick out of playing with the summer stuff, inside, in the middle of winter.  What a hoot!

Of course, you can’t have a luau without without tropical treats.  I keep it simple and kid friendly.  Here’s what I served:

Tropical Fruit Salad:

fresh pineapple ($2.99 at Costco), sliced banana,

and toasted coconut (baking sheet + 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes = DELISH!)

Banana Macadamia Muffins:

I feel guilty admitting this, but these cute minis are from a Betty Crocker “Just Add Water” Banana Nut Muffin pouch ($1 at Wal-Mart)! {GASP!} I just added some finely chopped macadamias to give them a little island flavor.  I normally turn my nose up at baking pouches, but these were actually very good (and inexpensive) and they all got eaten! I served up my muffins on a sandy bed of crushed graham cracker and garnished them with two luau musts-a shell and paper umbrella (both around-the-house finds!).

“Tropical Fish”

Because you can’t have a kid’s party without Goldfish!

Pineapple-Passion Fruit Juice

I also brewed up some Chocolate-Macadamia Nut Kauai Coffee for the mommies. Trust me, this stuff is delicious, and definitely worth special ordering.

I made the printable ALOHA sign, pennant banners, and food labels using this great clipart set from Maree Truelove.

Lastly, I couldn’t host a luau without some Hawaiian music, but that was the one thing I didn’t already have. Pandora to the rescue! Can you believe it, they have a whole Hawaiian music channel!?! Beautiful and relaxing music! I felt like I was back in Hawaii! (And I may be turning it more often, it was seriously relaxing!)

I almost forgot the best part, we invited our friend to wear their favorite tropical attire for the party! Fun-fun! The luau was a success, and I’m looking forward to hosting another one next year! ALOHA!

Cookie of the Week: Ruby’s Sugar Cookies

This week’s cookie is a recipe from Andy’s maternal grandmother, Ruby.  In college, Andy’s mom put together a recipe binder for him and this recipe was one of the desserts she included.  It wasn’t until after we were married that I first tired these out.  I had never made sugar cookies before and I was looking for some new to try.  Over the years I’ve change the recipe ever-so-slightly (butter, instead of shortening or margarine, extra vanilla, omitting the cream of tarter….), but Ruby’s sugar cookies are still soft and buttery, just the way I like my cookies. Best of all they’re a cinch to whip up, and require simple ingredients that you mostly likely always have on hand.  That means when it’s late at night and  you have a cookie craving these are perfect. And, yes, I know it’s wrong, but I think these are my favorite type of dough to eat right from the bowl.  I’ve usually satisfied my sweet tooth before I even get a batch out of the oven.

Ruby’s Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar, plus extra for rolling

1 egg

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

Cream the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla.  Add the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Chill at least 1 hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll, or use a small ice cream scoop to make, 1½ inch balls of dough.  Roll balls in sugar, and place 2 inches apart on a lined baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes.

(As the ingredient quantities indicate, this recipe doesn’t make a ton of cookies.  I’d say about two dozen.)

Printable Recipe

You can also top these cookies with sprinkles to coordinate with any occasion or color scheme.

Also, I can’t wrap up this post without saying that these are Chester’s favorite cookies.

Hope you enjoy them too! Happy Monday!


An Unexpected Visitor

We had a little post-Valentine’s Day visit from the Ear-Infection Fairy this week! Blah! (And she looks so friendly, right?) In any case, my week and blogging plans (not to mention my exercise and cleaning routines) went off course.  Oh, well, I’ve been enjoying lots of Curious George and cuddles with my little sweetie. Hopefully, we’ll be back on track by next week.  Enjoy the long, President’s Day Weekend and be well! XOxo

On the Menu: Our Favorite Dinner

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Did you have a favorite meal as a kid?  Something special you’d ask your mom to make on your birthday maybe?  Well, for me it was a chicken dish baked in a creamy sauce and served with rice.  My mom always served it with carrots and broccoli too.  Yum! I loved it! Fast forward to my college years, and can you guess what the first dinner Andy ever made from me was?  The SAME EXACT THING! What are the odds?!? His family had grown-up enjoying the same recipe! Isn’t that just amazing! I totally think it was a sign that we were meant to be.  Here we are 12 years later, and it is still our favorite dinner.  It’s easy, it’s NOT fancy, but it’s so good. We just love it! And it what we’ll be eating for Valentine’s dinner tonight!

I’m not sure what the real name of this recipe is.  My family didn’t call it anything. Andy’s family calls the dish “Inger’s Chicken” after their neighbor, Inger, who introduced them to the recipe when she brought it over just after Andy’s little sister was born.  Andy and I now call it “Lauren Chicken.” I don’t have to tell you who we named it after.

Lauren Chicken

2-4 boneless chicken breasts

2 Tablespoons butter

1 package Good Seasons Italian Dressing Mix

l can cream of chicken soup

l can cream of mushroom soup

4 ounces cream cheese, cubbed

l cup Rose’ wine

Yes, the dreaded cream soups and cream cheese! I told you it wasn’t a fancy dish.  It’s comfort food…keep reading. I promise it’s SO easy and delish!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season chicken with Italian dressing mix. Cook chicken butter, flipping to brown on both sides.

Meanwhile, combine soups and wine.  Pour into a large covered casserole dish.  Place chicken in casserole dish. Submerge in sauce and top with cream cheese.  Bake for l hour.  Serve with rice, steamed broccoli and carrots.

Printable Recipe

So that’s dinner. What are we having for dessert to finish off our casual, cozy family dinner? Our favorite “comfort food” dessert-brownie sundaes! Yes, I bake all the time, but this our favorite, and to be completely honest we like it made with Betty Crocker boxed brownies. GASP! Maybe I’ll cut them into heart shapes since it’s Valentine’s.

I remember Ina Garten saying that sometimes when it’s a special occasion and people are expecting something fancy and complicated it’s best to serve something homey and classic.  That’s how our family be celebrating tonight.  However you celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day! xo