Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Coloring a Cookbook!

I enjoy preparing and consuming foods that are a little out of my comfort zone.  I've discovered some of my favorite recipes are those which send me on a multi-store hunt for ingredients, or make me Google a new cooking term.  I've cooked with herbs, cheeses, and vegetables that I would otherwise not have touched with a ten-foot fork!  Some have been successes and some, well, have not.

My husband and I believe it's important for our children to leave their comfort zones, too.  We ask them to try new foods, and give us their honest feedback.  In doing so, I've had to learn to accept not-so-constructive criticism regarding my recipe experiments.  A five-year old and two-year old give VERY honest feedback and sometimes follow that up with a disgusted face, pretend gagging, or enthusiastically tossing food to the dog!  It's a good thing we always have a sunflower butter and jelly sandwich option.

A surefire way to get our girls interested in trying healthy new meals, is to ask them to help with the preparation. Kids love being in the kitchen, and take pride in sharing their kitchen creations with family and friends.  I have several resources I use when our girls put on their aprons.  My favorites are:  Food & Family magazine, Disney's Family Cookbook,  The Royal Recipe Collection (Disney Princess Cookbook), Family Fun magazine, and Taste of Home magazine/website.

My youngest daughter and I were browsing the TOH website this morning, and discovered a coloring cookbook.  There are many free coloring pages available for download.  Not all of them are healthy, but most of them do look tasty.  My daughters are very excited to "cook" Veggie Christmas Trees (who cares it's just now September?!), and the Festive Tomato Wedges.  They'll enjoy coloring the little pictures on the recipe page, and I'm excited because this means they will try herbs on tomatoes and might give cauliflower a second a chance!
I love the idea of combining coloring and cooking.  A great way for kids to have fun and be adventurous in their eating habits!

Now...if only some brilliant person could figure out a way to combine the things I enjoy with foods I don't.  Handbags and raisins?  Oil painting and jalapenos?

If you have a favorite kid-friendly recipe or recipe source, please share!  I'd love to know where you gain your inspiration. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

An Evening with Earl Grey

The Meal Swap group celebrated one year of success! We decided to throw ourselves a party, and do something fancy and fun. We gathered with our LHWC small-group friends and had a tea party!

The women in our group wore scarves, hats, and necklaces that definitely would have met the Queen's approval. We sat at a decorated table and sipped tea from beautiful china cups. When our cups were empty, we crafted colorful flowers from paper napkins. We enjoyed delicious desserts and delectable conversation.

"A Proper Tea is much nicer than a Very Nearly Tea, which is one you forget about afterwards." ~A.A. Milne

Needless to say, our tea was a proper and unforgettable one. Thank you for an amazing year of meals, fun, laughter, and most importantly...friendship.
I can't wait to see what our future brings. No doubt, it will be wonderful.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Just Found Gold!

Make-ahead-meal gold, that is! The Once A Month Mom (OAMM) catalogs her incredible array of recipes by month, and it's the perfect way to find a tasty meal using what's available in the garden and at the grocery store. Another thing I liked about the blog is almost all the recipes include detailed cooking, freezing, and reheating instructions. Perfect for our Meal Swap! http://onceamonthmom.com/

OAMM links to several websites and blogs, and even has a section of baby food recipes (arranged by age). While that section doesn't apply to me, I know it will come in handy to some of you! After visiting with my sis-in-law, who prepares yummy homemade baby foods for her son, I was reminded of how much healthier, tastier, and cheaper homemade baby food is. Such a great way to feed a little one! Matter of fact, I might prepare some of the recipes for my vegetable-hating toddler. It would be a great way to sneak in the good stuff without her knowing!

Many of OAMM's springtime recipes looked delicious, and I wish it were even looking like spring here, but I think I'll have to wait a while for my herb garden to catch up with my recipe trials.

Happy Browsing and Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cup Cakes (aka Genius in a Mug).

My parents sent our kids a package for Valentine's Day. Among the goodies in the box was a large coffee mug, and many tiny packages of cake mix. I know. "Huh?" was my first reaction.

My Mom had divided boxes of store-bought angel food cake mix into little baggies (1/3 c. each). She then typed instructions so the girls would know how to turn those baggies of cake mix into amazing little microwaveable treats, using the large coffee mug!

Our girls wanted to have a tea party with their aunt and uncle (and baby cousin, of course) who were visiting for the weekend, so they decided to make Cup Cakes. The cakes were a hit and what I like the most is, aside from handling the hot mug, the girls can make the cakes all by themselves. Tasty, and a great way to include kids in the kitchen!

**Put 1/3 c. angel food cake mix into a large (microwaveable) coffee mug.
**Add 3 tablespoons water to the cake mix. Stir.
**Microwave for 60-90 seconds. (MAKE SURE AN ADULT HANDLES THE MUG. VERY HOT!!)
**Let cool (usually only takes a couple of minutes). Eat directly from mug, or take it out and add frosting, whipped cream, powdered sugar, etc.

In about one minute, you will have a warm cake to eat! Enjoy!

A Valentine Party!

Sorry this is late but I've been playing a serious game of catch-up lately. I'm hoping to win this game, eventually!

When discussing themes for our February gathering it was impossible to avoid things like hearts, valentines, and candy. (Plus, who would want to leave those out?!)

We decided to honor our childhood days and have a Valentine party. A party complete with homemade mailboxes, Valentines, and candy! So. Much. Fun! What an incredibly creative group of women. Those mailboxes were works of art! We enjoyed a delicious DQ ice-cream cake, and as always, great conversation.
We also learned cheap, dollar store, utensils are no match for an ice-cream cake.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Raspberries and Pecans

Since I am clearly thinking salads today, I thought I would share one of my favorite salad recipes. It's very simple, but the combination of flavors is delicious!
I have to admit, this salad has a special place in my Meal Memory Bank. A wonderful man made me a fancy Italian meal several years ago, and he made this salad as an accompaniment to one of his famous pasta dishes. That man eventually became my husband, and this salad became my favorite lettuce treat. Enjoy!

Raspberry & Candied Pecan Salad

1 bag: spring greens salad mix
1 bottle: fat-free raspberry vinaigrette
(My favorite is Maple Grove Farms Fat Free dressing)
1/2 cup: pecan pieces
1-2 Tblsp: butter
1-2 Tblsp: brown sugar
1: ripe pear, cut into bite size chunks (do this right before serving to avoid
Note: Sliced apples or strawberries make a great substitute for the pear in this salad.

*To candy pecans: Melt butter in small skillet/pan over low heat. Add brown sugar and stir until sugar has melted. Add pecans and stir until pecans are mostly coated in the sugar mixture. You can add more sugar, depending on how buttery the
pecans look. (You don't want a buttery pecan, you want a crisp, sweet one!) Once the pecans are coated, pour them onto a sheet-pan covered with wax paper. Let cool.

*Toss greens, pecans, pears, and dressing in salad bowl. Serve. Enjoy. Laugh.

A Happy Little Salad.

I am channeling Bob Ross with that title. I am also channeling Edith Zimmerman's photo entry from thehairpin website.

I enjoy digging into a really fresh salad, but I don't think I've ever enjoyed a salad so much it caused me to break into delighted laughter at the site of lettuce. Actually, I can honestly say that has never happened. Never.
Apparently, I am not eating the right salads! For your entertainment, I bring you...

Women Laughing Alone With Salad
by Edith Zimmerman on January 3rd, 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Quick and Healthy Snack

"Mom, can I have a snack?"
I hear this question, and multiple variations on that question, at least twice a day. Probably only twice a day because my girls know the answer would be "no" to any added attempts.

I used to rummage through the fridge and cabinets in search of healthy snacks. The snack-finding process frustrated me, and I'm pretty sure it frustrated my kids when I would hand them a fistful of stale Wheat Thins or a dried clump of raisins. Edible? Sure. Satisfying? Absolutely not!

I found the solution to our snack issues on a blog, many months ago, and if I could remember the name of the blog I would cite it here. Oops. As much as I would love to take credit for the ideas I am about to post; I cannot. Some brilliant mind in Internet Land dreamed them up first!

Personalized Snack Containers:

* I purchased two school boxes (one for each child), and a variety of foam stickers at the dollar store. I let the girls decorate their snack boxes to their liking, and we included their names on the front of the box.
* While at the dollar store I purchased snack-size ziplock bags.
* At the beginning of each week I fill several snack bags with a variety of healthy foods. This week the kiddos are munching on Craisins, raisins, cheese flavored mini-rice cakes,pretzels,Special K granola bars, Cheerios, Goldfish crackers and marshmallows.
* When the girls want a snack (only at designated snack times) I just tell them to get a bag out of their snack containers. I keep the containers on a shelf that both girls can reach. They love choosing a snack because it gives them a little taste of independence and I'm happy because the snacks are ready to go, fresh, and healthy!

I have carried this idea over and into the fridge. I have a plastic container on the bottom shelf and the girls can choose a snack from this container if they feel like something cold. Because it's winter and fresh fruit is in short supply, I mainly keep apples, segmented oranges (in bags), low-fat string cheese, and celery. I also fill small tubs (baby food jars work great!) with soy butter, honey or Nutella. One of the only ways my kids will eat celery is if they can dip it, so I provide them with lots of choices. Celery and baby carrots are dipped in soy butter, and pretzels are often happily dipped in honey and Nutella. We try not to eat McDonalds very often, but when we do, I save the leftover honey or caramel packets for the girls' snack containers. They work great, and we already paid for those little packets of honey!

I actually use the snack container idea to help myself eat more fruits and veggies too. If I wash, measure, and cut carrots, apples, oranges and celery as soon as I return from the grocery store, it saves me a lot of time later. I can grab a bag of something nutritious and quick when I get the munchies.


Monday, January 31, 2011

What Once Was Old Is New Again

Being lovers of books, my family has multitudes of reading material. We have bookshelves intended to hold our collections, but often those books never make it to the shelf. We all have our favorites, and even our girls seem to gravitate towards a handful of the books they own.
We love reading to the girls, but we are getting a bit tired of turning the same pages of the same books over and over. After a trip to our local library, I came up with a solution to the "same old book" habit! Each month, our wonderful Children's Librarian sets out books that have to do with the current season, or upcoming holiday. Why couldn't I do this at home? Well..

We have our own seasonal selection now! I found a box that wasn't being used in our house, and gave it new purpose. I searched every bookshelf in our home, and found every book dealing with winter, Valentines Day (love), and President's Day. I pulled the books from the shelves, and put them into the box. I plan to decorate the box tomorrow to reflect the theme for the month. A little double-sided tape, a few foam snowflakes & hearts, and voila! A February reading box! When March rolls around, I will put the February books back on the shelf and search for stories related to St. Patrick's Day, luck, gold, Ireland, etc. The books will go into our reading box, and we'll redecorate it with shamrocks.

I have set the box in our living room, and if the girls would like a story (with the exception of bedtime stories), I will request they choose something from the box.

My hope for the Seasonal Book Box is that our girls will enjoy choosing a book they haven't read in months (maybe years), and I won't be reading Santa stories well into summer!

I hope you enjoy this tidbit!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Comfort Food

A friend shared this article from PBS, and I want to share it with you. http://www.pbs.org/parents/kitchenexplorers/2011/01/13/caring-for-others-bereavement-meals/

Another reason to keep those meals in the church freezer, and maybe a few extras at home. You never know when comfort might be needed in the form of a 9x13" pan or freezer bag.
I was touched by the author's obvious comfort and thankfulness for her friend, and the extra effort her friend put into the meal. In moments of sorrow and grief, sometimes keeping the details simple is best.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Price of Produce

It was a rough day. Nothing in particular made it rough, just one of those "the cards are stacked, and you're gonna lose" kind of days. I woke up grumpy, and that factor alone would be survivable. However, my children also woke up grumpy. Need I say more? Our day was filled with very sweet moments, followed (and outnumbered) by screaming and chasing one another around the house. I have yet to understand why, for 364 days of the year, my daughter (I will not say which daughter) is content with the blue-eyed baby doll, but one day she decides the doll with the green-eyes is her destiny, and she will do everything in her power to win THAT baby doll. This pretty much sums up how the rough day began. Over a baby doll. And I should mention the fact that we have many, very cute, baby dolls in our house, but only one of THAT baby doll.

Anyway, I know you all have days like this. We are human, and in God's design; we are far from perfect! Whether it's stress caused by a tender-hearted and slightly stubborn child, ourselves, a spouse, co-worker, relative, boss; I think we all have a way of re-energizing, and sorting through it all. I used to think I was an emotional eater, but I have decided I am an Emotional Cooker! Justin came home from work, and I took off for a trip to the grocery store. I usually dread the grocery shopping, but I needed a break, and well...we needed toilet paper. I left the store feeling energized and excited to prepare a meal. I returned home to two beaming little girls, happy sounds, and a tired husband.

As I cooked dinner, I found myself enjoying every single task. Cooking wasn't a chore. Dare I say it? It was actually therapeutic! Chopping, washing, separating, peeling, boiling, baking...everything! This is when is occurred to me; I don't always eat the meals I prepare. I get tired of smelling, or seeing, the food cook. Often times I don't even enjoy eating my own cooking (and I'd like to think it tastes fine). I know, it's weird, but I chalk it up to overexposure while cooking.

After a rough day, we all settled around the dining room table together, and enjoyed our dinner. There was laughter, conversation, and happy people. I do love being in the kitchen, and from now on, I will bask in the quiet, satisfied sounds of my family enjoying dinner together. A dinner I took every pleasure in preparing.

Because the quality of produce is hit-and-miss and the prices are always sky-high, I have started making my own applesauce. Our family (especially our girls) love apples, and I refuse to pay the grocery store price for a jar of applesauce. I don't really think I'm that frugal, but I did the math, and I can make ginormous batches of applesauce at home for a fraction of the cost of the store stuff. My applesauce is healthier, and quite frankly, a lot better tasting than the expensive jars! I wanted to share the recipe I use for applesauce because it freezes really well, and is quick to make. I make a batch whenever I see apples on sale.

Sarah's Applesauce
(from Allrecipes.com)
4 apples - peeled, cored and chopped
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. In a saucepan, combine apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Cover, and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until apples are soft. Allow to cool, then mash with a fork or potato masher.

Also, do you remember when I said I am an Emotional Cooker? Cooking makes me happy, and eases stress? Well, that's all true, but I would like to add consuming apples to that list. I love apples, and nothing tastes more comforting. I try to eat most of my apples raw instead of cooked because of health reasons, but let's face it, an apple pie is an apple pie!

I will end this post now. I have a serving of warm apple crisp waiting to give me a food-hug.

Coffee Cups and Casserole Dishes

January made its brisk arrival, and with it many inches of snow and a new year. Our meal swap meeting this month was held at our local coffee shop, Mochavino. We all gathered around a functionally small table to converse, sip coffee, and nibble toasty sandwiches. It was a wonderful way to salute a year gone by, and celebrate this wonderful new adventure called 2011!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How to Begin a Meal Swap Group

(Beware...this post will read like an infomercial!)

Are you sick of rummaging through the recipe box, thirty minutes before meal time, looking for something to cook for dinner? Is your freezer looking rather empty? Do you enjoy trying new recipes? Looking for a reason to spend time with friends? Well....a meal swap group is for you!

Here are some guidelines our group came up with when we began our meal swap. So far, we haven't really run into any problems. One thing our group decided to do, since we are all members of the same Bible study group, is to cook an extra meal for our church. Each month, we prepare an additional dish and add it the freezer at church. When there is a need (birth, funeral, lost job) our pastor is able to go to the freezer and choose a meal for the family in need. We include reheating instructions with the meal, usually written in permanent marker on top of the foil covering, or typed, printed, and taped to the top of the casserole. It's a great way for us to contribute to our church, and the meals seem to be used rather quickly!


*Each member will cook an entree, or main course meal, for every family in the group (including yourself).

Each member will contribute 2 recipes they would be willing to prepare. The other members of the group will vote for their preferred recipe/meal to include in the swap (one from each person) the next month. This will be done each month through email. Feel free to "reply all" in order to vote for your recipe preference. Note: This does contribute to a lot of emailing, but it works very effectively. We always include the main ingredients when emailing our recipe choices, so other members of the group know what's in our meal when they vote.

* Each meal/entree should include pork, chicken or beef (no raw meats, unless packaged separately), and be enough to serve 6 people. Note: Our group decided to avoid seafood, venison, etc. because we are all mothers, and children are picky eaters!

* Each meal/entree should be ready to be cooked/reheated in oven or added to a crock-pot. Easy prep is preferred! :)

* Reheating instructions should be written on the foil covering (or ziplock bag) for each meal, or can be written/typed and given to each meal swap member. Note: We also share the recipe for the meal we are swapping, and either submit it to be published on this blog, or bring a copy to the meeting.

* Please let the meal swap group know about food allergies in your family. For instance, my daughter has a peanut allergy, so our meals can't have peanuts or peanut products in them. However, this simply means eliminating peanuts from the meal we receive, and labeling it as "no peanuts". It would be too difficult, and expensive, to use substitute ingredients, so we plan to just leave the allergy-causing ingredient out of the meal when necessary.

* If you can't attend the swap meeting, you will need to have your meals prepared ahead of time, and make arrangements with the group coordinator(s) to have the meals delivered or picked up at a convenient time.

*Everything for the entrees will need to be included. We don't want to send anyone on a last minute run to the grocery store. :) This means if the recipe you are preparing needs rice or pasta to complete the meal, then you should include the measured servings of rice or pasta with each meal. Either par-cooked, or raw.

* Our "meetings" aren't really intended to be "meetings". We want to have fun with friends, and exchange delicious meals! We plan different ideas for each meeting (dessert & coffee, a movie, garden tea party, fondue party, or simply meeting in someone's living room and chatting...ANYTHING!)

I hope you find this list of guidelines helpful, and I wish you the best of luck with your new meal swap group!