Monday, November 28, 2011

Preschooler Chores

The wonderful thing about toddlers and preschoolers is that they take great pleasure and pride in being helpful.  At our house, we've decided to capitalize on this by giving our daughter, who will turn three next week (yikes!), several chores to do, both daily and weekly. 

Daily chores:
1.  Feed the cat
2.  Clear her dishes from the table, putting leftover milk in the fridge, and plates/bowls in the sink.
3.  Pick up toys and put books on her bookshelves (this doesn't quite happen every day, but two - three times a week at least).

Weekly chores:
1.  Help me scan groceries (we have a computerized pantry inventory system and use a barcode scanner to log nonperishables in and out).  This is one of her favorite activities in the whole world.
2.  Put away her laundry (I hang up her shirts and dresses, but she puts away everything that goes in drawers).

Sometimes chore:
1.  Sort silverware from the dishwasher into the drawer.  This is a sometimes chore because my husband usually unloads the dishwasher before he goes to work. long before we get up in the morning.  But, when I have occasion to unload, I let her sort silverware if she's around.

We also try to include her in other chores as we're doing them, if we can find small pieces of tasks that she can handle.  She's been doing them for several months now, and it works out well. 

I'm not sure how long this helpful phase will last, but hopefully by the time that happens, we'll have set up some good habits to keep her responsible and helpful as she grows older.

Menu Plan November 28 - December 3

I'm finding it very hard to believe that December is already upon us!  Hope all my US readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  We had two wonderful celebrations with family, one Friday and one Saturday, then spent most of the weekend cleaning and organizing our house.  I spent about two hours just re-organizing my spice cupboard - it always amazes me how quickly that can get out of control!

Here's the plan for this week:

Today:  Teriyaki chicken and sesame rice
Tuesday:  Kielbasa and kidney beans
Wednesday:  Meatloaf
Thursday:  leftovers
Friday:  coconut curry chicken (recipe I ran across in an old magazine this weekend)

Have a great week!  And remember to visit for tons of menu ideas!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Garlicky sauteed shrimp

I keep reading about how we all should be eating more seafood.  That's fine with me - I love most fish and a few forms of shellfish, but in this house, the only things we all agree on are tuna and shrimp.  So, every six weeks or so, when I can get shrimp on sale for less than $6 a pound, I buy a pound and bring it home for Sunday dinner.

Today I discovered, quite by accident, that the shrimp they sell in the meat department at the grocery store I frequent is the same shrimp that you can buy quick-frozen in the freezer case.  Since they only had shrimp with heads on it in the meat case, and I didn't have the time or desire to mess around with that, I got a frozen bag and went with it.

The guy in the meat department told me to run it under cold water for five to ten minutes to thaw it.  The guy in the meat department obviously doesn't live in this town, or he'd know how expensive it would be to just let the water run for five or ten minutes!  So, instead, I put it in a big bowl and filled it up with cold water.  I put my pasta water on to boil and by the time it was hot, the shrimp was perfectly thawed. 

Garlicky Sauteed Shrimp

2 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup white wine (I used chardonnay)
juice from 1/4 large lemon
1 T. butter
salt and pepper to taste

In a large saute pan over low heat, warm the garlic in the olive oil for five minutes.

Turn the heat up to high, wait two minutes (or until the garlic starts sizzling), and add your shrimp, keeping them in a single layer if you can.  Let cook about two minutes, then add the wine and lemon juice.  Flip the shrimp over and cook an additional two to three minutes, or until cooked through. 

Remove the shrimp from the pan and add the butter, salt and pepper.  Continue cooking the sauce until it reduces by half.  Put the shrimp back in the pan, stirring quickly to coat with the sauce.  Serve immediately.  We like this with buttered parmesan noodles, crusty bread, and a green salad.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chicken and Bows

After having this on my menu plan weekly for almost a month, I finally got around to making it.  It just sounded so GOOD - like creamy, rich, comfort food, perfect for a chilly fall evening.  And I was right - it was.  I tweaked the recipe a bit (since I'm incapable of NOT tweaking a recipe), so here's what I came up with.

Chicken and bows
Adapted from Taste of Home

8 ounces bow tie pasta
2 T. olive oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked shredded chicken
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup milk
1 tsp. dried thyme
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions, leaving it fairly al dente.  Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large straight-sided skillet or dutch oven.  Add the bell pepper and onion and saute until soft.  Add garlic, chicken, soup, peas, milk and thyme.  Bring just to a boil, and simmer 5 - 10 minutes until the mixture is thick and the peas are heated through.  Stir in cheese and add salt and pepper to taste.  Add cooked pasta, stir to combine, and serve.

Menu Plan November 21 - 25

First of all, I have to tell you, I finally made chicken and bows!  Since I'm completely unable to leave any recipe well enough alone, I made some modifications and was quite pleased with the results.  Only thing I didn't like was the bows - I bought some of that Barilla Plus pasta, which never quite gets to a soft enough texture for our taste.  So next time I'll make it with good old fashioned unhealthy white pasta, and I'm sure it will be much better.  I need to post the revised recipe before I forget what I did!

And now, on to this week.  This will be a short menu week for us, as we have Thanksgiving dinners on BOTH Thursday and Friday.  Have to love that!

Monday:  Pasta e Fagioli (I already have the sausage cooked, and I'll use orzo pasta, so this should come together very quickly).

Tuesday:  Taco salad

Wednesday:  cranberry chicken (just like my cranberry pork, but with chicken tenderloins instead)

Thursday:  Dinner with hubby's family.  I'm taking spinach dip and an orange ambrosia-type jello salad.

Friday:  Dinner with my family.  I'm taking a veggie tray, jello, and my daughter's birthday cake.  possibly more if my mom needs help, but that's all I know for now!

I may flip-flop Monday and Tuesday.  We'll see how it goes.

To those of you in the US (and those abroad who celebrate US holidays), have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving.  To those of you who don't celebrate Thanksgiving this week, have a great week!  Ah, what the heck, you be safe too.  :-)  And remember to visit Menu Plan Monday at for lots of great menu ideas!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Toddler craft - Puffy Paint

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered Pinterest.  About five minutes after that, I was completely addicted.  So many ideas, so little time (and money!).  I've found some great ideas for crafting with my daughter, though, and this was one I couldn't wait to try out. 

I found it at Get Your Mess On, but I've since seen it at least four more places around the internet, so I have no idea where it originated. 

Puffy Paint:

For each color:
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup water
squirt of tempera paint (or a splash of tempera paint powder) - as much as you need to get the color you want.

First, gather your supplies (and your adorable assistant!).  Here in the Pacific Northwest, I found the squirt bottles at Bi-Mart for $2 each.  JoAnn Fabric and Craft had some smaller ones in a two-pack for $2, but I wanted the option for bigger bottles so I bought these (I think they're 12 ounce). 

I began by mixing the salt, flour, and water together, whisking well to get out all the lumps.  Then we poured in the color,

Stirred, stirred, stirred,

Put the paint in the bottles using a funnel (during which my daughter, who has never seen the Wizard of Oz, kept shouting "it's MELTING!  It's MELTING!"  Where do they come up with this stuff???), and presto!  Puffy paint!

We discovered about two minutes (and half a bottle of blue) into the project that it's a less-than-perfect idea to let the two-year-old control the paint bottle without supervision.  Once we got that down, though, we had a great time.  Makes a great fingerpaint with awesome texture!

Menu Plan November 14 - 18 (and a question for you!)

We did pretty well at sticking to our menu last week.  I had the opportunity to go to work early on Friday, so we went shopping and had dinner out (with a coupon) that day, but other than that, we ate at home.  I did make potstickers from the freezer one day because I just couldn't get up the energy to make dinner once I got home.  That's what that freezer convenience food is for! 

This week, we have a pretty routine schedule, though I do get off early again on Friday.  Here's the plan:

Monday:  Spaghetti (made with Italian sausage instead of ground beef - yum!)
Tuesday:  Broccoli Beef
Wednesday:  mushroom pork chops
Thursday:  If I say Chicken and Bows will you laugh at me?
Friday:  One-dish twice baked potatoes

Now, a question for you, my readers.  I have four HUGE kale plants in my garden, and I'm at a loss as to what to do with them.  Seemed like such a good idea when I planted them...  I'm thinking about Zuppa Toscana, but  I'm open to any and all ideas...thoughts?

Have a great week, and remember to visit Menu Plan Monday for more menu ideas than you can shake a stick at! 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Freezing Green Onions

We've reached that point in the year where I really need to get some things out of the garden.  We've had several frosty mornings, and the onions are looking especially limp.  I don't want to waste all that fresh oniony goodness, though, so I decided to chop and freeze some of the green tops (I'll also chop the bottoms and freeze them separately).  Here's how I do it.

First, wash and chop your green onions. Then, place them in a freezer-safe container of a convenient size.  I used some silicone cupcake molds (I hate baking in them, so I might as well use them for something, right?).  Add enough water to each just to cover, and put them in the freezer until they're solid.

Take them out of the freezer and remove them from the cups (that's the nice thing about silicone - you can just flip it right out).  Voila!  Little green onion hockey pucks.

Put into a freezer container and freeze until ready to use.  I've kept these for six months or more.  You can use them as is in soups, stews, and other saucy things where a couple extra tablespoons of water won't matter, or you can thaw them out before you use them.  They do get a little slimy so I wouldn't use them in a salad or anything, but they're good in just about any cooked dish.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Menu Plan November 7 - 11

We ended up doing REALLY well on our revised menu plan last week.  This will teach me to actually sit down and think about my week before I plan a menu, LOL! 

Here's the plan for this week:

Today:  Spanish Rice Casserole - I have leftover rice and turkey in the freezer, so this will go together pretty quickly once everything's thawed.

Tuesday:  Scalloped potatoes and ham - I don't have all three cheeses at the moment, so this will be made with parmesan and cheddar

Wednesday:  Chicken and Bows (sound familiar?)

Thursday:  Leftovers

Friday:  Chicken Cacciatore

Don't forget to visit Menu Plan Monday for tons of fabulous menu ideas!

Apple Bread

Our apple tree was especially prolific this year, and after sharing a couple of boxes full with my mom, I've had plenty left for canning, freezing, and baking.  Once I got tired of making apple crisp (hubby's favorite), I went searching for a good apple bread recipe.  I found one here, but wanted to make it a little bit healthier, so I tweaked it a bit. 
Whole Grain Apple Bread
makes two loaves

1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup applesauce
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, or cake spice
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 to 3 1/2 cups apples, chopped
1 cup chopped pecans (optional, but they are really good!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pans.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oil, applesauce, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Stir in flour, spices, soda, and salt, mixing until just combined.  Fold in apples and pecans. 

Pour into prepared pans.  Bake for 70 minutes at 325, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean.  Let cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack.  Let cool completely before slicing or it will fall apart a bit.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

Steak and Pepper Sandwiches

At my house, I call these cheesesteaks.  I realize, though, that in some parts of the country that will get me run out of town, so, for blogging purposes, steak and pepper sandwiches they are.

At my grocery store, I'm able to buy "thin sliced beef steaks".  That's the meat I use, because it's quick and easy (and versatile!).  It comes in big flat "steaks" about the size of my hand, and I slice it cross-wise into thin strips.  You could also use thinly sliced round steak.  If you go that route, put the meat in the freezer for a half hour or so before hand to make it easier to get nice, thin slices.

Steak and Pepper Sandwiches
Serves 4

1 T. canola oil
1 medium green pepper, sliced
1 medium red pepper, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced thin
12 ounces thinly sliced beef
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder (you could also substitute 1 clove minced garlic, just put it in a few minutes before the meat is done)

8 slices cheese (hubby likes cheddar, I like provolone)
4 hoagie, French, or bolillo rolls, split
condiments:  mayo, mustard, ranch dressing, sliced pepperoncini, etc.

In a stir fry pan or large skillet over high heat, saute the peppers and onions until they just start to get soft.

 Add the beef, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and cook until the meat is no longer pink.

Meanwhile, put the rolls cut-side up on a baking sheet.  Lay two slices of cheese on one half of each roll.  Broil two to three minutes, or until the cheese side is bubbly and the dry side is toasted.  Spread with your choice of condiments, top with the meat and pepper mixture, and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

I love fall.

Especially those frosty cold mornings just begging for a bulky sweater and a steaming hot cup of cocoa.

Pork and Potato Casserole with Mushrooms and Caraway

I made this up on the fly today because I had some ground pork that needed to be used up (it was the sole victim of the freezer not being closed all the way - we got lucky!).  This is the "convenience food" version because I was a little short on time.  I'm sure in the future I'll work on a full-blown "from scratch" version with white sauce and sauteed mushrooms.

Didn't think to take a picture until we'd already dished it up!
Pork and Potato Casserole with Mushrooms and Caraway

Serves 4 - 6

4 medium potatoes, diced (and peeled if you prefer).
1/2 - 1 pound ground pork
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 can sliced mushrooms
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1/4 cup french fried onions (such as Durkee)

Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan.  Cover with water and cook until just tender.  Drain and place in a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, brown the pork with the chopped onion.  When the meat is just browned, add the garlic, salt and poultry seasoning.  Continue to cook until you can just smell the garlic. 

Add meat mixture to the mixing bowl.  Then add the mushrooms, soups, and caraway seed.  Stir to combine and pour into a 9x13 baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Sprinkle the french fried onions over the top and bake an addition five minutes. 

This week's menu, revisited

Something happened to my menu this week.  It was shot before the week even got started - probably because I rushed through it just to get something down on paper without really thinking about it.  And then things happened to make it go even more haywire!

We were supposed to have pizza Sunday and Monday.  Then I burned the pizza.  Then we were supposed to have takeout on Monday so we could get to trick-or-treating that much faster, but since we'd just wasted $12 on the pizza we couldn't eat, I decided I should cook instead.  So I threw some chili in the crockpot in a hurry on the way to visit my parents on Monday morning.  Which was fine, except I was digging through the freezer trying to find the Soyrizo (which I still haven't found, even though I saw it on Sunday), and something blocked the freezer door from closing all the way.

So Monday afternoon my husband called to tell me that the freezer was open and thawing.  Fortunately, the only thing that was REALLY thawed was a package of ground pork.  So I needed to come up with something to do with that this week!  I guess it's true, the only thing constant in life is change, and menus are no exception, LOL!

Here's my revised menu for this week -

Monday:  crock pot chili

Tuesday:  creamed tuna on toast (oh, yeah, it was supposed to be on biscuits.  I got a great deal on canned biscuits over the weekend, so I was going to use those, but by the time I found them (still sitting in a grocery bag on my dining room floor, sigh) and realized I couldn't use them, it was too late to make biscuits from scratch, so we had toast.

Tonight:  pork and potato casserole with caraway

Tomorrow:  cheesesteak sandwiches

Friday:  tacos (avocados were on sale at Safeway and when I asked my daughter if she wanted one for lunch today, she informed me that not only did she want one for lunch, we needed to buy extras for tacos. Since we have almost everything we need for those anyway, I was happy to oblige).

Maybe next week I'll have more menu success, LOL!