Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorite Posts of 2011

This has been an amazing year in the lives of Audrey and Maurene. So much has happened and the girls have grown so much. But, I can imagine, it will be that way every year until they leave us for college. 

As I look back through the year of cooking with Audrey and Maurene I am shocked by how much they have grown. Join me, in a look into the past year:
  1. January - Load/Unload the Dishwasher. A great post about other ways children can help in the kitchen. With an adorable picture of Mo standing on the dishwasher lid.
  2. February - Happy Valentine's Day Zucchini Cupcakes. Amazing cupcakes that have some good for you ingredients inside. 
  3. March - Fauxfredo. An instant family favorite. Tasty, healthy, and made with cauliflower! You must try it to see if your family enjoys it as much as ours.
  4. April - What's For Breakfast? A look at fun ways to include your children in this important first meal of the day.
  5. May - Pineapple Not-Upside-Down Muffins. A favorite recipe, sweet with a little bit of healthy ingredients.
  6. June - Green Drops from Greenland. A wonderful post about a wonderful book that convinced Audrey to try peas. She liked them, still does.
  7. July - Becker County Fair. The place Audrey met and fell in love with a three year old dairy cow named Cocoa. She still talks about her.
  8. August - Can I Help? Great ways to get your helper in the kitchen with you without you going crazy. Or having batter spill on the floor. It's happened.
  9. September - Cereal Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. I had cereal leftovers and I wanted to use them up. This is the recipe I invented to make it happen. Turned out really good.
  10. October - If You Take a Mouse to School. The girls love this book and so we cooked up cute little turkey mice and decorated them. The recipe is from Weight Watchers and is so yummy.
  11. November - Stone Soup. A great story that encourages sharing and working together. Audrey loved it so much we made it the theme of her birthday.
  12. December - Fruit and Nut Ice Box Cookies. I find myself longing for these cookies for the last few weeks. I decided not to make them again soon as I have no place to take them. Oh so yummy! And with lots of dried fruit and nuts!
Pouring her own milk.

Learning to chop.



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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Muffin Tin Meatloaf

Everything tastes better in a cute little serving. Maurene helped me turn our meatloaf into muffins by placing it in our muffin tin. This time I did not follow much of a recipe but in the past we have enjoyed a Rachael Ray Mini Meatloaf recipe. Regardless of what recipe you use to make the meat concoction, put the mixture into your muffin tin before baking and surprise your dinner companions. My girls almost always eat dinner when it comes in cute packages.

Maurene's Tasks:
  1. Help add ingredients
  2. Crack egg
  3. Stir
  4. Add ingredients to muffin tin
Mom's Tasks:
  1. Gather ingredients
  2. Help measure and add ingredients
  3. Stir
  4. Bake
Easy and tasty. We are experimenting with a meatloaf recipe that has more veggies than our traditional fare. I would like to find that perfect mix of meat and veggies in an acceptable package. When I get the mixture worked out a little better I will share our recipe.

Adding meat to tins.


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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What's For Lunch Wednesday, Snowman

We have not seen more than a dusting of snow this winter. I know that will change in the next few months fut for now the girls and I have to enjoy snowmen by making them in our lunches. Here is a recent creation. He is made with a raisin bagel, cream cheese and a piece of cantaloupe for a nose. I had the standard carrot set out for the nose but as I pulled out cantaloupe to cut up for the girls a light bulb went off. He did get the standard raisin eyes but then I switched up the mouth and had the girls use craisins. They loved it.

Along with decorating the snowman they cut out Christmas Tree shaped cheeses. You remember how much Mo likes cheese. I placed some fruit for them to decorate their trees. They turned out so adorable.

We made these last week but for the life of me I cannot remember where we went that needed a packed lunch. I do remember that the girls loved making them and asked for snowmen again a few days after. Bagels are always a big hit.

The setup.

Attacking the lunch.

Audrey's creation.

Mo's work of art. It still tasted good.

As always we submitted these lunches to What's For Lunch Wednesday. The fact that our lunches had a theme this week is amazing. Most lunches on Bentolunch.net have amazing themes. Check 'em out!



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Friday, December 23, 2011

Five Free Gifts for Children

This holiday season there is more you can give your children than a new bike or legos. How about sharing some time and experience with them that can't be purchased in a store our sold online? Here are some ideas to get you started:
  1. Nutrition. You knew I was going to say that. This is the gift that keeps on giving. Teaching your children to eat healthy will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Too many children today are overweight or unhealthy due to poor eating habits. We love Today I Ate a Rainbow and What's Cooking With Kids for great information.
  2. Cooking. It is never too early to start. Audrey was 20 months when she first started and Maurene closer to 12 months. They rarely go a day without helping with some part of a meal. I wrote an article on Simple Ways to Start cooking.
  3. Exercise. This is an easy one. The girls love reading a book called The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food. In it the Bear family starts an exercise program and completes a 3 mile run. If you think you can't do 3 miles I invite you to try the Couch Potato to 5k training program. Amazing!
  4. Education. Another easy one. Read to your children every day. Have a weekly visit to the library for new books. Find an age appropriate reading list and see how many you can read. 
  5. Love. This you already give. Make sure your child hears about your love every day. Children need so much from us but love is the easiest to give. We like a parenting style called Love and Logic which helps guide children while still expressing love for them. It removes the yelling and replaces it with choices for the child. 

Reading a cookbook.
Educational Site:
Guide to Career Education is an excellent resource for finding institutions that teach and celebrate the art of cooking.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cookies in a Jar, Holiday Gifts

Audrey's last day of school was yesterday. I know for many this entire week has been a holiday. So, what do you do to entertain the children these last days before Christmas, or during one of the days of Hannukah? How about making a jar of cookie mix for the neighbor? It is so much fun and super easy. We made batches for all of our play group friends and the girls had a blast. Here is the mix recipe:

Oatmeal Scotches
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp flour (made the 2 tbsp whole wheat)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup flavored morsels (we mixed butterscotch, milk chocolate, M&Ms and white chocolate)
Layer ingredients into quart-sized canning jar in the order listed. The brown sugar needs to be spread out a bit to reach the edge and form a proper layer. I use canning funnels to facilitate addition of ingredients to jar.

Attach a tag to the finished product listing the additional ingredients needed and baking instructions:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Contents of jar
Beat egg and butter together in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix until combined thoroughly. Place by rounded tablespoon on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375°F 7-9 minutes or until golden. Cool on wire rack.

This recipe was adapted from one on the back of a bag of Nestle Butterscotch Morsels. We love Nestle Morsels, any flavor.

Helping get the jars ready.

Arranging the jars.

Finished product.



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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's For Lunch Wednesday, Oh Christmas Tree!

It is that time of year, so...enter the adorable cookie cutters! Audrey and Maurene have been waiting several months, since we purchased the massive box of new cutters, to use the holiday ones. And the time is now.

This lunch is actually a basic snack for one of those late afternoon/early evening adventures to Target we have been taking lately. I believe our trip count is up to five this holiday season.

Our simple snack contains a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, swiss cheese, fruit, and pretzels. Look hard, the swiss is cut with the same shape cutter, only smaller, and is on top of the sandwich.

Yes, she is eating the cheese 'crust'!

What a beautiful tree!

This post was submitted, humbly, to Bentolunch.net for What's For Lunch Wednesday. The other lunches are almost always super fabulous and you should go check them out.


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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fruit & Nut Ice Box Cookies

These have to be the best cookies we have ever baked. So full of nuts and dried fruit they are flavorful and filling. The main decision to make this recipe was the copious amount of dried fruit and nuts we had in our snack cupboard. (We like quick and tasty snacks.) As a matter of fact we had enough for three batches, 2 cups of fruit and 2 cups of nuts in each batch!

With a cup of butter and 2/3 cup sugars there is no way I would call these cookies healthy. However, they are brimming with so many nuts and fruits a treat of three could almost be called a serving of fruit and protein. Enjoy them as the treat they are but relish in the added nutrients a plain cookie would not deliver.

Fruit & Nut Ice Box Cookies
  • 2 cups dried fruit
  • 2 cups chopped nuts
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Combine butter and sugar in mixer and beat together. Add egg, almond extract, baking soda and salt, mix until combined. Slowly add flour until all incorporated. Removed bowl from mixer and stir in fruit and nuts. Shape into two logs and wrap in plastic. Chill 3 hours or overnight. 

To bake, remove from plastic and cut 1/2 inch thick. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Be careful, these cookies smell really good while baking and your family will state you are torturing them if you make three batches for a cookie swap and do not give them one. 

Audrey and Maurene's Tasks:
  1. Help measure and pour
  2. Operate the mixer
  3. Help slice cookies
Mom's Tasks:
  1. Gather ingredients
  2. Assist girls
  3. Bake cookies
Audrey saw the recipe book out while I was typing this post and she begged to make the recipe again. They really are amazing!

Helping mix.

Finished product.



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Monday, December 19, 2011

Muffin Tin Monday, Fruit & Leftovers

Our Muffin Tin Monday meals have been less planned these last few weeks because of holiday travels, changes in schedule, and more responsibility. I am lucky if I remember before the girls chime in about Muffin Tin Monday. So glad they remember.

Here is a tin with pomegranate seeds, canned fruit, carrots and ranch dressing, pretzels, cantaloupe, and leftover Fauxfredo. The girls love Fauxfredo so much I made extra so we could have some for lunches.

I only ended up with the one photo of the girls helping. It was one of those days.

Loading the tin with pomegranate seeds.

Yummy lunch.

We have submitted this lunch for Muffin Tin Monday. Check out the other entries as I am sure most others came up with fun holiday themes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Five Favorite Cookies

The holiday season is here and, at least for us, that means cookie time. We participated in a cookie swap this week so our house has been full of baking and goodies. Audrey's daddy claimed it was torture for us to bake and not let him have any of the final product. We shared one, the rest were for our swap! Here is a list of some of our favorite cookies that we make most of the time. There are even a few healthy ones in our list.
  1. Breakfast Cookies. These got there name from the fact that we were working on a healthy, to-go breakfast item when we received this recipe. They are especially good for times when you are craving something sweet but do not want to consume too much sugar. These cookies only contain natural fruit sugars.
  2. Spritz Cookies. A Paternal holiday treat. The girls first learned to  make this recipe with their grandfather.
  3. Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. A standard recipe but one we love. You can use different dried fruit to change up the flavor.
  4. Sugar Cookies. Another simple and versatile recipe. I love freezing a batch of these to bake up whenever the mood strikes us. 
  5. Fruit & Nut Ice Box Cookies. This is the recipe we made for our cookie swap. It garnered rave reviews. I like that there are more additions than batter. Even though it is slightly healthier I still have to watch how many I consume. They are addictive! ( I was not able to find a link to this recipe on the web and we have not posted it yet. Hope to soon!)
When you are looking for a simple cookie recipe to make with the little ones you should try one of these. They are toddler tested and mother approved!

Fruit & Nut Ice Box Cookies.

Taking turns with the mixer.



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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blue Bunny Ice Cream Bar

Audrey's friend the Ice Cream Lady contacted us again. This time it was to inform us about the fun holiday flavors from Blue Bunny. She asked if we would be interested in an ice cream party. Aren't we always? If there is one thing I will sacrifice a few calories for it is ice cream. And this is our favorite, Blue Bunny.

We were signed up to bring snacks this week at our play group so I decided that Mom's Time needed to be our venue for the party. I browsed the Blue Bunny website for some great recipes (of which there are many) and picked up supplies for our Holiday Ice Cream Party.

Blue Bunny sent the ice cream and a gift card for supplies. All we needed was for the day to arrive.

I found a really cute Peppermint Holiday Tree on the Blue Bunny site and was lucky enough to snag just the right size mold at our local grocer, with a lid! The tree is so easy to make and really looks adorable on the table. I wish the lighting was not so bad so you could appreciate how cute the tree really was.

Ice cream tree and sandwiches.

The playgroup is held at a church with an open floor plan. Moms gather near the coffee and snacks while the children run off to play. This time most of the children gathered around immediately to grab an ice cream snack first.

Audrey, Mo and a friend belly up to the ice cream bar.

Those plates in front of the children have ice cream bites from the Hot Cocoa, Sugar Cookie, and Peppermint ice cream sandwiches. These are three amazing holiday flavors available right now from Blue Bunny. Ice cream bites were the perfect solution to ice cream with active children. I recommend this serving method any time you want to provide a fun ice cream treat to little ones. 

Ice Cream Bar
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Bananas
  • Graham crackers
  • Popcorn
  • Gingerbread marshmallows
  • Ice cream sandwich bites
Audrey & Maurene's Tasks:
  1. Help shop for ingredients
  2. Pack for ice cream bar
  3. Assist with Ice Cream Tree
Mom's Tasks:
  1. Shop for ingredients
  2. Set up the ice cream bar
  3. Slice the sandwiches (a friend did this for me!)
  4. Help with Ice Cream Tree

Stealing a bite.

After most of the children had grabbed a plate Maurene remained behind grazing at the ice cream bar. I was too busy taking pictures to notice she had grabbed a spoon and was eating the ice cream tree directly from the container. Fortunately all of the moms help each other so someone caught her before she got to her second bite. It appears her favorite is the Perfectly Peppermint.

These are holiday flavors so I do not expect them to be around for long. I have seen several flavors available at our local grocers. Grab a tub or box while you can!


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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What's For Lunch Wednesday, Mr. Sun

The weather in Kansas is usually dreary this time of year. We get wind, cold, rain and no sun for days. This was one of those days. In order to enjoy the sun I pulled out a pretty cookie cutter and made some styling embellishments for his face. The girls loved it. Even though we ended up picnicking in the living room it was a fun meal.

I did more of the setup than usual this time because I thought it would be fun to have a face on the sun. After I prepped eyes and mouth I laid them out for the girls to adorn once they fixed their sandwiches.

Ready!

Audrey's sunny face.

Mo working hard to cut the sandwich.

Mo's finished product.

Audrey's smiling lunch.

Lunch in the living room.

Check out the other amazing lunches this week at What's For Lunch Wednesday.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kim & Scott Pretzel with Homemade Sauce

We rarely get offers for items we could use. Many companies want us to promote soda or non-food items on our blog. So you can imagine how excited I was when we were offered several coupons for free soft pretzels from Kim & Scott's Gourmet Soft Pretzels. The girls love soft pretzels! And, after reading about the company, I was excited to give them a try. 

For a fancy pretzel we decided to make a fancy cheese sauce. I know, you are surprised the girls wanted cheese. The pretzel I selected was Grilled Cheese as well. Mo was happy. So was I after reading that these pretzels are made from whole wheat flour and hand twisted! The girls loved the pretzels even more than the cheese dip! Here is Audrey making the roux for our cheese sauce:




Isn't she cute? Here is our recipe:
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • Enough milk for your consistency 1/2 cup to 1 cup
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of shredded cheese
Melt butter on medium heat. Add flour and stir quickly. Incorporate milk slowly, stirring constantly. Cook over medium heat for another 2-3 minutes or until desired consistency. Add shredded cheese.

Audrey's Tasks:
  1. Add ingredients
  2. Stir
Mom's Tasks:
  1. Gather ingredients
  2. Measure
  3. Assist Audrey
The reason there are two videos is because I do not have any editing software and I had to stop filming to help Audrey stir. If you are not quick your flour and butter can burn. Keep an eye on this recipe, it cooks quickly.

And go get some amazing Kim & Scott's Gourmet Soft Pretzels! We bought ours at Target but I have seen them many places.

Adding the cheese.

Fruit, gourmet pretzel, and cheese sauce.

If you must know, there were two pretzels in the box. I ate the second one. They are huge and I knew the girls could not finish one by themselves! That is my story and I am sticking with it. I will say no more on the subject except that the pretzels tastes amazing!


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Monday, December 12, 2011

Muffin Tin Monday, Red Pepper Eggs

I saw a cute picture somewhere of an egg cooked in a red pepper slice. At the store I spotted red peppers and explained my idea to the girls. They seemed open to it so we purchased the red pepper. Come Muffin Tin Monday time we were all stumped about what to eat. I had recently cleaned the fridge and knew there was little exciting to eat in there. Maurene spotted Eggland Best's eggs and decided we should have those for lunch. And that is when I remembered the red pepper.

Maurene cracked the egg while I sliced the red pepper. Audrey decided we needed a little lettuce from our cute leaves in the pot on our counter. It got cold so we brought them in and just never ate many. They are too cute to eat.

They got really cold.

Also decided by Maurene was the orange and raisins. Audrey added a desire for cantaloupe and I added ham and pineapple. It was a collaborative effort!

Maurene peeled the orange.

Egg in a red pepper!

Audrey wanted her picture with the meal.

The egg was really good! Maurene, the eternal toddler picky eater, would not try hers so I got it. Audrey ate the egg out of the red pepper but did not care for the pepper. All I can ask is that they try! After requesting the lettuce neither girl ate any. At least they are starting to ask.

As always, we are submitting this to Muffin Tin Monday. Check out the other amazing meals!

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Five Favorite Slow Cooker Dishes

I know I should use the slow cooker more in the summer when it is hot and I do not want to use the oven. However, I usually crave meals from the slow cooker when it gets really cold. When I first started looking for easy dishes for the girls to help with it was hard to find something they would like. They are not big on soup or stew and casseroles can be hit or miss. After borrowing cookbooks from friends and the library we were able to find meals we all enjoy. These five are big hits and we make them often.
  1. Slow Cooker Mac 'n Cheese. I recommend this meal often. It is tasty, easy, and can be relatively healthy.
  2. Easy Pot Roast. We have this so often now the girls forget it is a recent addition to our menu. I usually make my own condensed soup now and just throw in a bunch of seasoning in place of the dried soup mix. 
  3. Barbecue Ribs. These are Maurene's favorite. She likes to gnaw on a bone until there is nothing left.
  4. Barbecue Chicken. This is my favorite. It is not only easy to make but freezes well.
  5. Slow Cooker Yogurt. This was a delight when we first discovered it. Previously I had tried to make yogurt and failed half the time. This recipe has never failed me. And the girls love it.

Another fabulous slow cooker meal.



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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pink Pancakes, Audrey's Favorite!

Most mornings Audrey asks for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Maurene requests cereal. These are the times I am glad they want the same foods all of the time. I am not a morning person. When the rare desire for something different pops up I try to accommodate them. 

Audrey loves pink and I keep frozen pureed beets for coloring pancakes a lovely girly pink. For those fun times when the girl's daddy gets to sleep in or take the day off we keep a box of pancake mix around (he does not like to follow a recipe). Adding water and a little pureed beet makes a beautiful pink pancake batter.

Beet juice, pancake mix, and a measuring cup.

Mixing the batter.

And then I cooked the pancakes for them. I would love to show you beautiful pictures of them enjoying the pancakes but I was too busy cooking and serving to take pictures. I cook them two at a time and the girls ate them as fast as I could cook them. We used to have leftovers to keep in the freezer ready to pop in the toaster. Not this time. They ate every bite of the serving for 2 people. 

Audrey and Maurene's Tasks:
  1. Help measure 
  2. Mix
Mom's Tasks:
  1. Gather ingredients
  2. Cook
These are so easy and simple to make. When I do get a good night's sleep it is fun to whip these up with the girls.


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