Friday, November 29, 2013

Getting into the Holiday Spirit: Scotch Shortbread Cookies

Are you still in a Thanksgiving coma?  Belly full from turkey and pie?  Heart warmed from spending time with those you love?  For me, Thanksgiving is the start of the winter holiday season (of course, typically Chanukah falls after Thanksgiving, so this year is a little wonky.)

Following Thanksgiving, we get our tree, decorate our house, and bake bake bake bake bake.  With Chanukah coming early, I've already been a bit of a cookie baking machine, but stick around and you'll see lots more holiday cookies being featured.  

My third holiday cookie of the season are these shortbread cookies.  Thatmom makes fantastic biscotti but these are my pick for not too sweet cookies to serve along tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.  I prefer their flakiness (from using powdered sugar in place of granulated) to the harder biscotti.

I whipped up a batch of these with Thatbaby right before we headed over to the Pirates new place, so I brought them along with us.  The kids were a fan, and with only half a cup of sugar in the entire batch, I don't have to feel too guilty about serving them alongside healthier options like apples, oranges, and smoothies.  Mrs. Pirate really does provide a fantastic spread for little guys.

Scotch Shortbread Cookies
1/2 lb butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Cream the butter in an electric mixer.
  2. Add the sugar, and beat until combined.
  3. Mix the flour and salt and add to the butter, beating until combined.
  4. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into rectangles and place on a parchment or silpat lined cookie sheet.  Poke the rectangles with a fork and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgivukah! Caramel Ice Cream

I can't even believe how ridiculously early Chanukah was this year.  Typically we do a majority of our holiday shopping during Black Friday - at least when it comes to small Chanukah gifts for each other, but that obviously wasn't going to work this year.

This also meant that in addition to my usual Thanksgiving prep, I was doing Chanukah prep.  Because while we gather round to give thanks, we'll also get the chance to celebrate Chanukah with all our family.

Thatmom requested that I make a Challah, which isn't really a Chanukah food, but I aim to please.

I also spent the weekend making truffles for all our family members as part of their Chanukah gifts.  Something I've learned from years of doing Christmas with TBIL's extended family is that when you're doing gifts for a huge amount of people, pairing inexpensive gifts with homemade treats is the way to go.

Thatbaby also helped me make Chanukah gingerbread cookies - menorahs, "twinkle twinkle little stars" (magen davids), and dreidels.

I also did my tradition of ice cream.  I always make 2 different kinds, the first being the fudge swirl that Thatdad made every year.  This year it came out more chocolate, less swirl.

And my Thatgirl contribution this year was a caramel ice cream.  Mostly because Thatmom was making an apple pie and I thought caramel ice cream sounded like it would be really good with apple pie.  Thatbaby helped me make both ice creams, just like I used to help Thatdad.  I'm pretty excited to be able to pass that tradition on.

Caramel Ice Cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 qt heavy cream
1 1/2 Tbsp vanilla
  1. Heat half of the sugar in a pan, swirling, as sugar melts and caramelizes.
  2. While the sugar is caramelizing, heat the heavy cream in a large saucepan.
  3. Add the caramelized sugar to the cream, along with the remaining sugar and vanilla.  Heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved into the cream.
  4. Let cool completely, and then process in your ice cream maker.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!  I hope yours is filled with family, friends, and lots of good food.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Low Key Birthday: Crockpot Wet Chicken Burritos

The Pearl Jam concert was Thatboy's real birthday celebration, but we couldn't ignore the day of.  Especially since it happened to fall on a Saturday.  And especially especially because it didn't fall on Thanksgiving, as it does quite often.

We started the day with a trip to Thatboy's favorite breakfast locale - The Original Pancake House.

The boys both ate their fill of pancakes.

And although I'm not as big of a pancake fan as the boys, the egg white omelets at OPH are enough to make me happy to tag along for breakfasts.

Thatboy had requested a beach day for his birthday, but with threats of rain, we had decided to make other plans.  Since the skies were clear after breakfast, we headed to catch a little of the sun on the beach.  

Most of our beaches have playgrounds on them, so we couldn't leave without some sliding and swinging.

Thatboy's next request was a trip to Lou's Records.  Thatboy got to wander the aisles and listen to music, while I chased around Thatbaby, who did take some breaks from wrecking havoc to listen to some music himself.

We were meeting Thatbrother for lunch, but Thatbaby fell asleep in the car after Lou's.  Which was a problem.  Because he awoke after 45 minutes, too short a nap, and spent the entire lunch in hysterics.  YAY!  Thatbrother decided Thatboy shouldn't have to deal with this on his birthday, and offered to take Thatboy out for a drink.  And after some ice cream cake, that's exactly what happened.

Thatboy had decided that for his birthday dinner, he wanted to do takeout and a movie, so he picked up Chipotle on the way home from his afternoon with Thatbrother and we attempted to watch The Croods.  I say attempted, because Thatbaby was entirely uninterested.  We never have to worry too much about screen time, our kid just doesn't have the patience for it.  After about 20 minutes he announced he was "All done this," pointing to the television.

After we got Thatbaby to bed, we settled in to watch The Hobbit.  It was a pretty low-key birthday, but exactly what Thatboy wanted. 

While I didn't feel the need to photograph and share our Chipotle dinner, I will share with you the next best thing.  Homemade burritos!  Thatboy thinks these might be the best burritos I've made, mostly because they're "enchilada style" - wet.

Crockpot Wet Chicken Burritos (From Prevention RD)
1 can tomato sauce
2 tsp taco seasoning
1 can diced green chiles
2 lbs chicken breasts
1 cup brown rice
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup cilantro, minced
6 flour tortillas
1 cup shredded pepperjack cheese
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 head of lettuce, shredded
  1. Combine the tomato sauce, taco seasonings, and green chiles in a crockpot.
  2. Add the chicken and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 400.  Remove chicken from crockpot and shred. Add 3-4 Tbsp of the sauce to the chicken, reserving the rest of the sauce.
  4. Cook the rice.  
  5. Stir lime juice and cilantro into cooked rice.
  6. Place 1/3 cup rice and 1/4 cup chicken into each tortilla.  Roll the burritos and place seam side down in baking sheet.  Bake 5-10 minutes, until tops brown.
  7. Top each burrito with 1/4 cup sauce, some cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

That's My [Pearl] Jam: Crockpot Lemon Chicken

Thatboy and I don't really have the same taste in music.  Which is okay - so far no one has lost an appendage in our "war of the radio dial."  

We're pretty good at taking turns.  Both with the car stereo, and our concert going.  He's a trooper at the Gin Blossoms concerts I want to go to, and I've been to an equal number of Weezer concerts.  

But Thatboy's favorite band of all times had stopped touring years ago.  A couple of years back, they began touring again.  But never made it down to San Diego.  I looked into sending him to a concert in Wisconsin, but given that I was 36 weeks pregnant, we thought it might not be the best idea.

So over the summer, when I saw that Pearl Jam was playing the week of Thatboy's birthday, it seemed like it was meant to be. 

Thatboy has loved Pearl Jam since he was just a kid, but he's never seen them in concert.  Even logging in the minute tickets went on sale, the only seats we could get were behind the stage.  Which actually worked out okay, because Eddie Vedder spent just as much time facing us as he did facing the floor.  And our seats were pretty close to the stage, since we weren't separated by all those people.

Thatboy felt that this was a concert of a lifetime.  One of the highlights of his life.  The concert lasted for hours and hours and hours (4 to be exact).   They played every song but one on Thatboy's wishlist, all their new songs, and a bunch of fun covers at the end.  They smashed lights.  Eddie even threatened to smash a ukelele.

The band's parents were even there!  (Eddie's mom was on the other side - these are family members of the other members)

It was a good night, but a really long one.  We got home around 1 in the morning.  And had to work the next day.  Seriously you guys - I am not the young and carefree coed I once was.  I'm still recovering from the concert!

While we enjoyed the concert, Thatbaby was at home with the babysitter.  It was our first time having a sitter over for dinner time, so I  thought a crockpot meal would be good.  That way food was already ready for the two of them, whenever they wanted it.  No work or cleanup on her part.  You know my love for chicken breasts, but chicken thighs are great for the crockpot because they can cook for a long time without getting dried out.

Crockpot Lemon Chicken
3 red potatoes, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 chicken thighs
2 lemons
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
2 Tbsp corn starch
1 sprig of thyme
  1. Place the potatoes, onion, and garlic at the bottom of a crockpot.
  2. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and place in the crockpot.
  3. Slice one of the lemons and place the slices atop the chicken thighs.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the chicken broth, white wine, corn starch, thyme leaves and the juice from the remaining lemon.  Pour mixture over the chicken.
  5. Cook on low for 8 hours.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mommy Mondays: Packing Up

One of the great things about sending your kid to daycare is that you become an expert on some very unexpected things.  Like what and how to send in food for a toddler's lunch.

It's been a little less than 2 years, but I've already had such a variety of experiences - from what is "allowed" to how the food is prepared at lunch time.  I thought I would share some of the things I've picked up along the way.

We'll start off with how you send things in.  I'll do another post later about the kinds of things to send in.This is going to vary upon the class room rules.  From 0-18 months, pretty much anything went for us.  There was a microwave to heat things up, so I could send in anything.  And the food was placed in the fridge, so I didn't have to worry about a lunchbox.

In the early days I sent things in these Munchkin bowls.

They were great for cut up fruit, or a bowl of stirfry, which is what Thatbaby ate when he was just starting out with solids.  They were microwaveable, so things could be heated, and they were small enough to send in a bunch of things since he wasn't eating at set times.

Once he moved on to the transitionary room, they started having a set lunch time.  I started using these Takealongs.
Dishwasher and Microwave safe, fits the perfect amount of food for a toddler, and fit nicely in the communal fridge where everyone's lunches go.

When Thatbaby moved to the Toddler Room, things changed.  No refrigerator, no microwave.  So we had to change things up a little.  First, a lunchbox was necessary to hold everything.  After a bit of research, we landed on this one.
It's big enough to hold his milk, and several food containers, which is important because I had to send in lunch AND snack.  The interior pocket is great for holding silverwear, and the outer pocket is good if I need a little extra room for a breakfast snack, or the snack bags if the interior is really full.  It also can be thrown in the washing machine.  Which I do on a weekly basis.

As far as what goes inside, without refrigeration, you want to make sure that the cold stuff stays cold.  Which is why I like these little Fit and Fresh Containers.  
I was already a fan of Fit and Fresh, since Thatboy and I use their lunch containers for our lunch.  These are great because they have little ice packs that fit into the lid of each.  Now that Thatbaby is in preschool, he has microwave access again, these are what I send in his main courses that need to be heated.  I like the 2 cup containers because they fit small things like green beans, or large things like a stuffed potato.

Without a microwave, I needed something that would keep warm things warm, a thermos!

I use this for pasta, rice and meat, or even soup - one of Thatbaby's favorites.  This is nice, short, and stout, which is great in terms of space in the lunchbox.

I also am a big fan of reuseable bags for things like raisins, sandwiches, or crackers.  Thatmom got me a set from Carried Away.

They're super cute, and wash really well.   I also use these on the weekend to throw a snack in my bag to have on hand.

We have gone through all sorts of drink containers over the past couple of years, and I have finally hit on my favorite - the Contigo Autospout.

Both Little LO and Little Parrot used these bottles and that's how I was introduced to them.  The upside to these is that they're gigantic, easy to use, easy to wash, and THEY DON'T LEAK!  The downside is they're not insulated.  I used these for Thatbaby's milk right now, and it seems to be okay, but I think it helps that it's pressed against the cold icepacks in the containers.  I would be a little more nervous if it wasn't in an insulated bag.

So these are the tools I use and have found successful.  It's an entirely different animal than what I put in them, which is only sometimes successful.  But we'll cover that later!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Two Wild and Crazy Guys: Viennese Crescents

Thatbaby has been asking about Little LO a lot lately.  Mostly he wants him to have another birthday party.  I've tried explaining that he's going to have to wait months for that.  But L&O invited us over for dinner this weekend so we could get a bit of a Little LO fix.

It took a couple minutes for Little LO to warm up.  Not because he's unfriendly, but because Thatbaby instantly made a beeline for ALL of Little LO's toys.  Manners are not his strong point.  Once they figured out they could actually play together, things took a decided turn for the crazy.

There were races from the kitchen to the bedrooms.  There was climbing over anything that was taller than a cat.  And there was crazy bouncing, rolling, and wrestling on a bed.

The L&Os made an amazing dinner - grilled tri-tip, my new favorite quinoa recipe, and they once again introduced to a great new staple salad to keep on hand.

My contribution was dessert.  With the upcoming holiday season, this is the time to start with the holiday cookies.  These are my favorite holiday cookie.  I love how the cookie itself just melts and flakes, it's so delicate!  And the confectioners' sugar "snow" that coats it makes it fun, seasonal, and sweet!

Viennese Crescents (from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
1/2 lb butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup ground nuts
1 tsp vanilla
confectioners sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 300.  Cream the butter in an electric mixer.
  2. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the flour, nuts, and vanilla and mix until combined.
  4. Use your fingers to roll the dough into 2 inch long crescents.
  5. Roll in confectioners sugar and place on a parchment or silpat lined cookie sheet.  Bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle confectioners sugar over again once cooled, before serving.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Toes in the Sand: Shrimp and Broccoli with Orzo

I remember the first time I ran on the sand.  It sounds like such a romantic idea, doesn't it?  Running beside the waves lapping at your feet.  Enjoying the cool ocean breeze.  The reality?  It's hard!  The sand gives beneath your feet, and so you really have to work to not run in place.  It was probably the least rewarding run ever done as I felt as though I was running at top speed, only to look down at my GPS and realize I was running a 17 minute mile.

So you'd probably be really surprised to hear that the moment I heard about a race right on the beach I wanted to sign up.  I'm either stupid, crazy, or a glutton for punishment.

But the Surfing Madonna had a bunch of things going for it.  To begin, it was the first year the race was being run, and I'm a sucker for inaugural races.

Secondly, the race started at 12:30.  Which meant not having to get up at the crack of dawn to run.

And finally, the cause.  Like many other things in San Diego, the Surfing Madonna is a source of controversy.

 A mosaic created by Mark Patterson, the Surfing Madonna depicts just what the title implies.  It was covertly installed on an overpass by the artist - without any permission.  While it drew crowds of tourists, it was considered graffiti and removed by the City of Encinitas, and Patterson was fined.

Currently it has found a new home, and a new voice.  The Surfing Madonna Oceans Project uses the image to raise awareness of the world's oceans' issues.  And it was the Project who sponsored the race, with funds going back to the community.

Friday was overcast, cold, and frankly, a little wet.  But the sun broke free by Saturday morning, which meant a great day for a race on the beach.  One of the things I hadn't thought about was the fact that a 12:30 start time would have me racing during Thatbaby's nap time, so my usual photographer was home with our sleeping child and you're stuck with the few phone photos I took.

The race started and ended on the beach.  And the entire middle portion was also on the beach.  They started us in waves of 500.  It wasn't terribly organized, no one really checked bib numbers, but at the same time, no one really cared.  There was so much room, there wasn't any bottle-necking, and no one had to worry about weaving around slower runners.

The first mile headed north on the beach.  Because it was low tide, we were actually able to run on the harder, packed sand.  Although this also meant most of us got wet feet!   At mile 1, we hit the turnaround and the first water station.  

The second mile was headed right back toward the start.  The sand was a little less packed, since the runners heading north were closer to the water, but it still wasn't soft sand.

The last mile headed south of the finish for half a mile, then it was turn around and run back for the last .6 miles.    There was another water stop right around mile 2.

The last little bit up the finish was soft soft soft sand.  Which completely humbles you.  Because everyone is standing around the finish cheering as you try to maneuver up and through that difficult to run stuff I talked about in the very first paragraph.  Nothing like a little audience during the toughest part of the race!

My final time was nothing to brag about, in fact, I was a little disappointed.  Thatboy tried to convince me it was due to the whole "running on sand" thing, but given that most of it was hardpacked sand, I'm not sure that was much of an excuse.

It's always fitting to eat seafood after spending some time on the beach.  Kind of the "full body experience."  Especially if it's really easy to prepare, and it doesn't get much easier than shrimp.  Almost everyone knows that lemon is a go-to seafood choice, so it should be no surprise to see it here.  

Shrimp and Broccoli with Orzo
1 cup orzo
1 head of broccoli, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 lemon
1/2 cup white wine
1 tbsp butter
3/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

  1. Cook orzo according to package directions.  Place broccoli in colander and drain orzo over (the boiling water will cook the broccoli)
  2. Heat oil over medium heat and sauté onions until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.
  4. Add the zest of the half lemon and juice from same lemon to pan along with wine and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in the butter and cook until melted.
  6. Add the shrimp and cook about 2 minutes per side, until pink.
  7. Stir in the orzo and broccoli and serve.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Toddler Celebrity: Chicken Noodle Lasagna

When we were planning our trip to Palm Springs, I noticed that a very special friend would be visiting a town that was between Palm Springs and home.   Thatboy and I bought a couple of tickets and surprised Thatbaby with his first encounter with a real celebrity.

Thomas the Tank Engine was visiting Orange Empire Railway Museum and seemed like a great stop for our little train lover.  What's funny is, even without seeing a single Thomas episode, Thatbaby had been calling every train "Thomas" for a long time.  I have a feeling it was a daycare influence since they have Thomas trains there.

Thatmom got Thatbaby a Thomas book, and he received another for his birthday and both get read again and again.  We actually avoid the television show, because I don't like it.  I think the trains are mean and are always making awful faces, or as Thatbaby says when he sees them "Peeewww horse poo poo!"

But as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, Thatbaby went crazy.  Thomas pulled out right in front of us on one of his trips and Thatbaby couldn't wait to see him, and ride him!

Thatbaby had been such a good sport that morning, letting Thatboy and I hit up the outlets, that we felt really good taking him to something that was so exciting for him.  We killed some time before our boarding time by taking some pictures with Thomas, and then it was time.  ALL ABOARD!

Once we got in our car, the Conductor came around and had all the kids "choo choo"ing.  Then he got a Jr. Engineer Certificate!

We rode around on Thomas for a bit, Thatbaby glued to the window.  And when we arrived back at the station we took advantage of the rest of the museum.  Like a ride on the caboose!

And we got to go inside a bunch of other trains, like a sleeper car, a mail car, and the inside of a steam engine.

Thatbaby also manage to finagle a ride in the caboose engine.  So we got to sit with the engineer as he drove the train.  Being so close to the engine made Thatbaby a little nervous, but Thatboy loved the experience.

It was a great way to end our trip, but it made for a very long day.  We got home in time for dinner, bed, and right back up for work/school the next day.  Which meant we were all a little tired last week.  It's hard to come right back from a vacation and jump into the regular work week.  Usually that means at least one of us ends up sick.   This trip, we somehow lucked out.  Just in case, last week I made us one of your stereotypical "sick" foods - chicken noodle soup.  But since we weren't sick, I made it with a twist, chicken noodle lasagna!  All the comfort of chicken noodle soup, including the same ingredients.  Lasagna noodles take the place of egg noodles, chicken, and the same sort of soup vegetables you're used to seeing.  All that's missing is the broth!  But you won't miss it.

Chicken Noodle Lasagna
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 chicken breast
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
16 oz ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 head of broccoli, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can tomato sauce
6 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 cups mozzarella, shredded
1/2 cup parmesean, grated

  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Heat 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat.  Season chicken with salt, pepper, thyme and oregano.  Cook 6 minutes per side, or until cooked through.  Once chicken cools, dice.
  2. Combine ricotta, eggs and some salt and pepper.  Set aside.
  3. Heat remaining olive oil in the pan.  Add the onions, garlic, celery, peppers, and carrots and saute for 3 minutes.
  4. Add the broccoli and cook for another 2 minutes.
  5. Pour just enough tomato sauce to coat the bottom of an 8x8 pan.  Place 2 lasagna noodles on top of the sauce.
  6. Top the noodles with half of the ricotta, half of the chicken, and half of the veggies.
  7. Put 1/3 of cheese on top of the veggies and 1/3 of the sauce on top of cheese.
  8. Repeat with 2 noodles, remaining ricotta, chicken and veggies, and half of the remaining sauce and cheese.
  9. Top the final layer with 2 more noodles, remaining sauce, and cheese.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes.
  10. Uncover and bake for 10 more minutes.