Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Leftover Baby Food: Chicken Cashew

We are participants of the WIC program, which provides free supplemental foods to low-income families, and as a result, we have a large surplus of baby food purees.  My kids really only eat the mushy stuff until they have teeth, and then they're graduated up to finger foods.  So what do you do with all that perfectly good fruit and vegetable matter lying around?  You sneak it in.

It's great in spaghetti sauces, risotto, and soups, most obviously, but you can also put it in any thing you're blending, like cake mix or stuffing.  Today I thought I'd stir it in a simple chicken recipe to see how it would do.

This is a Rachael Ray recipe from her 365 No Repeats cookbook.  She calls it Park City Cashew Chicken.  Season a pound of chopped chicken with grill seasoning and saute in vegetable oil until lightly browned.  Remove and set aside.  Add a chopped onion and a chopped red bell pepper to the same pan.  I actually like them julienned for this recipe; it's easier to do than a fine chop and I like the size a little bit better.  Cook them until they're slightly softer and translucent, then add two chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  You can find these in the ethnic foods aisle in a can.  If you like it a little spicier, you can add a teaspoon of the sauce as well.  If you can't find them at all, chipotle-flavored Tabasco works really well.  Stir the chicken back into the veggies and add honey and real maple syrup.  I do about two turns of the pan for each.  Then take it off the heat and stir in one cup of raw cashews.  Today I used salt and pepper flavored cashews, but if yours are not seasoned, you may want to add some salt and pepper.  Finally, add one or two containers of pureed baby food.  Today I added carrots.  You can't taste them at all and I figure it's at least half an adult serving of veggies.  Win win win!!  I usually serve this over rice but today I forgot, so we ate it as is and it was delicioso, as my two-year-old would say.

Last weekend we went to the kids' Trunk-or-Treating carnival and it was such a good time!  The kids have so much fun and they are really, ridiculously cute in their little costumes.  These are my girls in their princess outfits:

Ayla was not a fan of her "tiara."  But they look cute!  My trunk wasn't as cute this year as it was last year but here it is:

My favorite trunk was done up like Lucy's Psychiatric Help booth, from Peanuts.  The little boy went as Charlie Brown.  Too Cute!!! 

It was a potluck event so I brought crack-ups, which are a dessert recipe I obtained from a bachelor friend of mine (so you know it's gotta be easy.)  They are a HUGE hit, and super yummy to have sitting around in your freezer for THOSE kind of days.

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
12 oz chocolate chips
saltine crackers

Preheat the oven to 450.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Arrange the saltine crackers in one layer in the bottom of the sheet.  Melt the butter in a sauce pan on the stove and dissolve the sugar into it.  Boil for 3 minutes.  Pour the mixture over the crackers, spread evenly, and bake for 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and pour the chocolate chips on the top.  Give it a sec to melt, then spread it evenly and put it the freezer.  When it's solid, remove the foil and "crack it up" into bite-sized pieces.  Yummy is an understatement.

In other news, I finished my scrapbooking calendar pages and got them all ready to go into the calendars.  So I go online to purchase the calendars, and.....THEY'VE BEEN DISCONTINUED.  S#!T.  I am still exploring other options.  I may have to have them bound and draw the calendar grids myself.  I'm not a happy camper.  But it will be okay.....I hope.

I'm not kidding when I say you can't taste the baby food.  Give it a try if you've got some you don't know what to do with.  I haven't tried it with any fruit yet, but I bet you could mix that into yogurt and give it to your older kids!!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Capes, Alphabet Bling, and Cricut Cutouts

I finally finished the cape for my husband's Henry VIII costume, just in the nick of the time for the kids' Halloween trunk-or-treating carnival this weekend.  Trunk-or-Treating is a safer alternative to trick or treating.  You line up your cars and open your decorated, candy-filled trunks so the kids go from car to car instead of from door to door.  It works really well for the 5-and-under crowd because they don't really know the difference, and they'd rather do it in the middle of the afternoon, at a party anyway.  Picture from last year:

We were bees and a beekeeper and the trunk was a garden.  This year I'm going with a castle / princess theme, so I used my Cricut Personal Electronic Cutter to cut out some shapes.  It should be pretty cute.  Pictures to come.

As of four days ago, I had our dresses and the girls' tiaras, so I just need to finish Justin's cape, and find myself a tiara and an Anne Boleyn necklace.  She wore this letter "B" necklace in the most famous picture of her, and I felt I really needed it to complete the costume.  (I'm also going with a faint red line across my neck in case some people need another hint.)  So I look online, but they're too expensive; I scour the costume shops; I check the craft stores; nobody has a letter B necklace or bead.  I find a couple of bead shops in town and I check them out, to no avail, when someone suggests Piercing Pagoda.  DUH.  Why didn't I think of that?  What high school cheerleader doesn't have her monogram hanging around her neck??  So I head to the mall with my two kids and I check Claire's (nothing) some jewelry kiosks (too expensive) and Piercing Pagoda.  They had one that would have worked for $15, so I seriously considered it, but thought I'd check Hallmark first.  The lady at Hallmark said her daughter got her monogram necklace at Justice, which is a little teeny-bopper store (with some adorable clothes I might add).  They had exactly what I needed for $7.50.  Score.  I picked up a $4 tiara for myself at Claire's (and $20 in hairbows........I might have a problem) and called it a DAY.  Next year I might take a page out of my friend Carrie's book and just buy the damn things online.....which brings me to my next point: the cape.

I mentioned previously that I didn't want to spend fifty dollars on it.  I now understand why one would do this.  I spent $25 and 12-15 hours on it.  So you know, time or money.  But I feel accomplished, even though all my friends think I'm nuits for doing it completely by hand.  My reasoning for this is that learning how to use a sewing machine would have been infinitely more stressful to me.  At least this way was relaxing.  I know enough about cross-stitch to be able to make a simple halloween costume.  I can't do anything that will hold up in the washing machine, or has any complicated seams, but a cape I can handle.  The finished product:

I used 2 yards of the red material and less than one yard of the white material.  I had my husband drape it over his shoulders, pinned it in a few places, hemmed it here and there, and added the fur trim.  I sewed the outer seam inside-out, so you can't see the stitches (obviously I don't know any technical terms here) but I didn't know how to do that on the inner seam, so I stitched it right-side-out.  Joining the fur together on the corners was a little tricky, but I just swag'ed it, and it turned out okay.  Then the chain (which I found at Michael's for $3) I just secured with some thread, and there you have it!  A regal cloak.  The costume store wanted ten dollars for a plastic chain. 

Tonight we had the coconut chicken again (I'm telling you, it's good!) and a side of asparagus.  My husband got some white truffle oil for his birthday and we drizzled it over the asparagus.  It was just okay, but we'll try it again in another way soon.  At the store this time I bought several bags of the frozen mango to keep on hand for this recipe.  I also bought some frozen pineapple to try in place of the mango.  It should be pretty good I think, especially with the coconut.

AND I got my new issue of Every Day With Rachael Ray!  It's mostly thanksgiving food, of which I am not the biggest fan, but there were some good dessert recipes that I tore out before recycling the magazine.  Since I'll have a large crowd for the few weeks around that time, I'm sure I'll plenty of opportunities to try them out.

We had some crazy meltdowns today, and I'm hoping I can keep it together until the weekend.  Or at the very least until bedtime :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Risotto WhatchaCanFind

"Whatchacanfind" is a term coined by an old college roommate of mine that refers to a dish with a bunch of stuff thrown in it that was just laying around asking to be cooked, is not good for anything else, and/or is about to go bad.  She usually made Chili Whatchacanfind.  I do this a lot with soups, throwing in random vegetables, but my whatchacanfind ingredients the other night included shrimp and peas, so something a little more elegant was in order.

First let me say that risotto is an elegant, delicious dish that is very versatile and also impressive.  You can make it with chocolate or seafood, chicken or vegetables, champagne or vegetable broth;  you can serve it as a meal, a sidedish, an appetizer, or a dessert.  It looks expensive (and is, in restaurants) but is relatively easy, doesn't take too long, and can be very healthy.  Risotto is a rice dish that eats like a pasta; it's warm, filling, comforting, and creamy, though it doesn't usually have any cream in it at all.  If you're only going to master a few recipes to keep in you repertoire, make risotto one of them.

Risotto is made with arborio rice, a short-grained starchy variety.  If you can't find arborio, just use the shortest-grain white rice you can find.  I've had to use medium-grain in the past, and if you've got the technique right, it will still work.  The trick to risotto is to add the liquid slowly while constantly stirring, as opposed to "regular" rice, where all the liquid is added at once and you don't touch it.  Stirring it constantly agitates the proteins (or something.......if you want to know, watch Alton Brown's Risotto episode) to release the starches into the liquids slowly, thickening the liquid and creating the creamy consistency.  But I'm not a food scientist.  I'm not even a chef or a TV host.  But I love me some risotto.

Another excellent resource for learning to master risotto is Giada di Laurentiis' Everyday Pasta cookbook.  She simply lists ingredients that work well with risotto and go well together, to show you how versatile it can be.  We frequently use asparagus and champagne, or mushrooms and red wine, but like I said, what I had on me this partucular night was shrimp and frozen peas.  Find your largest frying pan or a soup pot and get started.  First I sauteed the shrimp very simply, with salt and pepper, just until it was barely cooked through, then I removed it from the pan and set it aside.  Dice an onion (or shallot if your other flavors are more delicate).  Saute it in the same pan with some butter or olive oil.  Add 3/4 cup uncooked arborio rice and toast it just for a minute.  Add 3/4 cup white wine or 1/2 cup chicken broth.  I only had veggie broth this time, which is fine.  You can also use fruit juices for sweeter varieties, red wine for a richer taste, or champagne for fancier dishes.  Stir the rice constantly at a medium pace until the liquid is almost evaporated/incorporated, then add another 1/2 cup of liquid and continue stirring.  Add all of the liquid, 1/2 cup at a time, in this manner until the liquid is gone and the rice is fully cooked.  Your risotto should be on the verge of boiling during the entire cooking process.  Not quite at a full boil, but still reducing the liquid and hot enough to cook the rice.  I added the peas toward the end, but when I still had about a cup of liquid left, because they were still frozen and I wanted to give them time to cook.  I also needed to be able to play with the temperature, to maintain my rice after throwing frozen peas in it.  If your peas are at room temperature you can add them at the very end along with the cooked shrimp. 

I usually add parmigiano-reggiano at the end but I wanted to keep it low-cal on this night.  Shrimp is fat-free and full of protein.  There's a small amount of fat in the chicken broth, but other than that this is a healthy, delicious meal, complete with 'meat', veggie, and starch.

You can do this with almost anything-you-can-find.  When I use asparagus, I boil it in the broth first to partially cook the asparagus as well as flavor the broth.  You can use dried mushrooms too, boiling them in the broth to rehydrate them and flavor the broth before adding them into your risotto at the last minute.  You can use lemon juice for a light lunch, or chocolate and pomegranate juice for a decadent dessert.  It does require you to stand in front of it for 30-plus minutes, but it is so worth it, and it will be better than anything you find in a restaurant.  I'm always disappointed in restaurant risottos, but mine always turns out.  I think this is because they sit on a heating surface in restaurants and dry out, but at home you get it fresh off the stove.

Tonight is taco night, nothing special but easy and yummy.  The halloween festivities are coming up and it's costume central at my house.  The kids have a trunk-or-treating carnival to go to next weekend, so I made the decorations for our trunk today, and I bought the treats.  I'm a lame mom, I guess, and for as long as I can get away with it, I'm giving out raisins and fruit snacks instead of Snickers.  I still haven't found my Anne Boleyn necklace and my husband's cape is half done, but it's really crunch time now and I've got to get going.  On the upside, I did finish two scrapbook-calendar pages the other night.  I swear as soon as this year's calendar is done, I *will* start on the baby book for my youngest, who will be one in about six weeks.  Yikes!

After trying my hand at sewing and beading, each for the first time, in the last two weeks, I can definitely say I do NOT need another hobby.  I have five unfinished novels that will testify to that.

Anyway, go digging around in your pantry and see whatchacanfind :)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Time! Time! Who's Got The Time!

Ugh.  There just is not enough time in the day.  Right now I should definitely be cleaning my house and not blogging.  But I've been promising a Disney blog so I need to get to it, because that's a LOT of information.  This morning I discovered that if my children are not up by 8, we're not getting anywhere by 10:30.  This morning we JUST made our playdate, and we were glad we did because we had a good time and got some great pictures.  I mean, tell me this isn't adorable:
But they sure gave me hell this morning.  I put Audrey's pants on, and her boots over top of them, and she tells me her underwear is wet.  So I undress her and start all over.  Then I get Ayla half dressed, and she throws up on me.  I change my shirt, I finish dressing the girls, and we're all ready to go with not a minute to spare.  I strap them in the car, I sit down in the drivers' seat, and Audrey has to pee.

I don't know how we got there at a reasonable hour but it was fun.  Now at 2 in the afternoon I'm finally making coffee.

Anyway my husband turned 29 on Monday and we went to Disney World for the weekend to celebrate.  Here it is, the much-anticipated "How To Take Your Toddler to Disney World and Come Home With Your Sanity" instructional manual.  Enjoy:

First let me say that Disney World is a large collection of theme parks, resort hotels, and attractions.  Disney is not a single theme park.  So when you say you're going to Disney, and somebody says, which part?  you don't say, Disney.  If you mean the Magic Kingdom, then you should say the Magic Kingdom.  The four main theme parks are Magic Kingdom, EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom..  There are also water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), a large shopping / nightlife area (Downtown Disney)  and multiple resort hotels.

To fully experience all four parks for the first time, I recommend at least one day in each park.  This is what we're doing when my niece visits in November.  Some basic information on each park: 

EPCOT is all about culture and knowledge.  Some kids will find it to be boring, but it's usually the adults' favorite.  All the great food, wine, and shopping is at EPCOT.  There are a few rides that the little ones can do, and a few that they can't.  My 2-yr-old loves Journey Into The Imagination, Spaceship Earth, and Ellen's Energy Adventure.  She can also participate in Maelstrom, Living with the Land, The Living Seas, and the Mexico Boat Ride with Donald Duck, as well as any of the sit-down shows.  She is too small for Mission: Space, Test Track, and Soarin'. 
One-Day plan for EPCOT:
Eat breakfast at your hotel or home, then head to the park.  Arrive at the park probably around 10, realistically.  Go straight to Soarin', located in the Land.  Get your Fast Pass for later.  (See Fast Pass description below).  Ride Spaceship Earth, Ellen's Energy Adventure, and Journey Into the Imagination.  Also check out the sights, the gift shops, and the Innovations building.  Pick up your Kim Possible Phone at Innovations and do a cute little scavenger hunt if you want to.  Eat lunch at Coral Reef if you want a nice meal, or the food court in the Land if you want a quick meal.  Ride the Nemo ride and check out the aquarium.  Check out the Lion King Show and the Living with the Land boat ride.  Then ride Soarin' if enough time has passed.  Head over to the World Showcase.  It's a big circle, so head left or right depending on what you want to do first.  Every country has a show, ride, shopping, or dining to enjoy while you learn a little about their culture.  Each location has cast members from that country to help you and chat with you, as well as a Kidcot location.  These are masks or other crafts for them to color, to entertain them for a few minutes.  An older child will enjoy having a little collection of projects to take home.  World showcase highlights:  Canada film, shopping in China and Japan, drummers in Japan, pub in UK, Beatles cover band in UK, singers in US, Boat ride in Mexico, shopping in Mexico, admiring the inside of the pyramid in Mexico (it's awesome), glass-blowers in Mexico, tequila shots in Mexico, boat ride in Norway.  The following have restaurants that are all amazing:  Mexico, France, Japan, China, Italy, Canada.  You may want to make a reservation (see below).  If you don't want a sit-down dinner, many of the countries have little kiosks at which you can buy snacks, or you can find a counter-service dining location.  I know China and US have them.  If you're into fireworks, pick out a spot by the water around sunset and enjoy the show.  If you're into avoiding a mass exodus with two (probably sleeping or screaming) kids, skip the fireworks and go home early.

Hollywood Studios:
The kids can ride Toy Story and the Great Movie Ride, as well as view any of the shows.  This a movie-themed park and there are a lot of really good shows.  They are too little for Tower of Terror (awesome, and pretty scary), Rockin' Roller Coaster (also awesome), The Studio Backlot Tour (cute), and Star Tours (eh).
Go straight to Toy Story and get a Fast Pass.  There is a 54" requirement to sit on your own, but you can have a lap rider of any size with you on this ride.  While you're on that side of the park, check out the Little Mermaid Show (awesome) and the Playhouse Disney Live Show (also awesome).  There's some good shopping in this area too.  There is a place you can meet Toy Story characters, and there's a Narnia show which I've never seen.  The Brown Derby restaurant is supposed to be awesome, but I've never eaten there.  When you're done in that area head over to the giant hat and ride the Great Movie Ride after you look for your favorite stars' handprints.  I like Audrey Hepburn.  Then check out the rest of the park in whatever way you happene to be headed.  The Muppet Show is cute if your kids will wear the 3D glasses.  The Honey I Shrunk The Kids playground is pretty cool for photos.  The Indiana Jones show is cool, and a classic.  There are street performers frequently.  We didn't care for the Beauty and the Beast show, but it might be worth checking out for someone else.  We really like the Sci-Fi Dine-In theater for a sit-down meal.  It's done up like an old drive-in, and you sit in cars to eat and watch your movie.  They have a delicious marinated tofu dish, and some great pastas.  We also enjoy the counter-service locations near the Tower of Terror.

Animal Kingdom:
The greenest and shadiest Disney park, Animal Kingdom is mostly about the animals and exhibits.  We did all that once with Audrey because she loves animals, but we're not that into this park.  The Yak and Yeti restaurant is very good, and I really enjoy Expedition Everest and the Kali River Rapids, but these are both thrill rides and not suitable for little ones.  There is some great shopping at this park.

Magic Kingdom:
This is what people mean when they say "Disney."  This park is geared toward the kids, the characters, and the magic.  There is no alcohol available for purchase at the park.  There aren't many good restaurants, either, unless you like American buffets, which I don't.  We do enjoy Tony's on Main Street, very near the entrance.  Cinderella's castle is in the middle of the park with everything else in a circle around it.
First we head to the People Mover in Tomorrowland, and the Astro Orbiter on top of it.  Older kids and grown-ups can check out Stitch's Escape, Space Mountain, and the Buzz Lightyear ride.  The whole family can enjoy the Carousel of Progress.  Fantasyland is home to Cinderella's Castle, Cinderella's Carousel, The Mad Tea Party, Dumbo, Peter Pan, It's a Small World, and Mickey's Philarmagic.  These are all suitable for all ages.  Audrey's favorites are the carousel and Small World.  We usually skip Dumbo because the line is always really long, and the Astro Orbiter and Aladdin's Magic Carpets are exactly the same ride.  Adventureland contains Aladdin's Magic Carpets, Jungle Cruise, The Enchanted Tiki Room, Pirates of The Caribbean, and the Swiss Family Tree House, again all suitable for little ones.  Get yourself a pineapple float while you're in this area.  Frontierland has the Hall of Presidents (naptime), Splash Mountain (not for babies), Great Thunder Mountain (not for babies), and the ferry to Tom Sawyer Island (all ages).  Tom Sawyer has a ton to explore for kids of all ages and there are some great photo ops.  It's a huge attraction with something for everybody.  I think the Country Bear Jamboree is in Frontierland as well, but I haven't done that in a very long time.  The Haunted Mansion is in between Fantasyland and Frontierland.  The kids can go on it, no problem.  Mickey's Toontown Fair is behind Fantasyland.  Here you'll find Mickey's House, Minnie's House, Donald's boat, and the Judges Tent, where you can meet Mickey and friends.  There's a kiddie coaster in this area with a 36" requirement that mine doesn't meet yet.

To get around we take a double stroller with one bag for diapers and stuff, and another bag for food and stuff.  We take buses from hotel to park, from park to hotel, and from park to park.  My kids nap in the stroller, eat off of our plates, and we never wait more than 15 minutes in a line.  We stay at a Disney resort and purchase the Disney Dining Plan, which a great deal if you're going to be purchasing food at the park.  We make reservations at the restaurant where we want to eat.  You have to collapse the stroller to get on the bus, but not on a monorail, so if you can take a monorail to get somewhere definitely go for that.  You can bring your own food if you don't want to pay for it at the park.  Kids are free under 3 to get in; and they don't have a meal plan for that age so they just eat off your plate.  There's a ton to do at the hotels as well; swimming, playing, eating, shopping, entertainment, everything.  Fort Wilderness Campground is a great place to stay with kids because of the campfire sing slong every night and the splash park near the pool.  Tons of fun.  Baby Care Stations are available at each park; check them out.

Fast Passes
Obtaining a Fast Pass is like making an appointment to come back to the ride at a later time, so you don't have to wait in the long line.  For instance, at 9 AM you insert your ticket and get a Fast Pass with 2 - 3PM written on it.  You are supposed to come back between 2 and 3 PM.  You get in the express lane and you're on the ride in ten minutes or less.  Something I found out recently is that they will take your fast pass anytime after the beginning of your window, so you don't really have to rush to make your appointment.  You can have 2 Fast Passes out at a time per ticket, and they do fill up.  They only give out a certain number for each ride.
If you have little ones who can't ride, you can do a rider swap.  Mommy gets in line while Daddy waits with the kids.  Mommy tells the attendant she needs a rider swap card.  When Mommy gets off the ride, she gives Daddy the Rider Swap card and he doesn't have to wait in the regular line.  He goes on the Fast Pass line with up to 5 members of his party while Mommy then waits with the kids.
Note that Daddy did not need a Fast Pass ticket here, even if Mommy used one.  So he could use his 2 allowed Fast Passes on 2 different rides than Mommy is using them for, and the party would be able to have 4 Fast Passes out at a time.  So even with kids you can ride the grown-up rides with little to no wait.

We don't do any of the extra stuff like the Christmas Party, Halloween Party, Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, or Character Dining, but we do purchase reasonably-priced souvenirs.  One good thing about going back and forth is that you can think about the purchases and they're not impulse buys.  If you go back and it's till there, then you buy it if you still want it.  We also don't usually watch the parades; we would rather take advantage of the shorter lines.

Characters are pretty easy to find; just take a look at your map when you get there and head to their designated location.

I'm happy to field Disney questions, and hopefully soon I can get back to my food blogging :(

Happy Time-Managing!!