Friday, September 30, 2011

Pipe Cleaner Fun!

 Olive was being particularly naughty the other day.  She had a lot of energy and was not dealing with it very well!  I came up with this activity and she loved it!  Along with ripping paper and playing with blankets, it's one of the few activities that she can get really engrossed in.
I had a bunch of pipe cleaners that I brought out from our art supplies.    Then I went in the kitchen and grabbed the vegetable wok (the kind that you use on a barbecue).  It has lots of holes in it.  You could also use a colander.  Anything with small holes, really...

Olive had such a good time putting the pipe cleaners in the holes and taking them out, over and over again.    I tried to show her how to weave it in one hole and out the other, but she was just interested in doing her own thing!

She played with this for about 15 minutes, just enough time for me to sit next to her and veg out.   I needed a break and this activity did the trick!

Dada got up while she was playing and got in the act, too.   :)

**Safety Note:  Don't leave small kids alone with the pipe cleaners.  Yes, they are soft but they have pointy edges that could potentially hurt.  Plus, if you have a toddler that still puts everything in their mouth (like mine), you'll want to watch to make sure they don't eat the fuzz!**

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chopped Challenge - The Finals!

In the past few weeks, we've had a few "Chopped Challenges" in my house.  First, it was my husband against my step dad and my husband won.  Next, it was my mom against myself and my mom won.  This past weekend, we held the finals: my mom Vs. my husband.  They both love to cook and were really looking forward to this challenge.  Earlier in the day, my step dad, Dan, and I went shopping for the mystery ingredients.  We had a pretty fun time shopping and think that we chose some interesting ingredients.  See for yourself!

The competitors:  My mom, Claudette & my husband, Jonathan.

The mystery ingredients:  Frozen sweetened strawberries, pastina pasta, Spam, fennel (anise), and falafel mix.  All the ingredients must be used in some way in the final dish.  Points will go for overall presentation, taste, originality, and use of ingredients.

Grinding some Spam in the food processor.  Ewwww....

Jonathan is finely dicing some Spam.  Onions have been sliced and strawberries are drying on a plate.

Diced Spam, parsley, parmesan cheese.  Meatball in the making?

No Spam for Olive!  She's feasting on kidney beans, sweet potato, and whole wheat English muffin.

The makings of a stir-fry:  fennel, red bell pepper, shredded carrots.

Falafel balls frying on the stove.  I love falafel but this particular brand had a really overwhelming cumin taste.    Probably won't buy in the future!

Cooked pastina, butter, parmesan cheese.  The pastina is so tiny, it ended up being kind of like a polenta.  It was actually pretty good!
The pastina pasta up close.  Tiny, tiny little stars.

My mom's version of pate.  Ground spam mixed with strawberries and spices atop crunchy bread.   It actually wasn't half bad!

Jonathan ended up making some spam-fennel-falafel....hmmm....meatballs?  He grilled them on the barbecue.  They really did turn out delicious.  

Claudette made mini daiquiris with the strawberries.  And we all know how a slice of fried Spam on the rim of the glass makes any drink better!  :(

Blended something with the hand immersion blender.  I really hope Spam isn't in there.

Claudette's final dish:  Falafel atop a bed of pastina with veggie stir-fry.  Spam pate on the side.   The orange stuff is tomato soup - she thought it would make a good sauce.  She was wrong.  Dead wrong!

Jonathan's final dish:  Pastina with fennel, Spam meatlogs, cabbage-fennel slaw.  Everything was really good except the pastina was kind of mushy and bland.

In the end, Jonathan ended up winning by 1 point.  It was a pretty close race!  And again, like in our previous challenges, we were all pretty amazed at what was created from some pretty strange ingredients!  I love doing these challenges because it really helps you to think outside of the box in cooking and come up with some new, really original ideas.  I think it's helping us all to become better cooks!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Kid-Tested, Kid-Approved Smoothie!

My daughter, Olive, is about 16 months old right now.  She eats pretty much anything we give her and she has a very healthy appetite.  We work really hard to make sure she eats a balanced, nutritious diet, but some days are easier than others.  To make sure that she's getting a good amount of fruits and veggies I make her smoothies about 3-4 times per week.  In my house, we call them "slurries".   I know she'll eat everything I put in them individually, so it's not like I'm trying to "hide" anything just to get her to eat it!  A nice effect (if you want to call it that), is that these slurries create instant poop.  I'm serious, sometimes she'll go in the middle of drinking.  So if you have a constipated baby, this is the ultimate cure!

My Vitamix.  Basically the best blender you could ever own.  It's pretty expensive, but it will blend ANYTHING into a nice, smooth puree.  We have used it so much and it is definitely worth every penny spent!  (If you don't have a Vitamix, you can still make this slurry, but I would defrost anything frozen as a normal blender might not be strong enough.)
Today's slurry mix:  1 banana, 1 pear (skin and all), 1 cup applesauce, 2 cups almond milk, 1/4 cup ground flax seed,  1/2 cup blueberries, 2 cups spinach, 1 cup broccoli, 1/2 cup peaches, 1/2 cup mango, 1/2 cup blackberries, 1 cup carrots, 1 cup watermelon plus juice.  (Spinach, broccoli, mango, peaches, blackberries,  and blueberries were all frozen.)
Items I've put in other slurries in the past:  beans (garbanzo, black, kidney), whole milk, kale, zucchini, squash, etc.    And no matter what anyone says, you DON'T need to add anything like honey, agave nectar, or sugar to make it sweet.  The natural fruit is sweet enough as it is!
Side note:  I didn't actually measure any of the ingredients.  I just put an estimate of how much I used for reference. 
In goes the spinach, almond milk & applesauce.  Blend!

Added the pear, banana, & blueberries.  Blend!

Next: carrots & broccoli.  Blend!

Delicious looking watermelon & blackberries.  Blend!

Last but not least:  ground flax seed, mangoes, peaches.  One last blend!

The finished product.  I blend it for a while at the end to make sure everything is really smooth.  This one turned out purple.  Depending on the mixture,  other times it will turn out green, gray, or brown.  Not super attractive, but delicious!

The happy customer!  When she gets finished sucking it down, she'll usually run up to me, hold her cup in the air and shout, "Mo!  Mo!" (how she says "more").

I'm telling you, no matter how many different ways I've made this, Olive has liked every single one.  It doesn't matter what I put in it, she loves it!  One little piece of advice:  If you finish and think that it tastes a little funky, throw in another banana.  I guarantee that it will come out tasting like banana.  I hope you enjoy coming up with your own mix and testing it out with your family! 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chopped Challenge - Round 2

So, this past Saturday, my husband and stepdad squared off against each other in our Chopped Challenge.   Jonathan (my hubby) won.  Last night, it was Round 2 - me vs. my mom.  The winner of tonight's challenge will battle Jonathan next weekend in the finals.....Prize to be determined!

Checking out our mystery ingredients.

The basket's mystery ingredients:  stew beef, mint jelly, jarred grilled artichokes, cornbread muffin mix, and mango.

I started by blending some yogurt and mango together.

I added some mint jelly to the mango yogurt.  My plan was to make a sort-of tzatziki sauce. 

My mom carefully peeling the mango.  Those suckers aren't the easiest things to work with!

The makings of my hummus (garbanzo, tahini, lemon).

My mom is mixing the mango and mint jelly into some concoction.  

Testing some baked cornbread.

I utilized the artichokes by blending them with the hummus.

My meatballs - stew beef, pork sausage, onion, curry powder, turmeric, garlic, cornbread muffin mix.

My mom's veggie stir fry - mango, bell pepper, artichoke.

One last taste test before we start to plate.

My mom's completed dish:  Meat balls and veggie stir fry over pan fried corn bread with mango-mint jelly sauce.  

My completed dish:  Curry meatballs with artichoke hummus, mango-mint jelly tzatziki sauce, grilled veggies, wrapped in a corn tortilla.

So in the end, I.........was chopped!  Booooo!  The judges - my hubby and stepdad - both liked the flavor of both dishes, but they said my mom's presentation was better.  Well, I would have to agree with that, but at least it all turned out edible!  I was a little worried with the mint jelly, but it wasn't terrible, just really sweet.  That means that next weekend will be the finals with my mom and hubby competing against each other.  My stepdad and I get to pick the ingredients!  I'll post pictures of the competition, so stay tuned!

Homemade Poptarts

Okay, so I'll admit that I wasn't the first one to come up with this idea.  I've seen variations of homemade Poptarts all over the web, but I decided to finally make some of my own!  I love original Poptarts, but they aren't super cheap and full of preservatives.  Homemade ones at least will have less preservatives and you can get more for your money.  So, here's how I did it....Super simple, quick, and tasty, too!

Refrigerated pie crust

Unroll dough and cut into rectangles (you can choose how big or small you want them!) 
Spread on your favorite filling.  I chose strawberry preserves.  I could also see putting a cinnamon/brown sugar mix,  blueberry puree, marshmallow/chocolate chip mix....I mean, seriously, the options are limitless!

Roll out the second pie crust, cut into rectangles, and put on top of jelly.  Crimp edges together with a fork.  As you can see, I had a little leftover dough and created a cute little leaf to place on top of the poptarts.  Pretty fancy if you ask me!   Cook in the oven for about 12 minutes @ 400F or until golden brown.
While the tarts are cooking, make the glaze.  Powdered sugar & milk.  Make thick or thin to your liking.

The finished poptarts, drizzled with glaze and red sugar sprinkles.

Taste Testers:  My mom and stepdad
My hubby...I think he likes them!

Oooey, gooey, inside.  They were a hit!