Thursday, November 17, 2011

Turkey Time!

I can't believe Thanksgiving is a week from today! The fall always moves quickly and this year is no exception. I just got home from my no-kids, no-hubby vacation and I have to turn around and pack for our trip to Idaho next week. In the meantime, we are doing a few turkey crafts with the kiddos. Of course, there's the hand turkey which is perfect for the little ones at my house for daycare. Today's post is a little more complex. I wouldn't recommend for kids under 3. This idea was adapted from a turkey project my friend Jaime did with her kids. I hope you enjoy!

Here is what you need:
styrofoam balls (2 sizes)
googly eyes
school glue
pipe cleaners

First, paint the styrofoam balls. You can be traditional and paint them brown or get creative and let the kids paint whatever color they want. Let them dry. This can take several hours depending on the type of paint used, so it is likely a 2-step project.

Using a toothpick, poke one end halfway into the large ball and then skewer the small ball on the opposite exposed end. This is your turkey body and head. I also used toothpicks to make legs for the turkey so it doesn't roll. You could also use pipe cleaners for this, but my daughter was in a hurry to get to the feather part.

Then glue on the googly eyes. This is another step that could take some time to dry. If your kids are anxious like mine, you can do the eyes last. Cut a small piece of pipe cleaner (2-3 inches) and curl one end up toward the top about 1/3 down. Using that 1/3, poke into the turkey head under the eyes for the wattle.

Here comes the fun part! Take various sizes and colors of feathers and poke into the turkey body. Sometimes the feathers weren't strong enough to pierce the styrofoam, so try to use ones that have a stiff spine. Personally, I like all sorts of colors on the turkeys because it's much more festive, but let the kids decide where to poke the feathers and what colors to use.

It's a pretty easy project, but some of the poking and the toothpicks requires older kids and/or adult supervision. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lucky day! 11-11-11!

Today I'm headed on vacation. I've been planning and looking forward to this trip for months. It's a new adventure because I'm going without my family. I've never done that before. I've never left my youngest daughter more than overnight. But a weekend without diapers and wipes, bibs and sippy cups is just what I need. My hubby asked me last night what I was looking forward to most: my friend's wedding, seeing my college buddies, seeing my bff, or having time off from the responsibility of mom. I couldn't answer him. It's all so exciting and part of why it's going to be an amazing trip. Ironic i'm leaving on 11-11-11. Truly a day of luck. On a new adventure with old friends. Can't wait!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sweet Mustard Roast

We are a lucky family. My in-laws give us some fantastic canned veggies, frozen corn and beef every year. My dad gives us pork every year. We're thankful for the meat because it drastically reduces our grocery bill. My challenge is coming up with new ways to cook roasts (beef or pork). Let's face it, we've all had the beef roast cooked in the crock pot with some onion soup mix and a little broth. Can you say boring? It serves its purpose, but there's not much originality there. I think I've done a pretty good job creating meals using our roasts that aren't your same ol' recipe time and time again.

Today's recipe is a good one for either beef or pork. I made it with a pork roast and it was tasty. I had learned from a cooking class that mustard helps tenderize pork, so I thought "a tender roast?? Delish!" Here's what you need:

3-4 pound beef or pork roast
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup dijon mustard
1 tsp garlic powder
3 Tbsp vinegar (white or apple cider)

Combine all but the meat in the bottom of your slow cooker. Stir until well mixed. Toss in your meat and roll once to cover it with the sauce. Cook on low about 6 hours. That's it! You can always crank up the heat and cook for shorter time, but I'm a fan of low and slow with the roasts.

This was a simple recipe for a great new way to cook the pork. Leftovers were tasty. And our dog loved the bone that had slow cooked all day. :) Enjoy!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Vacation Snacks

I've been a busy mama. On top of the regular everyday busy-ness, I've been trying to get ready for my trip. And when I say my trip, I mean MY trip, no husband, no children. I've never done anything like this before. The last time I went out of state by myself for fun, I wasn't even married yet. This is going to be an adventure for everyone. I traveled a couple times for work when my oldest was younger, but that's been 2 years. I've never left my youngest more than overnight, and that has been with family. I'm not worried about them, really. I think they'll miss their mom, but they are on the go so much, they likely won't notice. The hubby, on the other hand, is going to have his hands full. It's always different when dad takes over, but I think this time will be even more of a change. I know that since I have been home, I've taken care of lots of tasks at home. The hubby, to his credit, does his own laundry, cleans up the kitchen and dishes after dinner and helps with cleaning on the weekends. But the everyday tasks I do. I won't list everything I take care of, but you moms out there can relate.

I'm doing my best to set the hubby up for success this weekend. The groceries have been purchased (although I'm going to pick up a few things tomorrow night). I have a list on the fridge of everything he can make for which we have ingredients, including side dishes. I have several meals frozen so all he has to do is thaw, heat and serve. I have little breakfast burritos frozen for the kids for a quick breakfast on preschool day. (Let's see how he does getting 2 kids ready and out the door by 8:10am.) I'm even making some snacks. I have this great recipe for homemade chewy granola-type bars that are always a hit. The great thing is there are so many variations of the recipe. I'll give you the basics, but have fun and see what you can create! Here's what you need:

2 cups flaked cereal (I used the generic Honey Bunches of Oats, but any flakes will do)
2 cups oatmeal (I've tried both the quick oats and instant and they both work fine)
1/2 cup chocolate covered raisins or chocolate/butterscotch/peanut butter chips
1/2 cup peanuts or almonts (I used almonds because of the cereal, but be creative)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used imitation, tasted just as good and helped me use it up!)

Lightly grease a baking pan. The original recipe calls for a 9" square pan, but I found that  makes the bars pretty thick. I use a 9"x13" pan and get 20 bars out of it. In a large bowl, mix cereal, oatmeal, raisins or chips and nuts. In a saucepan, stir brown sugar and corn syrup over low heat until it starts to boil. Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter, oil and vanilla until smooth. Pour this mixture over the cereal and stir until well combined. Dump into your prepared pan, press it out smoothly and evenly. Let cool. Cut into bars.

Like I said, I use a larger pan and cut into more bars. The portions are still a pretty good size. I even wrapped some in waxed paper and put into a zipper bag to take with me on the plane. The rest will stay here for the family. Delicious snack! Hope you enjoy!!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Keep yourself healthy!

Anyone who has kids knows how germy they can be. I can handle my kids' own germs, but when they come into contact with other kids who are germy or been exposed to germs, I want to protect them as much as possible. Luckily, my kids love to wash their hands. But I'm always looking for other healthy things I can incorporate into my family's every day life. For instance, we went sulfate free this summer. I worked with my doctor to pinpoint the cause of some skin issues and sulfates were what we isolated. I was amazed at how many products had SLS in them! Plus, I am a sucker for natural remedies and treatments.

Last year a friend of mine was talking about elderberry syrup and how she used it to help keep her family healthy. I didn't pay much attention at the time, but reading a blog article by my friend Cheryl reminded me about it. I did some research of my own and discovered elderberries have some pretty amazing benefits for us. From immunity boosting and diabetes to asthma and even weight loss, elderberries are more than just folk lore. I really wanted to give the elderberry syrup a shot with my family. Fortunately, I won a drawing and got a pound of elderberries as a prize. I made my first batch of elderberry syrup and was pleasantly surprised at how good it tastes! This is a supplement that I can get behind! My kids like it too.

For those of you who won't click on the link above to find out more about elderberries or check out my friend's blog, here are the basics. From  Elderberry is used for its antioxidant activity, to lower cholesterol, to improve vision, to boost the immune system, to improve heart health and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsilitis. There have been studies showing elderberry treatment's effectiveness in treating the flu, specifically or colds in general. Simply take 1 tablespoon syrup per day as a preventative supplement. If you're starting to feel like the sickness is approaching, take a teaspoon every 2-3 hours for a faster recovery. Please note: elderberry syrup is made with honey, so it is not recommended for infants. Discuss with your physician or pediatrician when your child is old enough to have honey.

To make elderberry syrup, you need
2 oz dried elderberries
4 cups water
1-1/2 cups honey (raw, local, unprocessed if possible)
1-2 clean jars with tight fitting lids

Put the elderberries and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. This took about 40 minutes for me. Strain the liquid into a bowl and throw away the elderberries. Add the honey and stir until well dissolved. Let cool and pour into jars. You can store the syrup in the refrigerator for up to 1 year. You can also use the syrup on pancakes, yogurt, ice cream, etc.

I feel very lucky to have friends who are knowledgable in areas I'm not. Try something a friend has recommended to you. It doesn't have to be the elderberry syrup, but trust in your friends and use their suggestion to fuel some research of your own. I'm glad I did *wink*

Friday, November 4, 2011

Easy-Peasy Pasties

I've taken a couple days off from my blog because I've been a reading fool. I was really into my book and wanted to finish it before I leave on my vacation so I don't have to lug as many books in my carry-on. I had about 450 pages left on Sunday and finished it last night about 11. I HAD to start the next book in the series too. Chances are, I'll get into this one and have to bring an additional book anyway. I've had a couple friends suggest a Kindle for this reason. Might need to go on my wish list....or how about an iPad or Xoom? :)

Anyway, today's recipe is a simple recipe for pasties (that's pass-teez not pay-steez). In Montana, when you talk about pasties, many people think of the mining and Butte/Anaconda area. I guess, historically, they were very popular with the miners for a good, healthy meal and easily transported. I found out from my sister-in-law Julie that in the midwest, they're associated with the UP. I have no idea if they're mining based up there, but also a regional treat.

I had never made them before, but wanted to find a quick way to make them up. I got a bonus because I had some extras that froze really well and just needed to be reheated and were a great quick lunch. Here's my easy-peasy recipe:

1 box of pie refrigerated pie crusts
1-2 sirloin steaks
3-4 potatoes (your choose the kind, I used baby reds)
1 onion (again choose the kind you like best)

Start by cubing your meat. I chose sirloin because it is inexpensive and has a decent flavor, plus when you're cubing it, it can be a little marbled and doesn't really matter. It would also work great with elk steak for all you hunting families out there. For all the ingredients, cube them on the smaller size (remember you'll be stuffing a pouch). Peel the potatoes and cube. Chop the onion. Works best if each ingredient is in its own bowl.

Roll out the pie crusts. Using a bowl as a template, cut the crusts into 6" circles. You can gather the dough and re-knead, re-roll and cut out additional circles. Obviously, you can make your own dough for the pouches, but I wanted to simplify this step.

Take each circle and add your meat, potatoes, onion across the center of the circle. Season it with salt, pepper and oregano to taste. Then put a couple pats of butter on the top of the filling.

Fold over one side of the circle to enclose the ingredients. Dip your finger in water and lightly moisten the bottom edge of the dough on the pouch. Use a fork to seal the edges together. Then cut 2-3 slits on the top of the pouch to vent.

Bake them in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. As you can see from the picture, I chose to line my pan with parchment. It really helps them brown without burning and they lift easily off the sheet. It's pretty forgiving, so if I'm in a hurry, I'll bump it up to 400 degrees and decrease the time to 20 minutes. Let cool slighly before eating!

As I mentioned, these are a great prepare and freeze meal. Be sure to let them cool all the way before wrapping in plastic wrap and then sealing in a freezer zipper bag. You can pop them in the microwave and reheat for an easy lunch.

These pasties were so good. Using the pie crusts saved me some time and it was still delicious. Give them a shot. You'll like them I'm sure! Stay tuned. I'm trying a new recipe in the crock pot using a pork roast. The aroma is mouth-watering. I'll let you know!