Monday, March 31, 2008

Three day weekends

Last week was an exciting week, made only the more exciting by the fact that SPH took off Friday and we had a three day weekend together. R and I hit COSI for some special mommy/R time on Friday morning, which was a fun treat. On Saturday we celebrated...because the big news of the week is that SPH accepted a job offer. It is product manager position with a software company here in Columbus for a new software in development. He is thrilled with the opportunity and we are excited to know where our near-future will unfold.

Other than that, we ran our regular errands, played with the boys and went to church. Oh, and chased G a lot! G has decided that he loves to hide. He tries to hide anywhere, but here are some of the places where I have recently found him:Maybe he was in our pantry, because he wants to help us cook? If so, here is what he can help us with this week:

Maple Glazed Ancho Chili Salmon, 3 Bean Salad, Cheese Grits
Mushroom, Artichoke and Gorgonzola Fettucini (modified for the kiddos)
Goat Cheese Pork Tenderloin, Pureed Squash and Rice
Bean and Sausage Soup
Baked Burritos and Oven Fried Okra

Renee, your beef stew is still on our "to try" list...

Any other good meals plans out there? Please share!

Friday, March 28, 2008

FNB-Waste not, want not

Sweet Pea R is a cereal addict. He looooves him the Mango Granola Cereal from Trader Joe's:If it were up to him, he would have this cereal every morning, without fail. Recently I have been trying to help him branch out a bit more and this cereal made its way into our grocery cart:
No Field of Dreams for the Sweet Pea family. The flakes are beyond crispy, they are borderline gravel.

Instead of pitching the cereal (SPH is in school, after all), I fished out the berries and we're turning it into the coating for our homemade chicken tenders tonight. Here's a quick and easy recipe for taking whatever cereal, cracker or pretzel you have in your pantry into a really healthy and tasty dinner.

Tender Chicken Tenders
Approximately 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into tender pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 c milk
1/2 c flour
1/4 t salt and pepper
2 c crushed cereal, crackers or pretzels
1/2 t onion powder
1/2 t paprika
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper

In three large, shallow bowls place the following: in bowl #1, mix the egg and milk. In bowl #2, mix the flour and 1/4 t salt and pepper. In bowl #3, mix the crushed items and remaining ingredients.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Dip each chicken tender into each bowl, and then onto a greased cookie sheet or pizza stone. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until no longer pink in the middle.

You can season the flour and crushed cereal with whatever seasonings you desire. This recipe is a good base. Also, if you use pretzels, do not add the additional salt with the pretzels, as it will be too salty!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It's Not Easy Eatin' Green

Sweet Pea R has suddenly become very adept at finding anything green or dark in his food. He will often remove it, study it, and if he is unsure of what he has found, he will ask us, "what *is* this?"

Last night we had Roasted Vegetable Lasagna and despite having had it many, many times, he started fishing around and found the broccoli (which he ate, phew!) and the mushrooms (which he did not eat. Sigh.) What can you do?

For lunch we decided to have a green (color, not enviro) lunch. I figure any subliminal propaganda/indoctrination I can provide to be pro-green is a good thing, right? So I got a bunch of green things that he loves...cucumbers, avocado slices and kiwi. Then, since R is recently fascinated with toothpicks, I rolled up whole wheat tortillas spread with cream cheese and spinach (minced to hide it), and layered on some turkey and sliced cucumbers. I secured the roll with toothpicks and sliced it a la sushi rolls and made what we deemed, the caterpillar sandwich. A fun lunch to make, and according to R, even more fun to eat.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Too many close calls today

(Mom, if you are reading this, please stop. I don't want to raise your blood pressure. If you continue to read this post, I promise I am usually more careful in the kitchen. Love, Your Daughter)

Sometimes I think I try to do too much at once, especially in the kitchen. Chances are if you are a parent or caregiver of small children, you can relate. After reading this post, maybe you can share a story through the comments section (anonymously if you would like!) to make me feel better.

Close call #1: I am unloading the dishwasher, making dinner, and helping Sweet Pea R with writing letters. Sweet Pea G is toddling around, making a good mess in the Tupperware drawer. As I am unloading the dishwasher (which, anytime it is open, becomes an automatic G magnet), I forget to take out the utensil tray and put it out of reach. I turn around from putting some glasses in the cabinet to see G standing, smiling, holding one of my sharp knives like he is about to demonstrate his knife skills. After a quick swipe of the knife, a scan to insure there are no open wounds and a deep breath...I whisper, "thank you God...that could have been ugly."

Close call #2: While prepping dinner, I see G foraging around in my "big appliance" cabinet. It does not have a child safety lock on it because everything in there (stand mixer, slow cooker, food processor) is too big for G to lift. I have always placed the food processor blades in a bin in an upper cabinet to keep them out of reach...except last time I must have forgotten. G comes up to me while I am in the fridge, swinging the chopping blade from the food processor. My heart stops, I grab the blade and I promise myself I will never. Ever. Ever. Forget to put that blade up again.

Close call #3: Dinner is now in the oven, but I need to open the oven to check it. G is safely in the dining area, so I open the oven just as, you guessed it, G comes barreling towards the open oven. Hot pan in my hands, I just sort of froze and gently nudged him away from grabbing the hot oven door with my leg. Phew!

Mom, if you are still reading this, I have learned my lesson, which you lovingly taught me is the most important part.

Monday, March 24, 2008

5 quarters down, 1 to go!

What a great Easter weekend! It started on Friday when W hosted an Easter party at her house. Way too much candy and sweets, plus these adorable little bunny cupcakes that a Virginia Hoo (we found another one!) living in Columbus brought to the party. Meg, if you are reading this, you must post a picture of those cupcakes! I just wish I had one to share with you all.

Easter was fun, a little chilly, but good. Sweet Pea Husband tells R before the Easter Egg hunt, "when you find an egg, don't stop to open it, just keep getting more!" R happily obliged his mother for a quick photo though... R happily surveys his loot post-hunt:
R sharing some surprises with G:G enjoying Easter Supper:

It was also a celebration of sorts this morning, as Sweet Pea Husband began his last quarter of business school. I cannot tell you how quickly the last year and a half have past by us. Two years ago at this time we were in the midst of GMAT test studying, school visits, thinking about having a second child, and still living in Virginia. Now we are in Ohio, with a second child and MBA for SPH. Time flies when you are having fun, er, studying so much and trying to chase two kiddos around the house.

Our meals for the week:

Spinach salad with bacon, egg, strawberry and almonds (Sweet Peas will have a modified dinner!)
Taco Night
Tofu and Spring Greens Stirfry (will post the recipe, depending on how it turns out)
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna (Sweet Pea R's request)

I am on the hunt for some new meal inspirations, so please share your menu for the week. Renee, I got your stew recipe, that is on tap for next week. Steel Magnolia, I would love your Butternut Squash Risotto recipe that you mentioned last week, if you are able to share!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Night Bites: Olive Bar Fish

I realized I probably should have posted this "Friday Night Bites" recipe sooner during Lent for all of you who don't do meat on Fridays...

This recipe is a Sweet Pea original, one I came up with after realizing I needed to capitalize on Sweet Pea R's obsession with our grocery's olive bar.

It worked like a charm. He was so excited about having olives everywhere on his plate, he even ate some of the tomatoes, which he rarely touches.

Olive Bar Fish

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 filets of mild white fish such as tilapia, sea bass, etc.
1 shallot, minced
1 large glass of white wine (minus a few sips, eh?)
1 - 15 oz can of finely diced tomatoes, undrained
3/4 cup of pitted olives, etc from the olive bar chopped

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.

Pat the fish dry and cook on each side until brown. Remove the fish and keep warm.

Add the shallot to the pan and cook until slightly brown. Take a sip of the wine if necessary and pour the rest of the wine in the pan and add the tomatoes and olives, etc.

Scrape the bottom of the pan gently to deglaze the pan. Let simmer for a few minutes, or until the extra liquid has evaporated.

Serve the fish over parmesan grits and pour some of the sauce on top of everything.

If your sweet pea likes olives, this just might get them to expand their culinary horizons.

Life is sweet,

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Easter Morning Gratin

I adapted this recipe from my Williams-Sonoma Brunch cookbook. I replaced a good deal of the butter with olive oil, and reduced the overall fat content. If you want to reduce the fat further, you could use just the hard boiled egg whites.

It is a great thing to serve on a holiday morning (we actually had this for Christmas morning last year) since you can make it a day ahead and then pop it in the oven in the morning. If you do this, plan to double the cook time in the oven.

If you already have something planned to make for Easter morning, then save this recipe for a dinner next week. It is a fantastic way to use leftover hard boiled eggs and ham from Easter dinner.

Easter Morning Gratin

Smoked turkey/ham mixture:
1 T olive oil
1 small onion chopped fine
2 celery stalks chopped fine
2 c cubed smoked turkey or ham
¼ t dried thyme
½ t fresh ground pepper

2 T butter
2 T olive oil
1/3 c flour
4 c skim milk, heated warm but not to a boil (you can do this in the microwave)
½ t dried thyme
½ t dry mustard
1/4t fresh ground pepper
dash of cayenne and nutmeg

1 c shredded cheddar cheese, divided use
6-8 hard boiled eggs, peeled


Preheat an oven to 400°F.

Make the smoked turkey mixture: In a small sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and the onion and celery and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the smoked turkey and sauté until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add the thyme and pepper. Scatter is mixture over the bottom of a gratin or shallow baking dish.

Make the sauce: In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the olive oil. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Add the hot milk and whisk to prevent lumps. Return the pan to the heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add the thyme, mustard, nutmeg, cayenne and black pepper. Stir in ¾ c of the cheese and pull off the heat.

Cut the hard-cooked eggs in half lengthwise; set 6-8 halves aside. Coarsely chop the remaining halves and stir into the cheese sauce. Pour all of the sauce over the turkey mixture. Then nest the reserved egg halves, yolk sides up. Scatter the remaining ¼ c shredded cheese over the top.

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the surface is golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. The gratin tastes great served over big slices of toast, as it is not a “thick” gratin, but one that needs some good bread to help sop it up!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Here Comes Peter Cottontail..."

We are back from our trip to Grandma and Papa's and already looking forward to this weekend and Easter. We celebrate Easter *big* in our family, so we are gearing up for the special celebration already.

Last year I skipped the Paas Easter Egg dye and we did our own eggs using regular old food coloring. It worked so much better, the dye was not blotchy and the eggs were beautiful. Here is our "recipe":

Sweet Pea Easter Eggs
1 c boiling water
2 t white vinegar
25 drops of food dye color (or combinations, see below)

Place the water and vinegar in a mug, add dye, mix well. Dip and dye your eggs...

Color combinations:
orange=7 red drops, 18 yellow drops
lime/light green=23 yellow, 2 green
purple=17 red, 7 blue
turquoise=17 blue, 8 green

Other options:
add 1 T of oil to each mug and swirl to make "tye die" eggs
use crayons to make designs
go to to see *really* creative ideas for Easter Eggs

Here we are in action last year:

Monday, March 17, 2008

Top 'o the morning to you!

Happy St. Patrick's Day! We are having a great St. Patrick's Day on vacation with R's family (= free babysitters). I am still coming down for the high of a quick side-getaway sans the Sweet Peas in which I did more reading, relaxing and "me" time than I usually do in a month.

To celebrate with something green, we are making our green hummus, which is really easy and super healthy. All you do it take this hummus recipe, and replace 1/2 cup of the chickpeas with cooked, shelled edamame. If your kids like hummus, this is a fun way to bring a little Irish into a healthy dip.

Speaking of Irish, this is the Irish Bread Pudding I would love to make tonight. Not as healthy, but super yummy.

Friday, March 14, 2008

FNB--Spring Break

We made it to Virginia, and since we will be staying with family, no cooking until mid-week next week. Even an avid Sweet Pea Chef needs a respite now and then. As I type this, I smell the enchiladas cooking in the oven and am salivating at the thought of chowing down. Yes, it is good to be on vacation.

Thanks to all of you for your car suggestions. We got here with little drama...hooray!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why we rarely eat perfectly round pizzas anymore...

Years ago my mom gave me a wonderful present, the California Pizza Kitchen Cookbook. I love their pizzas and being able to make them at home is quite the kitchen rush.I modified their Honey Wheat Pizza Dough recipe to come up with this pizza dough recipe that is a real winner.

A couple tips that have helped us make the best pizza ever: first, use your stand mixer or food processor to mix the dough. Second, use active quick-rise yeast and make sure your water is about 105-115 degrees...very hot, but not scalding. Third, before you top your pizza, roll it out and let it rise for about 10 minutes. Last, think about investing in a pizza stone. A pizza stone allows you to reach crisp-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside dough perfection...the trick is to let it get super hot while you are prepping your pizza, and the put the pizza on the stone right before you slide it into your oven.

Sweet Pea Pizza Dough
2 1/4 t active quick-rise yeast (the amount in one packet)
1 c of hot water (105-115 degrees)
2 c white flour
1 c whole wheat flour
3 T brown sugar
1 t salt
1 T olive oil

Dissolve the yeast in the water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Add the flour and sugar and give a quick mix, then add the salt and olive oil. Mix until it forms a ball. Feel the dough...if it is still sticky, add a tablespoon or two of flour, and repeat until the ball is moist, but not sticky. Then mix or process for 1-2 extra minutes to knead the dough.

Shape the dough into a ball, coat with some olive oil, and place in a bowl and cover with a towel to rise. Be sure to let it rise somewhere not cool or drafty. Dough is ready when it doubles in size, about 1-2 hours.

(If you want to make the dough ahead of time, you can do it the day before and then put it in the fridge overnight. When you are ready to use the dough, let it rise again for about 30 minutes before you roll it out.)

Once you are ready for pizza, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place your pizza stone in the oven. Divide the dough into 4 balls, rolling each ball into an 8-9" circle-ish shape (ours is never perfectly round...we call it pizza rustica) and let rise for about 10 minutes. Top and bake for about 10 minutes at 450 degrees.

Monday, March 10, 2008


"I survived the Blizzard of 2008."

Last Thursday when I picked up Sweet Pea R from preschool, R says to me, "Mommy, Miss Karen says we are going to get a big snow this weekend!" I smiled and said, "really?" but then changed the subject. We have had no big snows this season, maybe one that was about 4 inches, but really, it has been a disappointing sledding season and I thought the weather forecasters were just trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Turns out we got the mountain, not the molehill, this time.

By Friday night we had 4-5 inches of snow, and first thing Saturday we already had 10 inches. By the time it was all said and done on Saturday evening, it was official...20.4 inches of snow. The biggest snowstorm, er blizzard, in Columbus. Ever.

A week ago today the mercury topped out at 70 degrees and R and I were playing in the garden, clearing out old leaves and weeds. Spring was in the air. But as they say, "if you don't like the weather in Ohio, wait 5 minutes."

Although I am itching for spring, there is something magical about a snow like this. Everything closes, our frenetic pace slows, neighbors lend a helping hand and a sort of aww-shucks, old-fashioned fun seeps out from everyone. At least, I know us Sweet Peas had fun:

As we hunkered down yesterday, I had a chance to plan some meals for the week:

Chicken Parmesan
Turkey Burgers
Homemade Pizza

What's cooking on your end?

Friday, March 7, 2008

FNB (Friday Night Bites)--Carolina Pulled Pork BBQ

Being married to a Southern Gentleman has greatly expanded my food horizons. Now I love all food southern, and thank him so much for introducing me to so many wonderful foods.

This is his recipe for a slow cooker Carolina Style Pulled Pork BBQ. When the weather is nice, he gets out his Weber Silver Bullet Smoker and puts a few pork butts on to smoke all day long.

Since we are supposed to get a huge snow storm today and tomorrow, this slow cooker recipe helps us channel the tastes and smells of summer without having to venture outside. R developed this recipe and I have to say it is amazing.

So put this recipe in your slow cooker, mix up some coleslaw and baked beans, and maybe even whip up a banana pudding. You will be happy, happy!Slow Cooker Carolina Pulled Pork BBQ
Make the rub:
2 T brown sugar
1 T paprika
2 t salt
1/2 black pepper

Combine and rub on a:
4-6 pound whole pork butt or shoulder

Place in the slow cooker:
2-3 onions, quartered
pork shoulder on top

Mix the sauce:
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
4 t worchester sauce
1 1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 1/2 t sugar
1/2 t dry mustard
1/2 t garlic powder
1/4 t salt
1/4 t cayenne pepper

Combine and pour 1/4 of this mixture over the roast, saving the rest for serving the sandwiches.
Cook on low for 10-12 hours, or high 5-6 hours. Remove the roast, let cool a bit, and pull/shred with two forks (pork should just fall apart). Serve with remaining sauce.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Calling all sweet pea chefs...

We need your ideas!

My friend P has an adorable little 2 1/2 year old girl who needs a little help expanding her eating horizons. Here is what P is asking:

"...the hardest meal is dinner. She will sometimes eat ravioli, spaghetti, chicken nuggets, or cheese quesadilla. I tried to sneak in a turkey slice or chopped chicken in the quesadilla but she found it. I do ask her to eat one bite of whatever (we) are eating. The one bite is usually vegetables or some side dish since I usually make chicken nuggets for her if we are having a more 'adult meal.'" A couple thoughts...
  • It is great that you have her taste whatever you are eating. Smart move. We call it a "no thank-you helping" and we insist everything (within reason) on the plate is tasted.
  • It sounds like she might be a "textural eater," ie, she doesn't like anything that feels funny or different in her mouth? Have you tried making the pieces itty bitty, to try and help her learn to like the taste without being turned off by the texture?
  • Since dinner is the most challenging, perhaps try introducing new foods at breakfast or lunch, when she might be more open to change. I know with our boys, if they are overtired or just spent from the day, we have much less success at the dinner table.
  • Try letting her have a role in preparing or cooking the dinner. She may enjoy the shopping, washing, or even limited mixing, etc. Perhaps a sense of ownership may help encourage her to try new things.
  • Don't limit the types of food you offer her... Think outside the box when offering her new foods...try different flavors, even ones that aren't traditionally kiddie foods. Maybe she has a taste for something that you never would dream of offering a 2 year old.
  • ...but do limit her mealtime options... As difficult as it may be, as long as there is no health reason, introduce her to the idea that she is a big girl and can eat what mommy and daddy are eating. Try this idea out during a week when you can make meals that are "adult" but will appeal to her. Or do adult meals that you can *slightly* alter when plating hers to make it more appealing. Maybe start with some pasta dishes that you know she will eat, but that contain things you want her to start trying. Don't be discouraged if she only eats the pasta...the idea is to get her open to the idea of eating the same thing as you. Stand firm. Remember, if she doesn't eat a good dinner every night, she should be fine#.
  • ...but go with the flow too. Some kids are picky eaters. I know I was! I read a study about how children of parents who were picky eaters have a much higher likelihood of being picky eaters themselves. This helps me a *lot* when I feel like banging my head against the wall out of frustration!
  • Last but not least, if you are concerned about her eating and she just won't budge, you could resort to the "Sneaky Chef" or "Deceptively Delicious" way of cooking for picky eaters.
#I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on this blog

Here are some other good resources:

WebMD Article on "Parenting the Picky Eater"

UC-Berkeley Parents Network Message Board on Picky Eaters

How about you all out there? Any help for P and her daughter?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

When life hands you lemons, er, rain...

I forget from which blogger I gained this idea, but I salute you, whoever and wherever you are.

But first, the background--chapter 4 in our ongoing health saga unfolded this morning at 4am with R saying his ears hurt, so instead of returning back to school as planned, we went *back* to the pediatrician, and sure enough, he has a double ear infection as a result of his lingering flu.

R was so looking forward to seeing his friends again and staying for "Lunch Bunch" today. We packed his lunch last night and he was literally dancing around the kitchen in excitement. So...instead of eating at school, I tried to make the best of bad situation and we ate like this instead:
(G had to be confined to his highchair--I can't imagine what sort of mess I would have had on my hands otherwise!)

Of course, a picnic outside would have been preferable, but instead of the high 60s and sunny weather that we had yesterday, our backyard is basically a big puddle.

Having a picnic inside, complete with the blanket and his tent gave R an instant shot-in-the-arm. What a great, simple, easy way to help your kid have a special lunch, even on a rainy, cruddy day.

Monday, March 3, 2008

A week I hope never to repeat

Where do I begin?

After my husband and Sweet Pea R had the flu the week prior, Sweet Pea G started his round with the flu last Tuesday evening. By Wednesday night his breathing was sounding quite croup-y (is that a word?) and by early Thursday morning it was bad. I mean, really, really bad. I was a mess because none of the traditional croup treatments were working. Fortunately our pediatrician has early morning walk-in hours, so I took G and was there before they even opened.

Once we arrived at the pediatrician, G started retracting (basically, not getting enough oxygen), our doc called 911 and G and I got to go on our very first ambulance ride to Children's Hospital. The emergency breathing treatments improved his condition, but ultimately he was admitted and stayed at Children's until Friday late afternoon.

Apparently G liked his experience at Children's because Friday night/Saturday early AM he started retracting again and back we went to the ER. My mom, who had drove down first thing Thursday, stayed with R while hubby, G and I drove back to the hospital. Happily, this time we did not have to be admitted. We were sent home with some good drugs and his breathing is much improved.

I can't tell you how thankful I am that we live so close to the "#1 rated in emergency care" Children's Hospital in the country. Everyone was so wonderful, competent, caring and just created the best out of a really cruddy situation.

I am so thankful that what happened to G was just due to Influenza A and not TB or one of the other more serious things they suspected before they ran some tests.

Lastly, I am so thankful to all those who supported us through the last week with prayers, meals, phone calls, cards and support. Thank you.

Babies/toddlers are so resilient. Looking at G today, you would never in a million years have guessed the road he traveled since Tuesday night. He is such an amazing little trooper!

Again, no posting about my meals for the week...seems silly to even think about meal planning until I catch my breath and exhale...