Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sensory Table - Beans!

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Beans, beans, the magical fruit!  The more you eat...

Well, you don't want to eat dried beans.  (My toddler does want to eat them, but that is no surprise.)
But they are fun to play with.

To start, I bought three different types of beans.  I wanted them to vary greatly in size and color.  I chose lima beans (the biggest my store had - fava would have been better), red kidney beans, and black beans.

I arranged them into section by size.  We talked a bunch about small, smaller, smallest.  It might have been more appropriate for a 3-year-old, but hearing the language never hurts.

I gave V. three sizes of tubes and a tray with three different sized holes to experiment with.
(She chewed the middle-sized straw.  Apparently, the tape I used is an excellent teether.)

I put an equal amount of each bean into separate, clean baby food jars.  This not only helps show how the same number of beans take up a different amount of space (again, more appropriate for an older child) but we could nicely hear the sound difference when we shook them all (a favorite).

Since setting this out on Wednesday, V. has added our bath cups, a spoon, and tested out the mesh strainer, which she returned.  She really enjoys sorting the beans, so we've set up some bowls that I place a few of each bean into, and she continues the trend.  Of course, another favorite is dumping the beans by the handful onto the table.  One of the construction men running through our house this week thought it would be cute to teach her to dump them on the floor which does make a fun sound.  Mommy also made a fun sound when the construction worker did this the first time.

We've run into a sensory bin issue.  I'm trying to establish this table as the learning table, and V. is pretty good about going over to the table and sitting down to play unattended.  She is also very good at bringing us to the table when she wants us to play with her.  But apparently anything that is a container holding something fun is a sensory bin, dog bowls included.  As I type, someone is wiping suspiciously wet hands on my fleecy pants.  I hope that she learned something more than "Mommy is an awesome towel."

Sneaky Sauce

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I'm not a "picky" eater and my children won't be, either.

But my husband is picky.  He doesn't like anything from the sea, mushrooms, and many different vegetables.  You know, many of my favorite foods.  And many very healthy foods.

Sauce is a family favorite.  I  make large batches with the intent to freeze it but we end up eating it all within a week or two.

If you have a pot and can open a can, you can make sauce.  And the beauty of this sauce is that it is blended - you can put what you wish in there and blend it up, and nobody is any the wiser.

Sauce is healthy for you - tomatoes are a super food, particularly when cooked.  This one has eggplant (which my husband thinks he doesn't like, but it is in so much more than he knew before he read this...) and zucchini.

Sneaky Sauce

You will need:
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 Italian (or small) eggplant, peeled and diced
1 medium-large onion, diced
1 zucchini, peeled and diced
3 large garlic cloves, sliced
2 large cans of San Marizano tomatoes, diced or crushed (I usually do one of each if I'm not blending my sauce, but this time it doesn't matter)
10 fresh basil leaves, torn in half
1c.+ white wine
1/2 tbs oregano
1/2 tbsp salt
red pepper flakes to taste (if you like spicy sauce, up to 2 tsp, but if you like mild sauce, just a shake)

In a dutch oven, saute and sweat the first 5 ingredients in some extra virgin olive oil until tender, about 10 minutes.
Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan and reducing the wine slightly.
Add the remaining ingredients and simmer, partially covered or covered with a splatter screen, for at least 30 minutes.  Be sure to stir occasionally, and add water if your sauce gets too thick.
Blend all ingredients with an immersion blender.  Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.  You can add browned ground beef if you like.  Serve over pasta, use in a lasagna, or however else you enjoy your sauce!

Here's what I did with some of that sauce a few days later.

Wonton Wrapper Love

Pin It I love wonton wrappers.  They take dishes like kreplach and ravioli from a day project to a 45 minute or less project.

I recently used wonton wrappers for both of those dishes.


Kreplach are Jewish dumplings served in broth.  I had some matzoh ball soup with way too much broth and too few matzoh balls left over from the week before, and wanted to give the soup some new life.

1lb ground chicken breast
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 tsp fennel seed
pinch of salt

Saute the carrots and onion in a drizzle of olive oil.  Remove from pan and brown chicken breast with fennel seed and salt.  Put the veggies and meat in a food processer and whir.

To assemble, wet the edges of one wonton wrapper square.  Place a small pile of filling on the square.  Fold the wrapper in half, making a triangle, and squeeze the edges shut.  Drop into boiling broth or refrigerate in an air-tight container until needed, up to 8 hours.

These cook in seconds, so if you are having the soup for dinner, put them in right before serving.
(The wrappers I used were NOT Kosher for Passover, but are parve, which is why I did this the week after Passover.)

Then, the Ravioli:

I thought I'd up my ravioli game and make them different shapes to amuse my daughter.

You can fill your ravioli with whatever you like.  I used about 14oz ricotta cheese, about 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella, and some pecorino romano, moistened with a little milk.

You can use any cookie cutters that will fit within the boundaries of your wrapper.  I used a ravioli stamp (square, and crimps the edges shut), circle (a glass), and folded some in half for triangles.

Wet the wrapper edges (or the whole thing, if you get tired like I did) and place a dollop of filling in the center.  Cover with another wrapper with wet edges, and try and get the air out as you press the wrappers together, squeezing from the inside, working outward.  Cut out your shapes.

Like the kreplach, either store in an air-tight container for up to 8 hours, refrigerated, or drop into boiling, salted water to cook.  These will cook very fast!  Best served with sneaky sauce.

Put It All Together:

I had filling from both the kreplach and ravioli, plus the wonton that I cut the ravioli from, and some sneaky sauce left over, taking up half my refrigerator.  I took all the ends of my pasta boxes (you know how you get to the point where you have 1/2 c of pasta left in the bottom of 4 boxes, all different types?  Agh.) and cooked them up al dente, tossed it in a bowl with both leftover fillings and sauce and the last of the pulled pork.  I tossed it all in a lightly greased casserole dish and topped with some more mozzarella.  Pop it in a hot (375 F) oven until cooked through and the cheese on top is melty, and you have one of our favorite dinners.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Clips and Bits.

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Here's the truth about being Mommy.  Some days we are freakin' rockstars, and some days we throw Fruit Loops at our children and play DVRed Sesame Street while we curl up into the fetal position around our mug, not caring if we spill it on our fleece pants or if a toddler adds some Scrabble letters to the cup.  Most days we vacillate between the two on an hour-to-hour basis.  (If you want to know where I'm at right now, the baby is shoving ketchup packets through the holes in the side of the puppy's crate.  At least she's signing "in" to the puppy quite appropriately.  But I'm wearing jeans, and it is almost 5:30 pm, so really it isn't that desperate.  Yet.)

The past few weeks have been filled with learning, but I haven't done much that is crafty, clever, Montessori, or post-worthy (save a few recipes I'll share later).

We've had guests in and out over the course of the week.  Once they left, we went to a kennel to put a deposit down on a puppy they would have in next month, but fell in love with a puppy already at the kennel instead, and ended up getting a dog about 812 hours earlier than planned. Oh, life.

Marathon Monday, Boston
Photo courtesy of Alex Slepak

Photo courtesy of Erica L. Nelson

Photo courtesy of Erica L. Nelson
V.'s great-grandfather cast these ducks!  Make Way For Ducklings, Public Gardens, Boston.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Passover Activity: Seder Plate

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I like to keep some sort of activity out, sensory bin or otherwise, that V. can independently walk up to and play with at any time.  Last week it was as simple as crayons and paper.  One day I got brave and left watercolors out.  (She tried to drink the paint water several times.  Even if the paint is non-toxic, I  didn't want her drinking it.)

For our seders, I found this cheap plate at Target.  It is colorful and fun, and kept her busy during the actual seder with some seder plate items I had knit for her last year and some matzoh I stitched up in the car on the way to my in-laws.  Once the seders were over, the plate went to her play table along with Elijah's cup (another cheap Target find, but not pictured because it has been rather popular for feeding Baby) and the pieces for the plate.

The books were gathered for the picture, but usually live in the living room.  They are National Geographic's Celebrating Passover (great photos, factual) and The Great Matzoh Hunt, which is a lift-the-flap book.  It doesn't use any Hebrew, which irked me, but features a duck, which V. loves.  She loves it so much that she tore all the flaps off her first copy, and fortunately was given a second copy (hidden from her grasp) by her great aunt.  (Afikomen prize, even if she made no attempt.)  The third book, below, is Tomie de Paolo's My First Passover, which is much more her speed. Once I unearthed the copy, I left it open to the seder plate page as a helpful suggestion.  (No pages to rip or flaps to tear off.  Sometimes I love board books.)

Dayenu! is one of my favorite Passover books for children (and it is a great haggadah!) but I didn't get to the library or Amazon soon enough.  Next year, if we aren't in Israel.

Having seen seder plates in action the past few evening, she had the basic concept down: put things into the spaces.

My little Magpie ran around the house and collected all the things she needed for her Seder plate in an empty wipe container.  Then she and her lizard set to work.

It's a work in progress.

Sensory TABLE: Passover

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When I thought of what to put in the sensory bin for Passover, I started with a list of plagues.  Not the best places to start.  Then I thought of crushed matzoh.  Not only is matzoh expensive, I don't want my 14-month-old eating what is in the bin or throwing matzoh all around.  

Now, if you know anything of Moses, the country of Egypt, or Exodus, you know that I overthought this one.  The obvious thing is sand.  (Hello.)

Then, something wonderful, miraculous!, happened. My father sent V. a sand table.  The Step 2 sand table we put on our Amazon registry a million years ago.  It is shallow and raised and The Perfect Sensory Table.  This means I didn't need to put a bin of sand in my kitchen.  Double win.

I filled the table with sand and let V. just try it out for a little while.  Then I hid some "plague" toys in the sand - beasts (they look awfully friendly...), frogs, and bugs (couldn't find just locust).  The other pieces are all sand/sensory bin toys, like sifters and shovels.

She woke up from nap late, so she doesn't know about the hidden things yet.  Tomorrow, she's in for a surprise!

Since it took her so long to discover I had buried things in past bins, I thought I'd just lightly cover some of the bugs, as a hint.

Passover Food! Matzoh balls! Fruit balls! Chicken meat balls!

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"Balls" pretty much sums up my Passover meal preparation this year.
Except the brisket.  I didn't make brisket balls.  That can only end in tears.
And the bark.  Okay, maybe "balls" isn't the best summary word.

The past two years we were living in The South, and I was responsible for making Seder happen both nights.  It was crazy, fun, and a serious challenge.

This year, being surrounded by family and tradition, I was responsible for very little.  Matzoh bark, brisket, and some other dessert.

I also made chicken stock for our own matzoh ball soup.  Just as I was gearing up for a ridiculously underwhelming week-before-Passover, we all got a wicked bug that took us out of the game Tuesday.

I'm not going to relive all this for you (it would be terribly boring) but I will share with you two recipes and a secret.

First, matzoh balls.
For my first-ever Passover, I made matzoh balls and I did so using matzoh meal.  I learned 2 things that year: First, that matzoh meal is crushed up matzoh (nobody told me!) and a total rip-off, and that nobody makes matzoh balls from scratch and expects them to float.  They were horrible.  I cried salty tears into my salty soup.

I did what anyone would do - interrogated my husband's Jewish grandmother until I got answers.
It took years before she would give me the whole matzoh ball shebang, but on the day of my conversion she gave me The Secret, and here I am, blasting it across the interwebs.
First, use the box mix.  We use Manischewitz.  Follow the recipe on the box with two exceptions (the first is Grandma's, the second, my own.  First, add 2 tsp of oil more than the 2 Tbs the recipe calls for.  The oil should be vegetable. Second, don't use water to cook the balls. Once you have your stock made (and freeze part of it) add water and a pack of (kosher for Passover) onion soup mix, and bring it to a boil.  Peel and dice your carrots, toss them in, and then use that broth to cook your matzoh balls.  Drop the formed balls (slightly smaller than golf balls - they puff up) one at a time into the broth and once it returns to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and don't even look at it for at least 20 minutes.

That's the secret.

Seders involve so much food that a matzoh ball is all you really need in the soup.  However, when Passover Day 4 hits and you have a vat of matzoh balls and no desire for more brisket, you're going to need more than a matzoh ball for dinner.

Chicken Meatballs For Soup
You can put these in any soup, or serve with sauce for a healthy alternative to beef.

You will need:
1 lb ground chicken
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
2 pinches of garlic powder
1 tsp Herbs de Provence, Bouqui Garni, or 1/2 tsp cracked rosemary + 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 piece of matzoh, crushed (or processed in a blender) to breadcrumb consistency
1 egg
(If you are not kosher, you can add 3 or 4 Tbs of Parmesan cheese)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Put all of the above ingredients in a bowl and mix together with your fingers.  Don't overwork the meat - just loosely mix it all together.

Roll mixture into balls about the size of ping pong balls and drop into a nonstick pan over medium heat.  Brown the balls on all sides before popping into the oven.  (You can skip the browning and extend the oven time, but the balls may not hold up as well in the broth if you store them that way.)

Bake in the oven until cooked through - mine usually take 15-20 minutes, but this depends heavily on your browning.  Since these are chicken, cut one open to check.  It is far better to have overcooked them slightly than to give everyone food poisoning.

Once done, toss into your broth.  Now your matzoh ball soup includes protein!  Hooray!

Fruit Truffles
They aren't really truffles, but you make them in a similar fashion.  Only these are much easier to make.

I served them as dessert, but in Morocco they eat these as charoset, having mixed in some chunkier chopped nuts.  Either way, they are vital to your seder.  Matzoh is made of flour and water.  That's it. You know what else is made of just flour and water?  Paper mache.  You need some dried fruit to counteract that.  It might as well be delicious.

1 c. dried apricots*
1 c. dried, pitted dates*
1/4 c. dried currants or raisins*
1/2 c. almond meal
1.5 Tbs honey
cinnamon sugar, in a bowl

*It is easier to find dried fruit that is kosher for Passover if you look for whole pieces as opposed to diced.

Blend the fruits and honey in your food processor until they are mush, or close to it.  You're going to want to do this in small batches.  You don't want to burn out the motor on your machine.
Stir in the almond meal.

I had a bowl of water (for keeping fingers wet - makes balling these up so much easier), the mix, the sugar, and the storage container.  Just dip your fingers, roll a ball, roll in sugar, put in the container.  Repeat.  Mine were about the diameter of a quarter.  I also rerolled them in the sugar, as the first got sappy quickly.

Next time, I'm going to stir in some coconut or roll them in coconut.

Look at how perfectly all 40 of them fit perfectly into my container!  
(My inner nerd is showing, isn't it.  Sorry.)

Matzoh Matzoh Bark

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It is part of Pesach tradition that people try to mask matzoh and make some amazing thing using matzoh instead of flour.  Then everyone takes a bite and complains about how it isn't as good as the real thing.

Having been raised Catholic, I get the complaining.  Being a great cook, I refuse to accept it.

I embrace matzoh.  And I don't put it where it doesn't belong.  

My mother-in-law asked me to bring my matzoh bark, even though I had my eye on a cake.  (Fortunately, my sister-in-law is every bit the chocoholic that I am, and made the chocolate almond cake I had been dreaming of.  I pained myself to eat a nice big piece, regardless of how overstuffed I was.)

Ever make bark?  It is delicious and simple.  When I taught, I would whip some of this up after holidays that involve candy, using the candy as topper.  Winter holidays?  Use candy canes.  Halloween?  Anything you have left in your bowl.  (See my Halloween bark recipe here.)

Passover is a little different, because you need to use matzoh and you can't top it with just anything.  (Certainly not Butterfingers.)

If you are serving this at a seder, you are going to want to use the non-dairy options.

I made 2 batches.  The recipe below is for one batch.

You will need:

For the caramel:
1/2 stick (2 oz., or 1/4 cup) of butter (dairy) or margarine (parve)
2 Tbs honey
1 c. white sugar (you can use vanilla-scented sugar - it is delicious)

For the rest:
3-ish sheets of matzoh
5 oz (1/2 bag) of chocolate chips - these are parve and kosher of Passover - I found them at Star
toppers - I used sea salt, slivered almonds, chopped dried apricots, and shaved coconut.

To make the caramel, put all ingredients into a pan and stir until sugar is melted.  Then, bring it to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and don't stir it until it is good and golden.  It is hard to resist and easy to burn.  Somewhere in here I always believe I can be one of those Food Challenge competitors that makes brilliantly delicate sugar candies for cakes, and get so caught up in making thin, golden strands of delicious that I come very near to ruining the whole batch.  So try not to do that.

While you can't stir the caramel, line a rimmed sheet (I used a cake pan - all my cookie sheets lack sides) with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Spray with non-stick spray or use a little margarine.  (Pam is not Kosher for Passover.)
Place the matzoh on the sheet, covering the entire bottom.  You may need to break it up a bit, or overlap it.  Just don't leave any gaps.

Once your caramel looks like this:
pour it over your matzoh.

Then you can eat whatever is left on your spoon.

Now, melt your chocolate.  I like to put mine in a glass mixing bowl in the microwave and heat it slowly, on half power, stirring every 10-20 seconds.  Chocolate melts from the bottom and burns easily, so stir it, even if it looks like the chips are still whole.  You may be surprised.

Spread the chocolate over your caramel and top immediately with whatever delicious you have chosen.

The two trays of finished product:

Let this cool until the chocolate is hardened and break it apart.  It is that easy!

Chicken Stock

Pin It I've been buried in some crazy sickness and then Passover prep.  I have family coming in this weekend, so I should be cleaning like crazy, but I need a break.

So I'm sharing with you my chicken stock recipe.
Any time we have chicken I freeze the bones for stock.  It comes in dead useful when everyone gets sick and all you need is chicken soup.  Last Tuesday, we all woke up feeling like we'd been hit by a truck.  With Passover coming up, I decided to go ahead and make the stock early.  There's always more than enough.  And it couldn't be easier.

You will need:

A giant pot
3 chicken frames, some chicken thighs/legs, or a few gallon bags full of bones.  And necks.  Always freeze the necks.
2 onions
3-5 carrots
1 celery heart
2 cloves of garlic
1 Tbs salt
Thyme sprigs (or 1/2 Tbs dried thyme) or 1/2 Tbs Herbs de Provance
1 large bay leaf

Rough chop all the veggies.
Put it all in your giant pot and cover with water.

Bring this all to a boil and reduce to a simmer for a few hours.  I usually just let mine go for about 3 hours.  It will reduce drastically.

Strain out the broth into a clean pot.
If you have a fat separator, you can take out what you need of the broth now and separate it that way. What you don't need immediately, put in the refrigerator, covered.

Once it cools completely, the broth will be like jelly and the fat will have settled on the top.  This is schmalz and it is DELICIOUS to cook with.  You can either toss it out (and your arteries will thank you) or you can use it to fry matzoh*.  Or brown more chicken.  Or use it any other way you would use lard/oil/butter.  (I only save this to fry matzoh in at Passover.  Otherwise I'd be dead.)

 There is your stock.  Ready for whatever you have destined it for.

* If you want to fry matzoh, put the schmalz in a frying pan and heat over medium-high heat.  Place a whole piece of matzoh into the fat and let it fry for 20-30 seconds per side.  Remove to a drying rack with paper towel underneath.  Once you pull it out, season immediately.  It will golden and crisp once it dries.  I like to salt some of them and use thyme and rosemary, but for some serious matzoh crack, sprinkle with a little salt, sugar, and cinnamon.

I would have taken pictures but I ate it all.  Sorry.