Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Easy Pie Crust Protection

Potato Kale Quiche

When I make a quiche, such as this one, the crust sometimes bakes up faster than the filling, and I find myself fiddling with wide strips of aluminum foil to protect the edges from getting too brown.

At the same time, if the quiche crust is very full, some of the filling may spill over the sides of the pie dish.

A solution to both problems is to set the pie dish on a large piece of aluminum foil on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Later in the baking process, wrap the edges of the foil up around the crust edge to slow the browning process. It's much easier to wrap the edges with foil that is held in place underneath the pan rather than fiddling with smaller pieces, then the filling can finish baking.

At least it worked for me!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: August 29th 2011

Potato Kale Frittata with Sweet Potato Biscuits

I started planning meals a bit early for this week as we were expecting some potential inclement weather, which put our access to electricity at risk. Gotta love above-ground power lines! Fortunately the weather in our area was less damaging than expected, and we made it through the weekend without a single power flicker.
Still, in anticipation of having to prepare meals without power, I anticipated being limited to using the stovetop, which is gas and can be lit with a match when the power is out, or the outdoor grill when it isn't raining. It also helps that we're celebrating my daughter's birthday this week and already planned to go out to dinner several times as part of our birthday outings.

Find more meal planning inspiration at!

Potato Kale Quiche (or Frittata)

One of my favorite things to do with fresh kale is to make it up into Potato-Kale Quiche as described in Cathe Olson's Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook. It's delicious! Sometimes I want to enjoy the quiche without the pie crust, so I modify the recipe to make a frittata, which is the version picture above. Both recipes follow:
To make a Quiche:

  • 1 Pie Crust (either from scratch or store-bought), partially pre-baked
  • 1 Tablesppon olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cups diced potatoes (I like to use redskin potatoes, and leave the skins on)
  • 2 packed cups chopped kale, washed, still damp, with large stems removed (or more--I usually add the entire bunch of kale if it isn't too big) or you can try another green such as spinach or swiss chard
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (I add more)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper (I add more)
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup (4 oz) shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese (or whatever you have on hand)
1. Heat olive oil to medium heat in large skillet (ideally one with a lid). Saute onion for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add diced potato and cook for an additional 5-7 minutes with the lid on, but stir frequently as potatoes will stick to the bottom of the pan a little. Add your freshly washed, chopped kale, stir to combine, and replace lid (helps the kale to steam). Cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to mixture, stirring to combine.
2. Transfer potato-kale mixture to partially pre-baked piecrust. (I mound the ingredients in the middle a bit to make room for the egg mixture.) Top the mixture evenly with the grated cheese.

3. In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Pour slowly and evenly over potato-kale mixture. (You may not need all of the egg mixture--be sure you don't overfill the piecrust!)

4. Bake at 375 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Slice and serve.
 For a Potato-Kale Frittata:
Complete Step 1 as instructed above. Be sure to cook the potato-kale mixture in a frittata pan or a pan that is oven-safe.
2. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan and top with the shredded cheese.
3. REPLACE the eggs and milk listed above with 12 eggs whisked together in a mixing bowl (omit milk entirely). Pour evenly over potato-kale mixture. I like to stir the mixture gently to distribute the eggs a bit.
4. Bake the pan in the oven at 350 degress for 30-35 minutes. Slice and serve.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Organizing with a Friend: Toddler Closet Project

 My friend and have come up with a plan to help one another work on organizing projects. Both of us have areas in our homes that make us feel too overwhelmed to tackle by ourselves, so we're teaming up to support each other and get things done more efficiently. (As an added bonus, our children are doing a great job distracting one another so that they interrupt us less!)

This week was Bedroom Week: in addition to working on my daughter's bedroom, which had become completely out of control, we tackled her son's closet and clothes supply.
Storage space is not an issue here, as my friend has a roomy closet and TWO dressers!
First off, we set some goals for the project:
  • Sort through her son's wardrobe, remove too small/too big/too worn clothing
  • Identify how much clothing she has in the next size up to determine what, if anything she needs to purchase for this fall.
  • Store the clothing in an accessible way for her 3-year-old to reach himself. She wants to limit what he can reach, yet give him choices on what he wants to wear, because he is in that endearing yet time-consuming phase of wanting to dress himself. My friend is worried that they will never make it to preschool on time between his slow eating and the clothing battles that they have been having!
  • Reorganize the closet and dresser storage using a few new storage pieces so that the space is used more effectively.
I didn't realize it at the time, but my friend had a huge mental block on this project. One of her cats likes to chew cardboard, and had a cardboard-chewing party in the bottom of the closet, and had also pulled out some insulation. The thought of dealing with the mess felt overwhelming, yet she couldn't even close the closet door, because a hanging organizer was preventing the closet from closing even partially. Most of her son's clothes weren't hanging in the closet probably because it was just stressing her out to even go near it!

Here's what we did:
  • Mental Block Removal: We swept up the cardboard situation, and recycled the cardboard shoeboxes and box of diapers (no longer needed!) and determined that the organizer hanging on the back of the door was a) not currently needed b) lacking the right hooks to work with the doors in the house and c) better utilized in the mud room, so we removed it and stored it until my friend can get better-working hanger hooks. Now the closet door closes so that kitty access is blocked!

  • Clothing Sort:We gathered her son's entire wardrobe (don't forget the clean laundry pile) and sorted the clothes into 4 categories: CurrentSmallBig, and Worn. Too Small clothes went into storage in a hamper in another closet. Too Big clothes (fewer than my friend expected) were hung on hangers and hung at the back of the closet, and too Worn clothes were thrown out.

Now my friend knows that she has enough clothes in the current size, but needs to start looking for clothes in the next size up. She likes to purchase second-hand lots either locally or through Ebay, so having advance notice of her needs is important so that she can be on the lookout for what she needs.
  • Clothing Storage: Pants, swimwear, underwear and socks were stored in dresser drawers, shirts were hung on hangers, and pajamas were stored in a hanging organizer in the closet.

  • Easy Access: We installed a lower closet bar in the closet that my friend's son can reach himself. She can hand a week's worth of clothes on the bar, and then let her son pick which ones he wants to wear and dress himself. In season pajamas are stored near the bottom of the hanging rack, two per slot. The clothes in the dresser were moved to lower drawers that he can access easily. Higher dresser drawers are used for toiletries, towels, and bedding.

  • Limited Access: Anything that my friend doesn't want her son to have access to we stored in higher dresser drawers and in the top and back of the closet.
  • General Cleanup: My friend was so energized by our progress that we ended up cleaning up the entire room!

Find more organizing inspiration at 52 Weeks of Organizing!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Menu Plan Tuesday: August 16th, 2011

I'm still trying to recover from the 2 parties in one day... they were successful, but I was completely worn out. I wish I could bottle kids' energy for my personal use!

As a result of the festivities as well as a produce box I ordered from a local company, I have numerous perishables to blend into my menu this week, including kale, eggplant, zucchini, watermelon, raspberries, peaches, cantalope, lettuce, tomatoes (large and cherry-size), grapes, broccolishredded cheese, sliced cucumbers, a red bell pepper, and leftover (uncooked) mini burgers and hotdogs  with buns.
  • Monday: Spaghetti with turkey meatballs, whole wheat pasta and broccoli (steamed the fresh broccoli left over from the vegetable platter from the party).
  • Tuesday: Potato Kale Quiche (using the kale and the leftover shredded cheese) with sweet potato biscuits (sweet potato from the freezer) and fresh watermelon/cantalope.
  • Wednesday: Bacon wrapped pork chops (sliding from last week), whole wheat couscous with zucchini and cherry tomatoes (using fresh produce) and more watermelon/cantalope.
  • Thursday: Hot Dogs (from the freezer) in whole wheat buns, fresh vegetables (cucumbers, bell pepper, carrot) with dip, potato chips, watermelon (there's a lot!)
  • Friday: Baked Chicken Tenders (chicken from freezer) with Fried Eggplant (using same  breading as on chicken--delicious!) steamed vegetables, and whatever fruit we need to finish eating.
  • Saturday: Soy Glazed Salmon (from the freezer) with soba noodles and steamed vegetables
  • Sunday: Leftovers
  • Monday: Mini Burgers (from the freezer) with Salt and Pepper potatoes and steamed vegetables
With this plan, I don't need to go to the store at all!

I have frozen the mini burgers, hotdogs, buns for each, grapes, raspberries and peaches (for a crisp), as well as a large amount of boneless skinless chicken breasts that I need to cut up before freezing (see tips here). As for the lettuce and larger tomatoes, I will salads for lunch with a side of protein.

Find more meal planning inspiration at!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pineapple Zucchini Bread

I decided to give pineapple zucchini bread a try when I ended up with one of those huge zucchinis that seem to grow in the garden overnight! I updated a recipe from my husband's family to reduce fat and added sugar. I could never understand the appeal of zucchini in a quick bread before, but this stuff is delicious!
  • 10 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups sugar (or less to taste)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 3 cups flour (I used 2 cups white and 1 cup of white whole wheat)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 cups crushed pineapple, drained (I used a 20 oz can)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans) 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 standard loaf pans with waxed paper.
Since I was using a huge zucchini with fully developed seeds, I scooped the seeds out before shredding the zucchini in a food processor.
In a mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, and grated zucchini. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients (flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon) then gradually add to wet mixture, being careful not to overmix. Lastly, add the crushed pineapple and nuts.
Ladle mixture into baking pans and bake for 1 hour. (If using smaller baking pans, bake for 35-45 minutes.
Find more zucchini recipes here!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: August 8th, 2011

Lemon Lavender Butter Cookies

We are preparing for a double birthday party this weekend, so I want to clear out the freezer as much as possible.

  • Monday: Creamy Enchilada Casserole with steamed broccoli
  • Tuesday: Chicken Cashew Curry (from the freezer) over brown rice with steamed green beans and fresh cantalope
  • Wednesday: Eggplant Stew (from the freezer) over brown rice (from previous day)
  • Thursday: Bacon Wrapped Pork Chops (from the freezer) with baked sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli
  • Friday: leftovers (boys at sporting event)
  • Saturday: Party Menu
  • Sunday: Party Leftovers
  • Monday: Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs, steamed broccoli

Find more meal planning inspiration at!

2 Birthday Parties in 1 Day: Menu Plan

We'll celebrate the kids' birthdays this Saturday in one day-long event that includes both family and friends. My menu plan is as follows:
Four important things about this menu:

It's all small-size. The burgers are mini, the hotdogs will be cut in half before serving, and the quesadillas will be cut into quarters. I find that kids are too excited to eat much at parties, and this reduces the amount of food wasted. Grownups appreciate the small size portions, too! I set out dessert-sized plates rather than larger-sized ones--this is the one event all year where I use paper plates.

It's all finger food. I can serve up this meal... and no one needs silverware for anything on the menu!

It's portable. If any kids need to leave before we get around to singing 'Happy Birthday', I can send them home with a cupcake as we won't have a cake waiting to be sliced.

It's almost identical to last year. Why reinvent the wheel? I know my kids like these foods, and I know that I can easily serve them up on the day of the party. We eat these things all the time, but friends and family (hopefully) won't be tired of the same menu. One thing that is different is that I am switching to mini cupcakes rather that cupcakes baked in ice cream cones. I'm hoping that the mini cupcakes will be a bit less labor intensive... and less likely to start shrinking and falling over...

Was it the humidity? The extra moist cake mix? Both???? Either way, I'm pretty sure I won't have this problem with my homemade mini cupcakes!

To make things easier on the big day, I'll be preparing things little by little all week:

  • Monday: Assemble Bean and Cheese Quesadillas. I'll aim to make around 16-20, freeze them, and then make as many as are needed for the party. We can keep the remaining quesadillas frozen and use them for future meals.

  • Tuesday: Assemble Mini Hamburgers and freeze. This will be labor intensive, but worth it! I'll make 4 dozen, bake them the day of the party, then pop them into buns and add small cheese slices to half.

  • Wednesday: Make cupcake frosting and refrigerate.
  • Thursday: Shopping day: purchase melons, fresh vegetables, and breads.
  • Friday: Slice melons, arrange vegetable tray and lettuce/tomato condiment plate, and bake/frost cupcakes.

  • Saturday: Bake quesadillas and burgers in oven. Boil hotdogs on stovetop. (I'm not going to fuss the with grill, and kids don't like grill marks on their hotdogs anyway!) Assemble with buns. Serve buffet-style with fruit, vegetables, chips/pretzels, and condiments.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lemon Lavender Butter Cookies

I've made a few batches of these freezer cookies and they are delicious! I love that they are lavender scented yet lemon-tasting. Once they are baked up and wafting their lavender scent, no one will belive that they came out of your freezer! I like to bake 16 at a time, as that is what fits on my cookie sheet. I love to quickly bake them for dessert or right before a get-together.

This recipe is from Fix, Freeze, Feast: The Delicious, Money-Saving Way to Feed Your Family.

Lavender Sugar

Before making these cookies, you'll need to make some Lavender Sugar and cure it for a week so that the lavender scent fully saturates the sugar crystals.
My bag of culinary lavender is very large. I need to find some other uses for it!

 Simply combine 1 cup sugar with 1 teaspoon Culinary Lavender, and run it in your food processor until the lavender is shredded up and mixed in, less than a minute. You can strain the mixture, or pick out any larger remaining lavender leaves, but I just leave it. Store the sugar in a sealed container for a minimum of 1 week. I store mine in a mason jar.

This amount will give you enough for 1 batch of cookies, or you could mix up more to save for future baking (you know, while you have the food processor out and all...)

Lemon Lavender Butter Cookies (Makes 7 Dozen!)

  • 2 cups (4 sticks) softened butter
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup Lavender Sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use 3 1/2 cups white flour and 2 cups whole wheat flour)
  • 2 Tablespoons Baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup Lavender Sugar (reserve for Topping)

In a stand mixer, combine butter and sugars. Add eggs, milk, and lemon extract. In a separate bowl, measure and mix flour(s), baking soda, and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, blending well, but not overmixing.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls, coat in Lavender Sugar reserved for topping. I use myPampered Chef scoop, and handle the dough very lightly so as to avoid compacting the dough.

To freeze: Place balls on a rimmed baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Transfer to freezer bags for longer-term storage.

To bake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place frozen cookie balls on cookie sheet--no need to defrost (the recipe recommends using parchment paper, but I have done fine placing them straight on the pan). Bake for 8-10 minutes--I like mine to be just slightly browned at the edges. Remove to cooling racks to cool.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

2 Birthday Parties... in One Day

August is Birthday Month in our household, as my son and daughter have birthdays that are 25 days apart. After several years of two separate parties, I am worn out! So are all our relatives and guests who make the journey to our house twice in one month for basically the same party, because of course my daughter just wants her party to be identical to her brother's!

A friend of mine made the clever suggestion to just have ONE party for both kids. What a fantastic idea! I decided that this would be the year that we have One Big Party.

My kids did not like this idea.

Despite promises of separate activities and 'Happy Birthday' singing, both kids have strong objections to sharing one party.

 I had just about resigned myself to two separate celebrations until it finally dawned on me to hold two parties all in the same day. I explained the plan to the kids, who found it acceptable, so this is the plan:

10 AM-Noon: Daughter's 5th Birthday Party (younger kids, some of whom may still take naps)
Noon-2 PM: Son's 7th Birthday Party (the older bunch)
2 PM-whenever: Friends and Relatives hang out while kids play amongst themselves
This plan means that the great-grandparents only have to make the 4-hour round trip one time (without slighting anyone) and the mother only has to serve one lunch buffet (more on that later).

Here's to hoping this works for us!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

10 Gift Ideas for Preschoolers

In honor of my kids' birthdays this month, I thought I would share some of our favorite gift ideas--things that we have given or received that were especially enjoyed!

Here are some fun gift ideas for the preschool set. I linked many of them to pictures on Amazon to help people locate them, but some of them might be more affordably purchased elsewhere.

1. Goldilocks and the Three Bears Read 'n Play Set- My daughter received this adorable little house a a gift, and she has spent hours imagining little stories for the inhabitants. This toy is also very popular when other little girls come over to play.

Everything zips up inside the little house, so it's easy to bring it along to play with during 'boring' errands or meetings.

2. Richard Scarry Busy Town Board Game- If you are looking for a board game that is a bit more complex than Candyland, this game is a nice choice. It uses a nice combination of competition and teamwork, along with some searching for detail, to get all the characters to a picnic on the island before ants eat everything in the picnic! This game is simple enough for preschoolers to enjoy while also keeping the interest of older players.

3. The Ladybug Game- This is a counting game that is a little more entertaining and complex than Hi Ho Cherry-O! My favorite part is that it doesn't have any tiny red cherries to get strewn around the house seconds after opening the box!

4. Battat Take Apart Crane- This adorable crane has large plastic bolts and nuts that screw together with a battery operated drill, almost like a three-dimensional puzzle. Both boys and girls are fascinated with this interesting toy, and it can be played with as a truck when it is fully assembled.

5. Melissa & Doug Wooden Picture Frame - DYO- This is a gift that keeps on giving! I gave this to my daughter, and she painted it, then we added a snapshot of her with her friend and she gave it as a gift to her friend. The completed project can be given to a parent or grandparent as well. The frame above is painted, but we haven't yet added the stick-on jewels... and I am not sure where they are, to tell the truth... I think we have completed at least 3 of these frames for different people so far.

6. Tangoes Jr.- This set has kept both my kids occupied for long periods of time. They are fascinated with the challenge of fitting the shapes together in different patterns. Unlike other sets that come with a ton of shapes, this set has only 7 magnetic pieces that are easier to keep track of, and contains a handy sliding storage tray so that the pieces have a home and avoid getting lost.

7. Crayola Telescoping Pip-Squeaks Marker Tower- These markers are stored upright in this clear tower, which makes it easy for my daughter to select colors... and also to put them away all on her own! She likes to sort the similar colors together and keep them organized (they are jumbled right now). When we got this set, I also purchased the Crayola 150-Count Telescoping Crayon Tower, and I put away all the other crayons and markers. It's amazing--crayons stay together and are easy to find, marker lids stay on... all because the kids have a specific, easy place to store them! When popular crayons get worn down or broken, I can easily replace them from a few extra 24-packs that I have on hand. Tip: I've found that the most affordable way to purchase these sets is to buy them at Michael's and use a 40-50% off one item coupon, which are available regularly, which lowers the price to less than $10.

8. Deluxe Card Holder Set- If your children like to play cards, this card holder set will come in handy to help everyone hold his/her cards. The holders are sturdy and can hold quite a bit, which is very helpful when you are playing Go Fish, Rummy 500, or Uno.

9. Real Tools For Kids Round Point Shovel - We bought a 'real' shovel for my son when he was 3, and he has really enjoyed using it. He digs up worms in our yard, and we use it at the beach for serious digging in the sand. It makes sense to me to get a sturdy shovel that can hold up to real use rather than a plastic shovel that breaks quickly. It's great practice and exercise to learn how to use a real shovel, and the kids like using one that is the right size for them!

10. My daughter is obsessed with dogs, so here are two ideas for puppy lovers:

Pucci Pups Dog with Carrier- My daughter loves her puppy carrier sets. I'm ashamed to say that we have two of these bags: one with a mother dog and puppy, and one with just one pup. The sets come with collars, leashes, dog treats, outfits, hairbows... and my daughter plays with them all the time. She loves to pack the carriers full of all her pets and go on 'trips'.

Nursing Nana Dog- This fantastic plush dog comes with three puppies who attach to their mother with magnets to nurse. It's so cute, and my daughter loves to play with it!

Now you know some of our favorite preschool gift ideas! Linked to 10 on Tuesday.