Sunday, January 27, 2013

Home made play dough

As you might remember, I worked at a summer camp teaching cooking.  Today I went back to work during an open house event and I made play dough with the potential campers.  We had a lot of fun and they were able to take home a little bit of dough, too!  It reminded me of this blog post I wrote in my other blog in October 2011.  Enjoy!

Today promised to be a rainy day so our plans to meet our friends at the park had to be modified.  My friend Colleen and I decided to bring the kids to the diner for an early lunch.  You might be thinking that we are crazy, and when I saw the line at the diner door I truly believed we were.  Luckily I was able to get in rather quickly and the owner of the Parkwood Diner sat us in the very back.  Smart man.

One of my tried and true techniques for keeping Lilly occupied when we are at a restaurant is to bring playdoh for us to use.  I realized about an hour before our meeting time that we were fresh out of playdoh.    This is when being a preschool teacher has its advantages.  I pulled up my recipe for playdough and in about 15 minutes from start to finish we had enough playdough for three kids.

Here is the recipe I used.  I will put my notes in italics.

2 cups flour
2 cups warm water (I used pretty hot water.)
1 cup salt (I think I used a little too much salt because it was a bit more gritty than usual.  Lilly was helping measure so it was not exact.)
2 TBSP vegetable oil
1 TBSP cream of tartar
food coloring  (I only had gel food coloring and it was hard to work into the dough.  The liquid is best.)
flavor extracts (I didn't have any so I didn't use any!) 

Mix all the ingredients in a medium pot and stir over low heat.  (I had mine a bit high because I forgot and didn't have the instructions in front of me.  It still came out okay.)  Keep cooking and stirring until it pulls away from the pot and starts to look and feel like playdough.  Put it onto a clean surface (I used my silpat.) and when it is cool enough knead the dough until it is smooth.  I divided the dough into four and made a little divet in each pile before adding food coloring.  If you are worried about staining your hands then use gloves or even wrap it in plastic wrap and knead it in there.  (With my students I used to put it in a ziplock, take the air out and let them squish away.)  

Store in airtight containers or ziplock bags.

This is a very forgiving recipe.  If it is too sticky, cook it longer.  If it starts to dry out, add a few drops of water and work it in.  If it's too wet, cook it a little bit.  I let Lilly help me and she was as thrilled to help me make the playdough as she was to play with it.  And just think of all the math and science your little ones will be learning without even realizing it!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sloppy joes...not just an Adam Sandler song

Did I just date myself by using such an old Adam Sandler reference?  I saw him live, at Radio City Music Hall back, oh, about 18 years ago.  He was all the rage then and I loved him!

But I digress.  The concept of a Manwich-type sloppy joe always made me feel a little nauseous.  I think it's similar to my Other People's Meatballs situation I referenced before.  I just get picky about meat.  My friend, who works at William-Sonoma, made sloppy joes when I visited her this summer.  She used the William-Sonoma sauce which was ridiculously tasty.  But it is just a tad too pricey for my budget.

One day, however, I was just in the mood for a sloppy joe.  I went to the Food Network site to see what they had to say about them, and found many recipes.  I took a few recipes and melded them together, tasting and adjusting the spices as I went along.  I made it a second time, really fine tuning what worked for me and my particular taste.  Many recipes include bell pepper, sometimes I add it, sometimes I do not.  Feel free to add it, if you like.  It is a quick recipe, good for a work night.  Toast your roll in the oven for a few minutes, then pile the meat on top. Serve a nice mixed green salad with a crisp vinaigrette alongside it.  Voila!  Dinner is served! You could even serve it over brown rice if you are GF.  

Mellie's Sloppy Joes

Olive oil for browning the meat and onions(1-2 TBSP)
1 pound ground beef or turkey
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons steak seasoning (I happened to have McCormick's Montreal Steak seasoning.)
1 medium onion, chopped small
1 1/2 TBSP red wine vinegar
1 1/2 TBSP worcestershire sauce
1 tsp chili powder (feel free to omit if you don't want the little kick)
1 tsp dry mustard
2 cups tomato sauce (the kind in the can, not jarred)
2 TBSP tomato paste (if it was frozen like mine usually is, then you can add earlier in the cooking to help it defrost.)
crusty rolls for serving

Deliciousness.  One of the keys is breaking
up the meat into tiny bits.

Heat a large pan over medium high heat.  Add oil and then meat , spreading the meat around and starting to break it up.  Add the steak seasoning while the meat is browning.  When it is no longer pink, drain the oil off then return to the large pan.  Meanwhile, saute the onions in a small pan until tender and translucent. Add the brown sugar and onions to the browned meat, mixing it in.  Reduce heat to medium and add vinegar, worcestershire, chili powder, and dry mustard.  Cook for 5 minutes.  Add tomato sauce and paste, stirring to make sure all the ingredients are well combined.  Simmer on low for 10 minutes.  The meat is already cooked through, but the flavors need a chance to come together.
I like to toast my roll in the oven for 2-3 minutes.  It helps prevent roll sogginess.  Add a large spoonful of the mixture to the roll and enjoy!

Amazing slow cooker chicken part 2

I used some leftover chicken to make chicken nachos. 

As I was writing about the amazing slow cooker chicken I made today, I realized that, though I had meant to post my other amazing slow cooker chicken recipe ages ago, I never had.  I love this recipe.  I make it all the time.  It makes tons of chicken, which is easily freezable, and then reheated again.  It is very versatile and can be used in all different ways.  We generally use it for chicken tacos the first day and then over rice when we reheat it.  I have made nachos, like the picture above, and also enchiladas.  The last time I made it I was thinking of making a chicken soup with it, but we ate it all before I could!

I got the original recipe from my friend Caroline who got it from  It was so delicious that I needed to make it almost immediately.  Over the past few years I have fine-tuned and altered the recipe a bit, as I tend to do.

Slow Cooker Garlicky Lime Chicken

1pound of chicken I have used thighs and/or breasts
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 lime, zested and juiced
2 teaspoon white sugar though you can substitute agave or honey for the sweetness
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-2 onions, I half and then quarter the halves, but you can slice them thinly if you want.
3 green onions, sliced I have done without, too, if I was out of them.
2-4 cloves garlic, I just smash them a bit
1 Tablespoon dried oregano 

Put all those ingredients in the slow cooker, laying the onions so that the chicken can rest on top.  Put the chicken right on top.   Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 6 hours.  Shred with 2 forks when it's done and use it however you wish!  Freeze any extra in freezer bags and re-heat in a little broth or water.

The shredded chicken.  You can see the onions and how caramelized they are.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Amazing slow cooker chicken

The perfect bite - chicken and tomato together.
This morning I was trying to think about what to to with this chicken I bought on Thursday.  I got a really great deal on chicken breasts, but, as tends to happen with these deals, they were huge and it was a 3-pound package.  So, what to do?  What I usually do is make a garlicky lime chicken for use in chicken tacos or over rice.  I thought I had blogged that recipe but I haven't yet, so that might be Amazing slow cooker chicken part 2.  And so it is, since I have now added it.  

I had some canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices.  I googled slow cooker chicken and canned tomatoes and found this recipe.  I altered the recipe a bit, based on what I had in my pantry.   This is the recipe I came up with, with my ideas for the next time in italics.  

Balsamic and Tomato Slow Cooker Chicken
Serves 4 to 6
-2-3 pounds of chicken.  I used boneless chicken breast, the very thick kind.
-Salt and pepper to taste
-1 onion, very thinly sliced If you really like onion use 1 large or 2 small.
-4 whole cloves garlic, peeled Again, add more or less depending on how much you love garlic.
-1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
-1 small can diced tomatoes 
-1 large can crushed tomatoes with oregano and basil
Next time I would do the opposite because we loved the chunkiness of the tomatoes - 1 large can diced and 1 small can crushed.  I also would use stewed if I had them.
-1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
-1 teaspoon dried basil
You can see the chicken just under
the surface but not all the way on the bottom.
-1 teaspoon dried oregano
-1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.
2. Put onion, garlic, balsamic vinegar, tomatoes, rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano into the slow cooker.
3. Place the chicken in the sauce.  I did not push it all the way in, just under the surface.  Whatever sauce was on top formed a delicious topping as it cooked down.
4. Put the slow cooker on for 6-8 hours on low.  There is enough liquid with the crushed tomatoes that the chicken was not even close to drying out.  
5.  I served it over brown rice.  But you could over pasta.  We also put some on the crusty Italian bread we were eating with dinner.  Oh my..delish!  
Notice how the tomatoes cooked
down to form a nice glaze on top.
I happen to love Hunt's tomato products and they have tons of flavor choices for their diced tomatoes.  You could really change the flavor profile depending on what kind you use.  
I had also steamed some carrots to have as our veggie and Vinnie and I threw them in the same bowl as the rice and chicken.  They were very tasty mixed in.  It made me start to think about what other variations I could do.  I might add peeled, diced potatoes and carrots to make it more like a chicken stew.  If you added peppers it would be more like a cacciatore.   You could also shred it with forks when it is done, like I do with the garlicky lime chicken.  If you added more mexican seasoning and some poblano or jalapeno peppers depending on your heat preference, to it, it would be the perfect chicken and sauce for enchiladas.  
There are so many slow cooker recipes that involve browning something first, and I just can't handle that at 6:30am on a workday.  This will definitely go into the rotation of recipes because it was the easiest thing in this world  and according to Vinnie, tasted out of this world.