Friday, December 19, 2014

Its All About the Gingerbread Man

Kindergartners forgot about Christmas and Santa this week. All they could think about was the gingerbread man. It was no wonder since their teacher has totally immersed them in a variety of gingerbread activities. I never knew there could be so many things to do from one story.My best memory of kindergarten was making gingerbread men with my class and Miss Ann. 

Today it still reigns as a highlight for children in kindergarten. 
Who would have ever guessed that two boxes of gingerbread mix could provide so much fun.

The class had such a good time making one large gingerbread man and decorating it with all sorts of candies, cereals and raisins. The cooks baked it in the kitchen and the gingerbread man was enjoyed as an afternoon snack. 

If you decide to use a prepared mix rather than homemade cookie dough I would suggest using Betty Crocker Gingerbread Cookie Mix. It took two boxes to make one large gingerbread pictured above.    

Of course a gingerbread man needs a poem to be complete. So to refresh your memory...
Once there was a gingerbread man,
Baking in a gingerbread pan.
Raisin eyes and a cherry nose,
Trimmed right down to his fingers and toes.
A gingerbread man in a gingerbread pan!
Here's the old woman who made him so sweet,
A treat for her and her husband to eat,
She made him with flour and sugar and eggs,
She gave him a face and two arms and two legs.
A gingerbread man in a gingerbread pan!
Now open the oven to see if he's done,
This gingerbread man, he know how to run.
Out of the oven and onto the floor,
Now run away out the kitchen door.
The gingerbread man, he's out of the pan!
Now chase him old woman, now chase him old man
Chase him, yes chase him as fast as you can!
Through the garden and out the gate,
Catch him right now, before it's too late.
The gingerbread man, he's out of the pan!
Along came a cow who wanted a treat
And the gingerbread man, he looked good to eat
Run, run, as fast as you can
You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man
I'm the gingerbread man and I'm out of the pan!
Along came a horse who wanted a snack
But the gingerbread man, he never looked back
Run, run, as fast as you can
You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man
I'm the gingerbread man and I'm out of the pan!
Along came a farmer who wanted a treat
And the gingerbread man, he looked good to eat
Run, run, as fast as you can
You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man
I'm the gingerbread man and I'm out of the pan!
Along came a dog who wanted a snack
But the gingerbread man, he never looked back
Run, run, as fast as you can
You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man
I'm the gingerbread man and I'm out of the pan!
Along came a hog who wanted a treat
And the gingerbread man, he looked good to eat
Run, run, as fast as you can
You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man
I'm the gingerbread man and I'm out of the pan!
Along came a fox who wanted a treat,
And this gingerbread man, he looked good to eat.
Jump on my back, my gingerbread pet,
And we'll cross the river, so you won't get wet
Mr. Gingerbread man, who's out of the pan!
There was no place to go, there was no place to run
And a ride on the river could be lots of fun!
So off with the fox did Gingerbread go
And what happened next, you already know
To the gingerbread man, who's out of the pan
That sly old fox had a de-lic-ious treat
And the old man and woman had nothing to eat
Not a bite was left for the cow or the dog,
The horse or the farmer or hungry old hog
There's no gingerbread man in or out of the pan!
So let us go home and get out the pan
And we'll make ourselves a new gingerbread man!
And when he is eaten, we'll make us some more
But this time we'll be certain to lock the back door!
A new gingerbread man, in a gingerbread pan!

Gingerbread cookie making was followed by listening to many different versions of the story all week 
and other related gingerbread man activities. I thought this one was particularly creative. 

Fill the empty gingerbread boxes with paper gingerbread men.  A different sight word was placed on each gingerbread man. Three gingerbread mans had a fox drawn on. The box was passed around to a small group of children. The object was to see who could collect the most gingerbread man in an allotted time. If you drew a fox on a gingerbread out of the box you lost all your gingerbread man and had to start over.  

But the real highlight for me was sharing my holiday gift with the students. It was heartwarming to see that the gift of words can really excite a group.
Pete The Cat series is a real favorite in this classroom. In this new book the catchy lines that rhyme make you want to burst out in song.  All of the books are on YouTube and you hear the pages read in song. 
Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons is about Pete the Cat wearing his favorite shirt—the one with the four totally groovy buttons. But when one falls off, does Pete cry? Goodness, no! He just keeps on singing his song—after all, what could be groovier than three groovy buttons? Count down with Pete in this rocking new story from the creators of the bestselling Pete the Cat books.
Mix It Up is a sequel to the book Press Here.  Both books are whimsical interactive books and can be heard being read on YouTube.  Accept HervĂ© Tullet's irresistible invitation to mix it up in a dazzling adventure of whimsy and wonder. Follow the artist's simple instructions, and suddenly colors appear, mix, splatter, and vanish in a world powered only by the reader's imagination. 
Need a last minute homemade gift idea? I thought this creative idea from Kathleen was the perfect destresser... bath salts. 
The jar came from Target and lavendar oil from the dollar store. 
here's Kathleen's recipe and thanks to her for sharing :)
2 cups Epsom Salt
3/4 cup Baking Soda
6-10 drops Lavender Essential Oil
1/4 cup dried Lavender (optional)
Mix ingredients together well in a GLASS bowl. Let the salt dry overnight and then store in air tight container for gifting or personal use.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Countdown

Brie Kisses come to the rescue when you need a quick appetizer. They are made using frozen mini phyllo tarts or puff pastry.  And the best part they require only three ingredients.
These appetizers can be made ahead and then popped into the oven when you're ready to serve.

  • 2/3 lb. brie cheese
  • 2 boxes phyllo mini shells or Puff Pastry Sheets
  • hot pepper jelly
Phyllo Shells Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Cut small pieces of brie and place them into frozen phyllo mini shells. Top with a small scoop of pepper jelly. Place on rimmed baking sheet.
  • Bake  5 to 7 minutes, or until cheese is melted and shells are golden.
  • Tip: Fill shells in their trays with brie and pepper jelly, and then slide them back into the boxes. They can be placed back into the freezer until ready to bake,
Puff Pastry Shells Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Lightly roll pastry sheet out on parchment floured paper 10 x 10
  • Measure out 4 strips each 2-1/2 wide and cut lengthwise
  • Then cut diagonally 4 strips each 2-1/2 wide with a total of 16 squares
  • Press square into greased mini-muffin tins and make a indentation in center and bake 5 minutes.
  • Place cube in center of each pastry and bake 8 minutes more or until edges are golden.
  • Remove from oven and immediately top with pepper jelly.  

Snowman Cupcake

Cook's notes:  Looking for a kid-friendly kitchen activity for school vacation?

This snowman cupcake would be easy to create. Use your favorite cake mix and prepared frosting, add two marshmallows for body, two pretzels for arms and top with a piece of chocolate candy. 

Pesto Cheese Tarts
makes 15 appetizers

  • 1 package (2.1 oz.) frozen miniature phyllo tart shells (Athens brand)
  • 2/3 cup diced tomatoes, drained on a paper towel
  • 1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese or Swiss
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 4-5 TB. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp. prepared pesto in a jar
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • chopped fresh basil
  • In a small bowl combine all ingredients except shells
  • Spoon heaping teaspoon into each tart shells
  • Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake @ 350 for 8 minutes or until lightly browned 
  • Garnish with minced basil
Need a gift idea?
The Giving Tree is a children's picture book written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein in 1964. It is a tender story of unconditional love but also one of uncomfortable truths. 
As its name suggests, the story is a tale about giving. The tree gives the boy her branches to hang from when he longs to play, apples to sell when he needs money, her branches to build with when he asks for a home, her trunk to carve a boat out of when he wants to get away, and a stump to sit on when he must rest his weary bones.
But the book is also a parable about the beauty of generosity, and the power of giving to forge connection between two people.
I have read the book many times over the years. I have come to see the book less and less as an endorsement of giving, but more about the way love and tragedy are irrevocably intertwined, and how our giving to others inevitably detracts from how much we can give ourselves
I see this book as a bridge between parent and child to have conversations about what it means to take and to give too much.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce

I knew just the cure for days of no sun and lack of color-a trip to the Como Park Conservatory for their annual Poinsettia Floral Display. It's always an uplifting experience and a bonus it's warm inside. 

Cook's notes: I've been following a new food blog lately 
In the food blogger's words... this is the easiest pasta dish ever, and you can add in your favorite meats and/or veggies – the possibilities are endless caught my attention when reading her recipe for Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce. 
I was able to complete the dish in under 25 minutes as suggested in the recipe. What an amazing creamy tomato pasta sauce. The recipe makes 3 generous or 4 smaller servings. It was soooooooo good I remade it the next night since there were no leftovers from the night before! The recipe can easily be doubled. 
I did tweak her recipe a bit by adding in spices and onions.
  • 1 cup dried penne
  • 1 cup cooked and crumbled Italian Sausage or Smoked Andouille Chicken Sausage 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup diced sweet onions
Cream Sauce
  • 2 TB. butter
  • 2 TB. flour 
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and patted dry with a paper towel. This product can be found in produce. 
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp. each dried oregano and basil
  • 1 TB parsley flakes
  • dash red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Bring a pan of salted water to a boil, add in dried penne. Cook until al dente, drain and rinse.
  • In  large skillet heat 1 TB. olive oil, saute onion and garlic about 2 minutes on medium low heat. Stir frequently so it doesn't overbrown.  
  • Add in 2 TB. butter, melt and add in 2 TB. flour. Whisk to blend and cook 1 minute.
  • Whisk in chicken broth and continue whisking until broth is incorporated with flour mixture about 1-2 mnutes. 
  • Stir in cream, meat, pasta, spices, sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan. Whisk to blend and cook until thickened about 2 minutes.  
  • Serve immediately and grate Parmesan over top of the dish.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Celebrate Jane Austen with Decadent Chocolate Mousse

An unexpected opportunity to tour the Governor's Residence (a Victorian mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, MN) today made me think of Jane Austen. Earlier in the day I read it was her birthday and this opulent table setting seemed like one you would have imagined seeing in one of her stories.  And I would have loved serving my chocolate mousse as a stunning finish to a festive meal. 
Maybe even imagine Jane writing one of her stories sitting on a couch like this and penning these words....
'It isn't what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.' 
from Sense and Sensibility, Austen's first published work written in 1811 under pseudonym "A Lady."
'It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage.' 
from  Emma written 1815, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in England. She creates a lively comedy of manners among her characters.

Jane Austen (December 16, 1775-July 18, 1817) was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism, biting irony and social commentary as well as her acclaimed plots have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics. She is best known for her social commentary in novels including Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice (1813), and Emma. 

During her lifetime, Austen's novels brought her little personal fame. Like many women writers, she chose to publish anonymously and it was only among members of the aristocracy that her authorship was an open secret. While Austen received some accolades for her works while still alive, with her first three novels garnering critical attention and increasing financial reward, it was not until after her death that her brother Henry revealed to the public that she was an author.

At the time they were published, Austen's works were considered fashionable by members of high society but received few positive reviews. By the mid-19th century, her novels were admired by members of the literary elite who viewed their appreciation of her works as a mark of cultivation. The publication in 1870 of her nephew's Memoir of Jane Austin introduced her to a wider public as an appealing personality—dear, quiet aunt Jane—and her works were republished in popular editions. Early in the 20th century, scholars produced a carefully edited collection of her works—the first for any British novelist—but it was not until the 1940s that Austen was widely accepted in academia as a "great English novelist".

She is considered one of the greatest writers in English history, both by academics and the general public. There has been a seemingly endless stream of TV adaptations, films, books, and events devoted to the English novelist. One reason, of course, is that Austen is a great writer. She is a gifted stylist—concise, witty, ironic—and a master of the miniature. A realist, she is also ironic, funny, and wise. But Austen’s popularity can’t be chalked up to style alone. Her writings have universal themes and she is skilled at capturing the habits and customs of the times from the female point of view. 
Chocolate Mousse
Cook's notes:  It is rich, decadent and oh, so good. It’s a stunning finish to a holiday meal. Serve the mousse in small demitasse like cups. Recipe makes 4-5 small servings.
The recipe comes from Andrew Knowlton, editor of Bon Appetit magazine February 2013. I made espresso coffee by adding 1 tsp. espresso powder to 1/4 cup boiling water.

  • ¾ cup chilled heavy cream 
  • 4 large egg yolks at room temperature 
  • 1/4 cup strong coffee or espresso at room temperature 
  • dash of salt 
  • 3 tsp. sugar 
  • 6 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate squares, chopped plus 2 squares of bittersweet chocolate (61-72% cacao) 
  • 3 large egg whites 
  • 1/8 tsp. creme of tartar 
  • 2 TB. Kahlua or Amaretto 
  • Beat 3/4 cup whip cream and refrigerate. 
  • Beat egg whites in a bowl with creme of tartar and 1 tsp. sugar-beat until firm peaks form, set aside. 
  • Combine egg yolks, coffee or espresso, salt and 2 tsp. sugar in a metal bowl. Whisk and set bowl in a larger pan of simmering water. 
  • Whisk constantly until mixture is lighter in color and has doubled in volume about 5-6 minutes. 
  • Remove bowl from water, stir in chopped chocolate pieces and whisk till blended.  
  • Add in Kahlua or Amaretto, blend well.
  • Gently fold egg whites into whipped whip cream. 
  • Fold egg whites/whip cream mixtures into chocolate mixture.   
  • Top with crushed almonds or toasted coconut. 
  • Refrigerate until serving. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Shallots, Garlic and Cranberries

and so she did!
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Shallots, Garlic and Cranberries
Cook’s notes: Garlic, bacon and shallots add intense flavor to the Brussels sprouts. Cranberries compliment the savory dish.  
Recipe serves 4
  • 7 slices center-cut bacon
  • ½ cup sliced shallots or sweet onions
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
  • ¾ cup fat-free, lower sodium chicken broth
  • 2TB. balsamic vinegar, Red Apple Balsamic or Dark Cherry Balsamic
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries
  • Trim edges of sprouts and peel off outer leaves leaving a tight leaf ball to hold it together. Cut sprouts in half. Cook 7 bacon slices until crisp.  Set aside. Remove bacon drippings.  Wipe pan clean with a paper towel and add back to skillet 1 TB bacon drippings. Discard rest of drippings.
  • Add onions or shallots, garlic, 1 tsp. brown sugar, 2 TB. Balsamic vinegar and halved cut side down Brussels sprouts to skillet. Saute 5 minutes on medium high heat. 
  • Add in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes or until broth is mostly evaporated and the sprouts are crisp and tender.  Add in crumbled bacon and dried cranberries. Cook 2 minutes more.
  • Remove from heat, salt and pepper dish before serving.  
Follow the link for some clever Christmas Food Hacks that include:
Kids will enjoy being creative in the kitchen by decorating their own Christmas trees using waffle cones.
Bake brownies in cookie cutters or bake pancakes in cookie cutters

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Holiday Meal from the Seasonal Plate

A quote from Maya Angelou

Seasonal Plate
Cook's Notes: This festive meal  is well worth the effort. Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Dried Cranberries, Roasted Petite Red Potatoes are flavorful sides for an Apple Roasted Pork with Cherry Balsamic Glaze meal.  A chocolate mousse is a stunning finish  to the meal and can be prepared a day ahead. 
The recipes will be posted over three days. 
Apple Roasted Pork with Cherry Balsamic Glaze
recipe adapted from Taste of Home and serves 4
  • 2 lbs. pork tenderloin or 2 lbs. boneless pork loin roast
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 TB. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. dried rosemary and 1/4 tsp. thyme
  • 2 medium tart firm apples, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup apple juice 
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced in rings
  • 3 TB. balsamic vinegar, Red Apple Balsamic or Dark Cherry Balsamic 
  • 1 package frozen pitted sweet dark cherries, thawed
  • 1 TB. cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cherry preserves
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Mix rosemary and thyme, sprinkle over roast or tenderloin, salt and pepper.
  • In a Dutch oven or oven proof pan add 2 TB. olive oil and heat over medium high on stove.
  • Add to pan onions and roast or tenderloin. Brown on all sides, about 3 minutes a side.
  • Add in apple juice and diced apples. Cover and roast meat in oven until thermometer reads 160 degrees, basting pork occasionally with pan juices.
  • When roast is done place on a serving platter on top of apples and onions. Tent with foil. Let meat rest at least 10 minutes.
  • Drain cherries and reserve cherry juice. Mix 1 TB.cornstarch with reserved cherry juice. 
  • Skim fat from pork pan juices and pour into a saucepan over medium high heat. Add in balsamic vinegar and cook 1 minute. 
  • Add to this mixture drained cherries, reserved cherry juice mixed with cornstarch and cherry preserves. 
  • Cook over medium heat, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook about 8 minutes until slightly thickened.  
  • Serve pork with a drizzle of cherry balsamic glaze. 
Roasted Herb Petite-Reds
  • 1 lb. petite reds halved and quartered
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. rosemary
  • 1 tsp. parsley flakes
  • olive oil or Tuscan Herb Olive Oil
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Mix spices together. 
  • In a large bowl add in potatoes, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs.
  • Spread potatoes out evenly on parchment lined sheet.
  • Bake until fork tender about 35 minutes.   

Bon Appetit!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Appetizers and The World According to Bella

I really like Mrs. S's friends. This is my second unexpected gift in one week from another friend of hers. And it wasn't even on my list. I had to carefully inspect this bone since I couldn't believe the size. Now this bone is every doggie's dream come true. But Mrs S said I have to wait until Christmas before I can unwrap, dig in and gnaw. Hope the next 12 days go fast.
Love, Bella

Blackberry Brie Bites
recipe from,
  • 1 tube refrigerated crescent rolls (Pillsbury 8 oz.)
  • 1 round Brie Cheese (8 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup blackberry jelly (Smuckers Spreadable Fruit)
  • 24 fresh blackberries
  • 24 large toothpicks
  • Separate the crescent rolls into 4 rectangles. Press the seams together and cut into 6 even squares. Press into 24 mini-muffin tins.
  • Cut the rind off the Brie cheese. Cut into 24 small squares. Place one square into each crescent lined tin. Spoon a small amount of blackberry jelly on top of each cheese square. Fold the tips of the crescent rolls over, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with a fresh blackberry on a toothpick. Serve immediately. Makes 24 crescent cups.

Ham and Cheese Puff Pastries
Cook's notes: This recipe makes 18 pastry puffs. It does double duty as an appetizer or as a side with soup. The recipe comes from
Spice Blend Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 TB. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Puff Pastries Ingredients:
  • 1 (17.3-oz) package puff pastry, defrosted
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 lb. thinly sliced deli ham 
  • 1/2 cup Swiss cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup white cheddar, grated
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 TB
  • Preheat oven to 400. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
  • Spice Blend: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
  • Pastries: Unfold pastry sheets. Cut each sheet into 9 squares.
  • Mix both cheeses together.
  • Spread about 1/2 tsp of Dijon over the puff pastry. Arrange ham and grated cheeses down center of the pastry squares. Sprinkle with some of the spice blend. Fold two opposite corners of each square over the filling and press edges to seal. Place on prepared baking sheet.
  • Combine egg and water. Brush each pastry with egg wash. Sprinkle tops of pastries with more spice blend.
  • Bake 15-18 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Chicken Enchilada Dip
recipe from
  • 1 small can red enchilada sauce 
  • 1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded (rotisserie chicken or slow-cooked chicken will work great!)
  • 1 small can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup frozen yellow corn, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning
  • 1½ cups shredded Mexican blend cheese (cheddar or jack cheese would work well too)
  • ⅓ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • tortilla chips for serving
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pour enchilada sauce into a casserole dish or shallow baking dish (a pie dish works well too). 
  • Add black beans, corn, and shredded chicken. Sprinkle taco seasoning over whole dish. Top with cilantro, then shredded cheese.
  • Bake 15-20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and begins to brown. Serve with tortilla chips.