Posts tagged fun

5 Ways to Use Halloween Cookie Cutters

Halloween cookie cutters picForget the cookies. You can use Halloween cookie cutters for so much more. They’re an easy way to turn a ho-hum PB&J into a fun lunch surprise. (Well, we make PB&A sandwiches around our house–my youngest prefers agave over jam.)

 

Other ways to use cookie cutters:

•Make Halloween tortilla chips–baked or fried
Pack day-old rice into the cookie cutter and then serve it on each person’s plate
•Place one on each person’s dessert plate and then sprinkle with cocoa powder to leave an outline of the Halloween shape
•Press into hot-off-the pan grilled cheese sandwich
•Cook pancakes then press in the Halloween shape

 

Halloween Cookie Cutter Cat pic

 

 

 

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Strawberry picking time!

Strawberry fieldsMy older girls are away at camp and when I asked my youngest what she wanted to do she told me, “Pick strawberries.” So that’s exactly what we did.

 

Strawberry picking time is almost over. If you haven’t been out yet, there’s still a week or two. The strawberries in Ohio are much smaller and tarter than the big, California variety I usually find at the grocery store. As my daughter said, “They taste like sunshine.” I agree.

 

Funny strawberries

Strawberry fields

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Fancify Friday: Carved orange elephants

Carved orange elephants

 

Meet Ed and Edward. That’s what my daughter named her carved orange creations. When I asked why, she looked at me liked I’d just asked why leaves are green. “Because they’re elephants, mom.” Well, that answers it.

 

When I was cleaning out some of my cookbooks the other day I stumbled on The Fine Art of Garnished, publishing date, 1978. My mother-in-law sent it to me awhile back and I haven’t had a chance–or the hutzpah–to give it a try. My youngest? Well, when she saw it as I was stacking up books she immediately started thumbing through it, planning out what we were going to try. Luckily, I talked her out of making the viking-inspired watermelon boat this time…

These elephants are actually easy to make–and don’t require a sharp knife. I was making an apple bird while my youngest settled on the Apple birdelephants. Well, you can see how my bird turned out (in my defense, it was a very, very small apple). But my daughter followed the instructions and stopped at two elephants just because we ran out of oranges.

 

How to make a carved orange elephant:

  • Find the end of the orange with a circle (where it was picked). Use a paring knife to cut a long “V” in the skin, going down from the circle. Gently pull the skin away from the pith.
  • Lay the “V” portion onto a cutting board (still attached to the orange) and then shape it into a trunk.
  • Use the paring knife to cut a circle on either side of the trunk for the ears. To do this, push the knife into the orange skin but not all the way through to the juicy part. Make a circle starting above the trunk and ending just below the trunk–it’s almost as if you were cutting a slice. Do not slice the circle all the way around. Repeat on the other side and then carefully pull the “ears” away from the base of the orange.
  • With toothpicks, secure grapes for the elephants’ “eyes” and gumdrops for their “feet.”
  • Add kiwi fruit “grass” (optional, but fun).
Ed, not to be confused with Edward the Elephant

Ed, not to be confused with Edward the Elephant

Child looking at carved orange

 

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Coconut Snowman Cookies–in 3D!

Snowmen cookies

Three different snowman frosting styles

Sure, you could make flat, sugar cookie snowmen, but why not enlist your kids in sculpting some three-dimensional ones? That’s what I did with this coconut snowball recipe. I let my kids roll the dough into 3 sizes of balls figuring we’d make a whole family of snow people.

Once the cookies had cooled slightly, we added a quick powdered sugar glaze and then more coconut. After the glaze had set, we added mini-chocolate chips for eyes and cut up fruit leathers for the “carrot” noses and scarves. Melted white chocolate made for perfect snowman glue.

I would love to claim this idea as my own, but really my kids insisted on doing something fun with the recipe. Seeing as in the last week we’ve had nonstop snow and 2–yes 2!–school snow days, I guess I’m not surprised. Plus the temperature is still so chilly that we can’t play outside. No wonder then that my kids were driven to make snowmen inside!

I wanted to try a few different ways to frost the snowmen–my older kids were patient enough to use the original recipe technique above, but younger kids might not be. 

So here are 3 frosting techniques I used, along with some notes.

Powdered sugar coated snowman

Frosting #1 Powdered Sugar

Good: Simple. You just roll the cookie balls in powdered sugar while they’re still warm.

Bad: This makes sticking on the mini-chocolate chip eyes much tougher.

Frosting #2 Powdered sugar glaze

Powdered sugar glaze snowman

Good: Add 2-4 teaspoons of milk to a cup of powdered sugar and stir. Place the cookie balls onto a wire tray with a cookie pan underneath. Pour the glaze over each ball. This is the LEAST messy technique.

Bad: The white chocolate glue is the most visible with this glaze. (Kids don’t seem to mind though.)

Glaze + coconut

Glaze + coconut snowman

Frosting #3 Glaze + ground coconut

Good: After you’ve glazed the snowman balls–and before the frosting sets–roll each one in coconut that has been pulsed in a food processor so that it’s nearly ground. This frosting turned out the prettiest snowmen and it masked any little errors (like too much white chocolate glue).

Bad: Messy. This is the recipe recommended version and these snowmen were the best of the batch. But you need to have patience to put these together.

*A batch of cookies will make for 5, 3-layered snowmen and 1 snow snake;)

This is just one of many cookie recipes you can find at Our Most Gorgeous Holiday Cookies Ever. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team. Once a week, I’ll be posting about the exciting things not to miss on the their site, and their affiliates. (If I have time this week, I really want to make the chocolate pinwheel cookie recipe. We’ll see:)

Are you making cookies for the holidays? What are some of your favorites?


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3 Fancy cookies. 10 minutes. No kidding!

Pie crust windmillsSome delectable cookies take days to make. And I love every minute of it. But when you’re crafting your cookies with kids there’s just no way to hold their interest through multiple steps of mixing, rolling, filling, dipping (well at least around my house, the last time I tried the cookies ended up paper thin thanks to my 7-year-old’s hearty rolling skills).

Still, I like making cookies with my bakers-in-training. I stumbled on a solution by accident (thank you coupon circular!). Pie crusts. Unlike pre-made sugar cookie dough that can spread and leave carefully constructed raspberry cookie volcanoes deflated, pie crusts withstand little fingers’ various designs. Added bonus: The dough comes rolled for you!

Here are just three ideas to make fancy cookies with pie crusts. And yes, you can make these in the time it takes your oven to heat up to 375 degrees (okay, maybe mine is slower than most).

Ingredients to have on hand

Pre-packaged pie crusts

Jam, I used apricot and raspberry

powdered sugar

sliced apples

cinnamon and sugar


Ready to make cookies?

•The Windmill

(Pictured above.) I drummed up the idea for this one from my 9-year-old’s origami book. Start by cutting a 1 1/2 to 2″ square with the pie dough. You make four slits almost to middle, starting from the corner working toward the center. Slather about one teaspoon jam (any flavor), starting from the middle working out. Fold one corner toward the inside and repeat with each corner tip. (I found a helpful tutorial with paper). Press the tips in the center and top with a chocolate chip, dried cherry or whatever else you have on hand. Bake for about 10 minutes or until just browned.

Apricot kolaches•Kolaches

Sure, these aren’t authentic, but I can make 3 dozen of them in under 20 minutes (not including baking time:) and they taste almost as good as the real thing. For the kolaches, use a pizza cutter to make 1-inch strips in the pie dough. Cut again, to make 1-inch pieces. Add about a half teaspoon of jam to the center of the square and fold two corners toward the middle and leave the other two open. You can brush the folded sides with egg yolk and then sprinkle with raw sugar. Or, after you’ve baked the cookies, give ‘em a dip in some powdered sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes.


Mini turnovers•Mini Apple Turnovers

My 7-year-old had so much fun with these! With a 1 1/2″ biscuit cutter (you could also use a drinking glass) I had her make circles in the dough. A 9-inch pie crust will make about 10 circles. I had a bowl of thin-cut apple slices on hand that I’d squeezed with a bit of lemon. On one half of the circle, she placed a piece of apple (she cut them to fit using a kitchen knife). Then she folded the dough over the apple and sealed the two ends together (you might want to use a little water to make the seal stick). Then she dipped the turnover in melted butter and then her favorite, cinnamon and sugar. Alternatively, you can brush the dough with egg yolk and then sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Or go without dipping altogether!

We’re still inventing ways to make cookies out of pie crusts–it’s a lot of fun. Looking for more ideas? Check out these Creative Holiday Cookies. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team. Once a week, I’ll be posting about the exciting things not to miss on the their site, and their affiliates.

And congrats to the winner of the King Arthur $60 gift certificate. Happy baking to Darcy B!

Your turn–what cookies are you making this holiday season?

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Making Thanksgiving Fun for Kids

Trouble board gameTrouble. Sorry. Whoonu. Don’t worry–I’m not expecting any problems on Thanksgiving, other than maybe a little indigestion. These are the games I’m going to bring over to a friend’s house where we’re spending the day.

See, sometimes Thanksgiving can seem like more of a grown-up holiday. So this year I’m trying to look for ways to keep my kids involved (and to win at least a round or two of Uno—seriously, when did my 7 year-old become such a card master?!).

Plus I’m really looking forward to spending some time with my girls without having to worry about homework getting done, being late for basketball practice, or even keeping up with my email.

Here’s what I’m planning so far–I’d love to hear your ideas too!

Board games.

Classics like Checkers and Monopoly can be fun, but since we’ll be with friends, I’m bringing along games that encourage conversation.

  • Whoonu lets players rank items on cards according to how much they like them. You rank “macaroni and cheese” above “petting zoos”? Cue: Whoonu?
  • Apples to Apples Junior is another favorite, giggle-inducing, didn’t-know-that-about-you game. Players take turns being the “judge.” The judge puts down a green apple card that has a word on it, say “dangerous,” and from the other players’ stash of 5 cards, they put down what they think best matches. The judge then picks the winner–and at least at our house–has to justify why she chose “doing the dishes” over “pirates” as the best match with “dangerous.”
  • For more board games your family might enjoy, click through this round-up of games from Parents.com. I’ve been checking out their site as part of the Motherboard team.

Napkin animals.

My 9-year-old has become an origami machine. She’s already filled two shoe boxes (and we’re talking winter boot boxes here!) full of paper-fashioned frogs and snakes dragons. I asked if she wouldn’t mind trying out some of her skills with napkins and her eyes went two shades brighter blue. She went and grabbed her origami book and read the Table of Contents asking what requests I had. So along with bringing rolls, a dessert, and some games, we’re bringing napkin animals.

Baking art.

Lately, when I’m making batches of goodies to give to friends, I save a little dough for my kids. I just let them create whatever shape comes to mind. Last week my 9 year-old crafted a volcano sugar cookie oozing with raspberry jam lava. And before that my 7 year-old built snowmen out of coconut truffle dough, complete with M&M eyes. So along with making one regular batch of dinner rolls, I’m going to let my three kids roll out the second batch. My guess is some will end up crescent shaped, some frogs (a current fascination) and others snakes–because it’s just fun to roll the dough out with two hands and then add a couple raisins for eyes.

Do you remember anything fun that you did as a child at Thanksgiving to make it memorable? Are you planning on doing anything different this year to keep your kids involved?

*Reminder: If you haven’t already, make sure to enter the King Arthur $60 Giveaway. The deadline for the contest is next Monday.

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Viennese Cookies–Ischl Tartlets

Ischl tartletsButter and nuts. Hazelnuts. Flipping through recipes for Viennese cookies, I’m always surprised to see a short list of ingredients and a lengthy description of how to put the sweets together. These are no drop cookies–these take time, but they’re not hard to make. And the results–a filled, glazed cookie with nuts, cinnamon, and raspberry taste are decadent. (Yeah, these scream cookie exchange!)

I recall my mom giving me Rick Rodgers Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafes of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague almost apologetically one Christmas. She explained that she bought it more for the pictures than the recipes. I’d spent a semester in college living in Vienna and she knew that around the holidays I craved their holiday cookies. I wish we had something in the US similar to the Christkindl Markets that they have throughout Austria come December. Around certain streets, vendors just seem to pop up with food, crafts and trinkets (yes, there are chestnuts roasting on an open fire). But since we don’t, here’s a recipe to help you taste a little bit of Europe right from your own kitchen.

Thanks to Vera Marie Badertscher, of A Traveler’s Library who invited me to do a guest post about Daniel Silva’s A Death in Vienna. After writing up the review, I just had to head into the kitchen to make something.

Recipe

Ischl Tartlets

Ingredients

Yield: 30 1½-inch sandwich cookies

Cookie dough

1 cup flour

2/3 cup almond slivers (*note: if I could find hazelnuts for a decent price, I would use them, but since I can’t almonds are the perfect substitute)

¼ teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons butter (NOT margarine), at room temperature

2/3 cup powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon orange zest (optional)

¼ teaspoon nutmeg and/or cinnamon (optional)

Filling

1 cup raspberry preserves

Glaze

(For dipping, if you want the cookies completely coated in chocolate double this recipe)

5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

3 Tablespoons water

1 Tablespoon heavy cream

2 Tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)

Directions

  1. For the cookie dough, in a food processor place the almond slivers, flour, cinnamon, salt and zest (if using). Blend until the almonds almost become powdery.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and powdered sugar together until smooth.
  3. Using a wooden spoon or stiff spatula, combine the flours into the butter. Do not over mix. (The dough will be stiff and may have some crumbles.)
  4. Divide the dough in half and place each portion into waxed paper and then a large plastic bag and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, up to 2 hours.
  5. On a floured work surface, roll half of one of the dough balls out to 1/8”. Try to keep the dough as cold as possible.
  6. Using a 11/2” round cutter or a Linzer cookie cutter, stamp out the cookie shapes.
  7. Line a baking pan with parchment and place the dough cookies on it. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the cookies 7 to 10 minutes or until just BARELY browned. The cookies will burn easily, so keep your eyes on them.
  9. Cool slightly before removing from the pan. Cool entirely before adding filling and glaze.
  10. For the filling—Using a kitchen knife add ½ to 1 teaspoon preserves on the bottom part of the cookie, place another cookie on top, bottom end facing the filling so that the nicer outside part shows on both sides. Repeat with the remaining cookies (and eat any cookies that don’t have a matchJ
  11. For the glaze—In a large, glass measuring cup or bowl, slowly heat up all the ingredients. I usually set the microwave for half power and cook at one-minute intervals or until the chocolate just begins to soften. Whisk until smooth.
  12. Dip the cookies one-half into the chocolate and then place on waxed paper or parchment. Alternatively, place the entire cookie in the chocolate glaze to coat. (It helps if you refrigerate the cookies before dipping.)
  13. Allow the chocolate to set on the waxed paper (you can speed up this process by placing them in the refrigerator).
  14. Top with chopped pecans. These cookies should keep well for 3 to 5 days.

*This recipe is a tweaked version of Rodgers.

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Getting kids to try new ingredients–Welcome to Squid week!

Sometimes readers get the wrong idea about my blog–nope, I’m not serving my kids squid every night (just the occasional fried calamari or grilled). Instead I’m all about raising adventurous eaters.

Children tend to be miniature explorers by design. I’m just trying to tap into that through their stomachs. As a parent, it’s a way for us to share something together. I may get a bored playing Littlest PetShop for hours on end with my 7 year-old, but making calzones together, that’s something we both enjoy.

During the week, I’ll be sharing some recipes and guest posts about my blog’s namesake, squid. Now you don’t have to do these recipes with squid–chicken, pork or even tofu can be stand-ins–but I hope you’ll follow along to learn something more about what might be a new-to-you ingredient, cooking technique, or even an inspiration to try yet again for your kids to sample a food they’ve declared “yucky” in the past (I’m not talking squid here, spinach used to fall into that category around here).

So how do you jumpstart your child’s tastebuds? I have a few unconventional ideas.

Shop at a new grocery store. Okay, this might not be that unusual, but I’ve found that our favorite grocery stores often aren’t always around the corner. Google local seafood, vegetable, Asian, and/or Mexican markets to find new places to shop. Take the kids. We bought our squid by the pound at an Asian market in what used to be a mall. The person in front of us in line bought pounds of squid and tilapia and other seafood so my kids saw we weren’t the only ones!
Let them cook. That’s how my daughter came up with banana hot dogs. Give them a variety of ingredients, see what they come up with. If you’re willing to try their creations, they’ll be more willing to try yours. (And yes, this can be very scary.)

Try out a new restaurant. Chains don’t count.

Mix new with the old. When I’m trying to entice my kids to sample a new curry recipe, I pair it with plain rice, naan, or another food I know they’ll like and it. I serve it in small ramekins too to avoid that whole it-touched-my-rice/noodles/green beans issue. A new food isn’t nearly as intimidating if it’s served in small portions.
Refuse to share. Then share. I can’t tell you how many times, “Oh, you won’t like this” led to my kids trying, then asking for something I was sure they wouldn’t eat.

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Halloween reads to go along with treats

Photo credit: Pilkey.com

Yesterday I kept a room of 22 costumed 2nd graders in my daughter’s class transfixed for a whole ten minutes.

And this was after their school Halloween parade and after they’d exhausted all the games we’d planned for the in-room party and while they were eating cupcakes, grapes, and caramel-dipped apple slices. (Well, I guess the cupcakes helped keep their mouths a little occupied.)

Such is the power of a good children’s picture book–there were several parents that even stopped cleaning up tables to listen and look at the pictures. I had stashed two Halloween books in my bag in case the party became a little chaotic and I needed something to calm the (literally!) little monsters:)  Sure enough the party activities went much faster than planned so I pulled out my book, hoping for the best.

While I’d love to claim this ten minutes of bliss was entirely due to my brilliant reading–I owe the few moments of calm entirely to Dav Pilkey (yes, the man behind Captain Underpants) and the author and illustrator of The Hallo-wiener. Thank you!

Hallo-wiener tells the tale of Oscar, a dachshund, who’s constantly teased by the other dogs for his hotdog-esque appearance. The 2nd graders immediately related to Oscar, especially when the little dog didn’t want to hurt his mom’s feelings and ended up wearing a hot dog costume for Halloween. Eventually, Oscar saves the other dogs from embarrassment at the hands–er, paws–of two “ornery” cats. His nickname, “Wiener Dog,” replaced with “Hero Sandwich.” (You’re tearing up too, right?)

The whole experience got me thinking about what favorite Halloween books to read to kids. I’ve asked a few friends to contribute their favorites. I suggest curling up with your little witch/hippie/punk princess/construction worker/SWAT team member/angel, grab some candies and read some of these books together.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

Latisha S. is keeping two ninjas and a vampire happy reading Popcorn by Frank Asch. About a little bear that ends up filling his house with, you guessed it–popcorn, while his parents are at a Halloween party. I have to wonder if this one was inspired by true events.

Kimberly M.’s family, who is dressing up as the gang from Disney’s Princess and the Frog, has several favorites, including

Photo credit: Chronicle Books

Frank was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance by Keith Graves tells the story of a zombie who wants nothing more than to dance. But his Frankenstein-like body can’t quite keep up with his moves.

In Piggie Pie by Margie Palatini, Gritch the Witch heads off to Old MacDonald’s farm to dine on a few piggies. But the pigs knew she was coming and donned sheep outfits and other disguises.

CinderHazel by Deborah Nourse Lattimore is a quirky retelling of the familiar princess story, only this time she’s a witch. And Prince Charming–that would be Prince Alarming.

Do you have a favorite Halloween book to share? What about your favorite Halloween candy? (You know, the other 364 days of the year, Twix candies hold no appeal, but on Halloween, I, uh, well, tend to eat my fill, and then some.)

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Halloween Meatball Mice

Warning: These little critters look like, well, real little critters.

I had a vague idea of creating meatballs that looked like mice as a Halloween gag for my kids. I mentioned the idea to my husband, stuck him with the ingredients and then headed out to pick up my oldest daughter at a trick-or-treat party. When I returned, my younger two children were just giggling and my husband had a mischievous smirk on his face.

“They look so gross,” he said.

Now, you should know that when left alone my husband can come up with some pretty inventive creations. A few years ago he disappeared into the garage after asking where I’d stashed some black fabric we had leftover from one of my daughter’s witch costumes. Jump to a couple hours later and he’d crafted a giant black widow spider using old wiring, a deflated basketball, the fabric and some red paint. Seriously, the spider was about 6 feet across! He positioned the spider just above our front door and of course added webs all around. The 5 year-old living two doors down refused to walk on our side of the street in the week leading up to Halloween and she didn’t even stop by our house for candy.

Back to the mice roasting in my oven—here’s what my husband did, enlisting my daughters as helpers. He molded the meatball mixture into mice bodies (think teardrop-shaped) then he cut tails using slivers of deli ham. Olive pieces make up the eyes and once the meatballs were done baking he coated each one with spaghetti sauce.

Ready for a yucky dinner? Hey, only in appearance, they tasted delicious.

Directions for Mice Meatballs

Prep time: 25 minutes + 25 minutes baking

Servings: Around 5-6

Ingredients:

Meatball or meatloaf fixings

Spaghetti sauce

Spaghetti

Deli ham slices

Black olives

Using your favorite meatball or meatloaf recipe, mix together the meat and spice combination. [In this recipe cut out the vinegar, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce and add a teaspoon of dried oregano or basil to the meat mixture.]

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat a baking pan with cooking spray.

Working with about 2 ½ to 3 tablespoons of meat, form the mixture into a teardrop shape.

Line up the meatballs in rows on the baking sheet.

Thinly slice the deli ham into “tails.” Press a “tail” into the back end of each meatball.

Add fingernail-sized piece of cut black olives next to the “nose” part of the meatball. Press into place. Repeat with all of the meatballs.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the meat is cooked through.

Make the spaghetti noodles according to the package directions.

Brush warmed spaghetti sauce over each “mouse.”

Serve 2 or 3 mice meatballs over the spaghetti noodles and top with additional sauce.

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