Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dirt Play Dough Recipe

Rather than throw away my preschool class' batch of Chocolate Play Dough which has lost most of its scent and is starting to crumble, my students and I chose to reuse and transform it.  In fact, I have discovered that Chocolate Dough easily becomes Dirt Dough with the addition of a few choice props.  This pliable homemade medium still promotes strong fine motor skills and open-ended play opportunities, but now instead of a chocolate shop, the children are inspired to create many dirt related situations.

So far, my son, my four and five year old students, and I have come up with these Dirt Dough Scenarios:

  • Garden:  add small plastic vegetables, wooden popsicle sticks or tongue depressors, small shovels, gardening gloves, laminated seed packets, and seed catalogs
  • Flower Shop:  add plastic flowers, small pots, flower shaped cookie cutters or rollers, ticket books, a telephone, and a cash register
  • Construction Site:  add construction vehicles and rocks

Exploring Dirt Play Dough with my son and my students has reminded me that one of the reasons I went into teaching is because I love to learn.  I remember in college a professor telling us that good teachers created life-long learners in their students.  What he didn't share was that teachers also become life-long learners as they are continually inspired by their students and fellow teachers.  I never cease to be amazed how my own children and my students can take something like a lowly clump of brown dough and transform it into something extremely educational and highly entertaining.  Reusing at its best!

Dirt Play Dough (a.k.a. Chocolate Play Dough) Recipe

2 1/2 cups flour (plus more for kneading)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
3 cups water
3 tablespoons oil
  1. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt, and cream of tartar in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan.
  2. Add water and oil.
  3. Stir constantly over medium heat.  The mixture will be soupy for several minutes and then suddenly it will stick together and can be stirred into a ball.
  4. When mixture thickens and forms a rough ball, remove from the heat and continue stirring.
  5. Turn the hot ball of dough onto a floured surface, and begin kneading as it cools.  Add extra flour if mixture is too sticky.  Continue kneading until flour is incorporated and dough is no longer sticky.
  6. Enjoy dirt dough with plastic flowers, flower pots, small construction vehicles, plastic famr animals, rollers, cutters, and other tools.
  7. Store at room temperature in a large zip-lock bag or other air tight container.
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Buttermilk Pie with Coconut, Pecans, and Chocolate

The result of my pie baking mood!
Yesterday I got in a pie baking mood.  As my mother would say, "Wonders never cease".  Usually when I get a hankering to bake something I end up concocting cookies, brownies, or a cake.  This is despite the fact that my husband of almost twenty years has yet to meet a pie that he doesn't like.  Up to this point he satisfied most of his pie cravings at restaurants or on Thanksgiving when my daughter and I attempt pie baking with a little help from the Pillsbury Dough Boy.  Other than that the only pies I ever made were of the icebox variety.  They included Lemon Cheesecake Pie or Strawberry Pie which both use a graham cracker crust and help me to avoid the whole pie crust dilemma - Pillsbury verses scratch, butter verses shortening, and food processor verses pastry blender.

This time, however, I took the advice of my daughter and set out to conquer my fear of homemade pie dough.  I started by perusing my favorite cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen, to absorb all of the pie crust knowledge Deb had to offer.    I learned that I can use my trusty pastry blender and that I can use all butter and still produce a flaky crust.  I also found out some informative tips on rolling out pastry dough.

I read somewhere this tip which is to fill a pan with ice cubes
and sit it on the counter where the pastry dough will be rolled
a few minutes prior to rolling..
A bench scraper helped me to loosen the dough as I rolled it.
Thanks, Smitten Kitchen!
With the dough chilling, I was free to move onto the filling.  I decided to bake a Buttermilk Pie which would help me use the buttermilk leftover from our Irish Soda Bread.  This recipe would also remind me of the times that my husband and I have driven out to the country to enjoy the "Royers' Experience" while eating at Royers Round Top Cafe.   Royers serves the best pie in Texas along with lots of other unique and delectable dishes.

I located the recipe for Cafe's Buttermilk Pie (it's famous) on the Royers website.  Then I read the online pie menu and found out that their Buttermilk Delight Pie includes coconut, pecans, and chocolate chips all of which I had in my pantry.  After mixing up the filling, I rolled out my chilled pastry dough.  I took Bud, the Pieman's advice and went for a rustic rather than a perfect pie crust.  I sprinkled my coconut, pecan, and chocolate chip mixture into the bottom of my crust and then poured the buttermilk mixture over the top.  Waiting the hour and a half baking time and then the hour our so cooling time was the most difficult part of my pie making endeavor.

Sprinkle the coconut, pecan, and chocolate chip mixture into the unbaked shell.
Slowly pour the buttermilk custard mixture over the filling.
The result of my pie making mood was a happy husband and a luscious Buttermilk Pie with Coconut, Pecans, and Chocolate.  The crust was flaky and flavorful, yet sturdy enough to stand up to the dense filling.  The tang of the buttermilk balanced the sweetness of the custard and the coconut, pecans, and chocolate chips added a rich texture in every bite.  Also, the buttermilk custard filling engulfed the other ingredients and created a caramelized and slightly crunchy top layer.  Although I enjoyed a serious don't-talk-to-me-I'm-eating-amazing-pie moment a few hours after it was baked, the next day I was in heaven while I savored the last sliver of pie cold and directly from the tin with a cup of coffee.

This slice of pie resulted in a serious
don't-talk-to-Mommy-while-she's-eating-pie moment!
My favorite way to enjoy pie is for breakfast out of the pie plate, straight from the fridge,
with a cup of coffee.   Shhh, don't tell my kids.
Now if you get in a pie eating mood, you can visit Royers Round Top Cafe  in Round Top, Texas or log onto their website and mail-order a pie, but if you get in a pie baking mood try this recipe.  It's not the Royers' Experience, but it is pretty darn good.  Bud, the Pieman says, "Eat Mo' Pie"!  Heidi's Recipes says, "Bake Mo' Pie!"

Buttermilk Pie with Coconut, Pecans, and Chocolate

inspired by Royers Round Top Cafe's Buttermilk Pie Recipe

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup coconut, shredded
2/3 cup pecans, chopped
2/3 cup chocolate chips, semisweet

1 (10-inch) pie shell, unbaked

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together until fully incorporated.
  3. Add the eggs and flour to the butter and sugar mixture.  Mix well.
  4. Whisk in the buttermilk, salt, nutmeg, and vanilla.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix the coconut, pecans, and chocolate chips.  Place this mixture in the bottom of the unbaked pie shell.
  6. Pour the buttermilk custard mixture slowly over the coconut, pecan, and chocolate chip mixture.
  7. Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until a knife inserted into the center of the pie come out clean.  
  8. Enjoy while still slightly warm or, if you can wait that long, after chilled for a few hours in the refrigerator.  
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Menu

For St. Patrick's Day my family celebrates in a traditional Irish-American way.  Not authentically Irish, but delicious and simple nonetheless.  Lots of shamrocks, leprechauns, and good food.
 Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

St. Patrick's Day Menu

Stone Ground Wheat Crackers
Green Grapes
Sliced Granny Smith Apples

Boiled Potatoes and Cabbage

Chocolate Cake with Creme de Mint Frosting

 Kerrigold Irish Aged Cheddar
Irish Cheese with Wheat Crackers
(sometimes we have green grapes or sliced Granny Smith apples also)

Crock Pot Glazed Corned Beef

Maille Mustard
Boiled Potatoes and Cabbage
Chocolate Cake with Creme De Mint Frosting

St. Patrick's Day Play Dough Recipe

It is Spring Break in Texas!  For my family that means a trip to the rodeo, sleeping late, playing outside after dark, and relaxing.  One way that my youngest son and I like to relax and have fun is with homemade play dough.  Last week a mom of a student in my preschool class donated a batch of green Kool-aid play dough to our classroom.  In addition to it being a green color, it smells like lemon-lime Kool-aid.  The smell intensifies as it is poked, kneaded, and rolled.

After a few days of free exploration with the green dough, shamrock figures, rollers, cutters, and extruders, I added a bowl of gold glitter. The preschoolers took a ball of dough, flattened it, and then sprinkled it with pinches of gold glitter.  They kneaded the dough to incorporate the glitter and create St. Patrick's Day Play Dough.  The kids worked many of their small motor skills as the dough began to sparkle.

My co-teacher added pipe cleaners in every color of the rainbow to our dough center.  She modeled how to place two small balls of dough on the mat and then poke in the pipe cleaners to create rainbows.  Amazing!  Everyone was highly motivated to pinch, poke, and bend their pipe cleaners into rainbow shapes.  They had no idea that they were developing their tri-pod grasp and exercising the intrinsic muscles in their hands as they explored.

Now my own son, along with his older siblings and a few random neighbor kids, get to reap the benefits of a nice ball of St. Patrick's Day Play Dough.  They can knead, shape, and roll the dough as my kitchen is filled with a fresh citrus scent.  Of course this dough doesn't have to be enjoyed just at St. Patrick's Day, it could be made anytime of the year.  Happy St. Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick's Day Kool-Aid Play Dough Recipe

1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup salt
1 package Kool-Aid (.13 ounce, lemon lime flavor)
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
gold glitter
pipe cleaners in every color of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple)

  1. Whisk the dry ingredients (flour, salt, cream of tartar, and dry Kool-Aid crystals) together in a heavy bottomed saucepan.
  2. Add the wet ingredients (water and oil).
  3. Stir the mixture together over medium heat until mixture thickens and a ball begins to form.  Turn off heat.
  4. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead, adding flour to hands and surface as needed.
  5. Cool dough completely and store in a zip-lock bag or other air-tight container. 
  6. Knead gold glitter into green dough.  Explore with rainbow colored pipe cleaners.
  7. Use a variety of tools (rolling pin, pizza cutter, garlic press, empty tins, tongs, etc.) to explore with dough.
Featured at Make and Takes
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shamrock Sugar Cookies Recipe

Shamrock Sugar Cookies with Green Sprinkles
Although my husband gladly prepares our St. Patrick's Day feast including Glazed Corned Beef, boiled cabbage and potatoes, and Irish Soda Bread, he always designates me as the chief pastry chef for this meal.  I've often thought of making a trifle for dessert, but instead go for something green.  I've prepared chocolate cupcakes with green icing, Pistachio Bundt Cake, and Grasshopper Pie.  Last year I made a batch of my tried and true sugar cookie dough and turned them into little shamrocks with green sprinkles.  So cliche, yet so yummy!

My favorite Leprechaun!
As I shared over at Love Feast Table during the Christmas season, my sugar cookie recipe comes from Aunt Ethel.  Not my actual aunt, but a part of the family nonetheless. Aunt Ethel's cookies are present for most holidays and birthday celebrations in our home.  The dough is soft and pliable and results in a delicate cakey cookie that begs to be cut into seasonal shapes and topped with sprinkles or decorated with icing.  So despite the fact that my Shamrock Sugar Cookies might not be Irish, they are a nice ending to our St. Patrick's Day feast.  Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Aunt Ethel's Sugar Cookies Recipe
     adapted from Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book  (copyright 1977)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
  1. Cream the butter, shortening, sugar, eggs, and vanilla thoroughly.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together.
  3. Blend butter mixture and flour mixture together.
  4. Divide dough into 2 discs.  Cover each with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  5. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to sit on the counter for 15-30 minutes, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
  7. On a board that has been lightly floured with a mixture of flour and confectioner’s sugar, roll dough until it is 1/4 inch thick.  Cut with your favorite cookie cutter.
  8. Place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Top with colored sanding sugar, if desired.
  9. Bake 6 to 8 minutes, or until cookies are a delicate light golden color.
  10. Cool on a wire rack.  If desired, decorate with Easy Cream Icing.
Makes 3-4 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the cutter  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Irish Soda Bread Recipe

After perfecting crock pot glazed corned beef for our St. Patrick's Day meal, my husband set off to conquer Irish Soda Bread.  He saw a few chefs make it on cooking shows, but found that these celebrity's recipes were exactly the same as the one listed in the Betty Crocker Cookbook that we got as a wedding gift.  It turns out that Irish Soda Bread is quite similar to a big biscuit.  It requires basic pantry ingredients and everyday baking techniques.

One year my husband made six extra loaves of Irish Soda Bread and delivered them to our friends and neighbors on St. Patrick's Day.  Another year he made two more loaves and took them to our son's class.  After reading a few Irish folktales and playing "Danny Boy" on the tin whistle  for the second graders, he passed out hunks of Irish Soda bread slathered with Irish butter and strawberry jam.

Now my children look forward to the Irish Soda Bread more than they do to the corned beef.  This bread is a rustic companion for our St. Patrick's Day meal.  It gets a nice tang from the buttermilk and is best eaten on the day on which it is baked either warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers are great toasted for breakfast.  Our St. Patrick's Day is not complete without a loaf or two or three of my husband's Irish Soda Bread.  Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Irish Soda Bread
     adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookbook

3 Tablespoons butter, softened
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
  1. Heat over to 375 degrees.
  2. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. Cut in butter with a pastry blender unitl mixture resembles fine crumbs.
  4. Stir in just enough buttermilk so dough leaves side of bowl.
  5. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface.  Gently knead until smooth, about 1 minute.
  6. Shape dough into a round about 6 1/2 inches in diameter.  Place on a baking stone or greased cookie sheet.  Cut an X about 1/2 inch deep through loaf with a floured knife.
  7. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown.
  8. Brush with softened butter right after removing from oven.
  9. Serve with good Irish butter and jam.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Crock Pot Glazed Corned Beef

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Sometimes on random Tuesday evenings while I am whisking olive oil and herbs for Lemon Chicken or chopping vegetable for Royal Pasta Provençal while simultaneously encouraging a young saxophone player, locating DS chargers, and blocking our dog from escaping out the side door that was left open by a neighbor child, I wish that my husband was a weeknight cook.  At dinner time on most major and quite a few minor holidays, however, I am truly grateful that I married someone who is a special occasions chef.  As I've mentioned before, my husband can whip up a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, but is totally befuddled by chicken nuggets.  He is even challenged by more traditional dad fare such as grilled cheese or pancakes.

In addition to Thanksgiving turkey and New Year's day black eyed pea soup, my husband has also perfected a traditional St. Patrick's day menu.  Although we have yet to track down any Irish blood in our line, we love St. Patrick's Day.  During our D.I.N.K. (double income no kids) days my husband found a recipe for Glazed Corned Beef in a circa 1975 crock pot cookbook that was published by Rival and had been passed on to us by my aunt.  Aside from an occasional Reuben sandwich, I had never actually eaten corned beef and was excited to give it a try especially if it involved me not cooking after a full day of teaching Kindergarten.

To prepare this Irish American main dish, my husband placed the meat in our slow cooker with a bay leaf, sliced onions, strips of orange peel, cloves, and water before we left for work on St. Patrick's Day.  When we got home the house was filled with an earthy citrus aroma.  While I reclined on the couch watching Oprah, my husband whipped up a glaze by combining thawed orange juice concentrate, honey, and Dijon mustard.  After removing the meat from the crock pot, he brushed the glaze onto it and baked  it in the oven.  The final product was the center of one of the best meals we had ever had as a married couple.

The finished corned beef was succulent and salty with a crusty sweet topping. Over the years this recipe has become the center of our annual St. Patrick's Day meal which also includes home baked Irish Soda Bread and boiled vegetables such as cabbage, red potatoes, and carrots.  My husband serves these dishes with Irish butter, good jam, and plenty of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.  I know that only enjoying my husband's Glazed Corned Beef once a year is part of its charm, but its incredible flavor and the fact that I don't have to cook it is pretty appealing too.

Crock Pot Glazed Corned Beef Recipe
     adapted from my well loved copy of Crock Pot Cooking by Rival (1975)

ingredients for corned beef:
1 bay leaf
1 medium onion, sliced
3 strips of fresh orange peel (about 2 inches each)
3 whole cloves, plus more
1 1/2 cups water
4 to 5 pound corned beef (preferable round or rump cut)

ingredients for glaze:
3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

  1. Combine bay leaf, sliced onion, orange peel strips, 3 cloves, and water in crock pot.
  2. Add corned beef with fat side up.
  3. Cover and cook on Low setting for 8 to 12 hours or until fork tender.
  4. Remove meat from broth.  Score top of corned beef in diamond shapes.  Insert additional cloves to decorate.
  5. Place corned beef on a shallow baking sheet that has been covered with foil.
  6. Prepare glaze by whisking together thawed orange juice concentrate, honey, and Dijon mustard.  Spoon a little more than half of the glaze over corned beef.
  7. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, basting occasionally with extra glaze.
  8. Serve with Irish Soda Bread and boiled cabbage and new red potatoes.  

Linked to these inspiring blogs:  Janmary, Full Plate Thursday

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sonic the Hedgehog Party

If the Sonic the Hedgehog Cake and the Pin the Tail on Tails game were the stars of the show, the tattoos, piñata and ring pretzels were the best supporting roles.  Also, the Sonic party supplies from Birthday Express created the amazing set. Although a good kid's birthday party can appear effortless, much planning and preparation goes into everyone of them.

We started our Sonic the Hedgehog party, also know as my son's sixth birthday party, with free play in his room.  Prior to the party, we gave the bedroom a good cleaning and purge.  We put away games with small pieces and breakable items, and strategically placed durable and exciting toys such as action figures, legos, and wooden blocks around the room. The party guests ranged in age from five to seven so they were able to enjoy each other's company and occupy themselves while everyone arrived.

Sonic tattoos were also available during the arrival time.  My fourteen year old daughter set up a tattoo station complete with a small bowl of water, paper towels, and sonic tattoos.  She let them choose a tattoo or two and also pick where on their body that they wanted them to be placed.  A tattoo station is a great way to welcome hesitant guests and also to calm the mood when the energy levels escalate.

When everyone had arrived at our home for the Sonic party, we played Pin the Tail on Tails and then went outside to our driveway.  We gathered in a circle and played "Sonic, Sonic, Shadow" which is a variation on "Duck, Duck, Goose".  My older sons and I modeled the game for the boys and helped to build excitement.  This game is another activity that can be adapted to many themes - "Mario, Mario, Luigi", "Astronaut, Astronaut, Alien", "Princess, Princess, Frog", and many more.

After we expended some energy playing "Sonic, Sonic,Shadow", we moved over to the Sonic the Hedgehog piñata.  Prior to the party my husband had rigged it up to the basketball hoop in our driveway.  In the past he has utilized a pulley and a rope in order to suspend the piñata from a tree.  The crucial thing for piñatas at our parties is that they need to be lowered and raised as the children hits them.  The first round we blind fold each child for his turn.  If the piñata is still in tact after every child has had a turn, we then go through the line again allowing the children to see what they are hitting.  I also give each child a labeled and decorated paper lunch sack to place their goodies into when the piñata breaks.

After the games  we made our way into the kitchen where each birthday child had a Sonic place mat with activities on the back.  I served baby Sprites, which are a real treat in our house, to all the thirsty party goers.  Besides cake and ice cream cups, we also had M&M's, Mario gummies (no Sonic gummies to be found, but I heard Sonic and Mario go way back), and pretzel rings.  My sons and husband had informed me that golden rings are a critical part of the whole Sonic experience.  For weeks I scoured the grocery store shelves in search of any yellowish ring-shaped food items.  I thought of making ring sugar cookies, but ran out of time.  I remembered butterscotch flavored lifesavers, but never did find them.  Finally, just two days before the party, I spotted everything bagel pretzels.  It took all of my self-control not to grab the unsuspecting shopper that was contemplating nacho chips  a few feet away from me and share with him my glee at finding a suitable ring-shaped party food.  To add to the Sonic effect my husband tossed the rings up and let them land on each plate as he passed them out to the boys.

We ended the party with my tried-and-true present opening technique, which I explain here, and some running around time outside. Sonic likes to race and so do little boys.  At the conclusion of the party each boy got to take home a Sonic goodie bag that I purchased from Birthday Express, their piñata treat bag, and a Sonic activity place mat.  When all of the guests were gone and my children were busy exploring the new gifts, my husband and I collapsed into our favorite chairs and basked in the after party glow.  A successful home birthday party takes much preparation, a bit of creativity, some family teamwork, and lots of energy.  Although it is exhausting, it is always worth it.