Tuesday, March 31

Preschooling at Home: Sensory Play with Rice

We've recently entered into a new phase in our house of three boys. It's the "I wanna go to schoooool!" Phase. But before I can agree to send my middle monkey off, I've told him we have to learn his colors, shapes, numbers, and letters before he can go. That should hold him off for awhile, right?

To make the learning more fun at home, I put together a few sensory play boxes for him to play and learn at the same time. We've been making games of it, and he's really picking it up quickly!

For this box, I used all items I purchased at my local dollar store:
- One bag of rice
- Some little kitchen cups in different shapes
- A pre-made shapes banner from the office supply aisle

For the first game, I laid one of the banners on the floor and had G find objects from around the house that matched the shapes on the banner. He had a great time rifling through his toys, the junk drawer, and even in his big brother's toy box, for matching items.

After that, I pulled out the big towel and brought the rice box out for some play. G really enjoyed scooping the rice into the shapes cups and then putting the rice on the matching banner. While he was doing this, I would quiz him to reinforce his memorization by asking him to scoop rice into a certain shape. When he got it correct, we made a big deal out of it with dancing and singing. He really had a great time! 

Monday, August 5

Creamy Ranch Chicken & Co.

There are some nights when I have 4 chicken breasts thawed, and I find myself standing with a blank stare in front of the spice cabinet thinking, "How exactly will
I trick my family into thinking this baked chicken will be something new and better tonight?"

Well, tonight, I managed to do it, and with ingredients I already had on hand - side dishes and all. Score!

This easy-peasy baked chicken was tender and gravy-licious, and it cooked up rather quickly. Enjoy, y'all!

- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thawed
- 1 can cream of chicken soup
- 1 packet Ranch seasoning, dry 
- 3 tablespoons water or chicken broth 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 9x13 glass pan with nonstick spray of choice. Whisk cream of chicken soup, dry Ranch seasoning, and water together in a large mixing bowl. Set aside. Slice chicken breasts into 1-inch thick strips. Combine chicken strips with your cream of ranch mixture, and mix well. Use tongs or other utensil to make sure every chicken strip is well coated. Remove chicken strips one-by-one and lay in a single layer in the 9x13 pan. Pour remaining sauce mixture evenly over the top of your strips. Bake uncovered 30-40 minutes, until the chicken strip juices run clear and the tops of your strips begin to brown. Remove from oven and allow to stand 5-7 minutes before serving. 

I also made some classic buttered noodles and a summer favorite of mine, sautéed squash 'n' greens.

For the buttered noodles, just bring 24-28 ozs. of chicken broth and 2 tblsp. Of butter to a rolling boil. Add 4 cups of wide egg noodles, and boil for 7-8 minutes. I added a palm-full of dried parsley the last 2-3 minutes, just to add a little flavor and color. 

The Squash 'n' Greens were just as simple: 
Heat your cast iron skillet over medium heat, and melt 4 tblsp. of butter in it. Add 1 medium summer squash (quartered and sliced), 1 diced Vidalia onion, and salt, pepper, and powdered garlic to taste. Sauté until the onions are translucent and the squash softens, then add one thawed and drained box of chopped spinach. Mix until heated through. Add another tablespoon of butter, if needed, while heating the spinach through. 

The squash 'n' greens recipe also works great with zucchini added to or substituted for the yellow squash. 

I sure hope y'all enjoy! 

Monday, July 2

(Coulda Been) 15-minute Lemon Pepper Crusted Tilapia


There's rarely a night when I can look forward to only cooking for 15 minutes before dinner is on the table. I'm a really big fan of cooking from scratch and, thus, dinners are usually a 30-45 minute process, at the least.

But there's a star in my freezer - oh yes, a dinner star - that can go from my super scientific thawing mechanism (aka: the sink of warm water) to the dinner table in 15 minutes or less. I introduce to you Tilapia. :)

Man oh man, do I love me some fish, especially when its fried with a little crunch on the outside and nice, and warm, and flaky on the inside. But since my health-nut conscious (gotta lose that baby weight!) won't let me deep fat fry pretty much anything these days, I came up with a just-as-yummy and yet much healthier alternative - Lemon Pepper Crusted Tilapia.

But why is it called the "Coulda Been" 15-minute dinner? Well, you'll see a bit of that below.

Here's what you'll need to make your own Lemon Pepper Crusted Tilapia:

• Tilapia fillets (I used three 4 oz. fillets in this recipe)
• 1/4 cup lemon pepper seasoning
• 1/2 cup corn meal
• 2 tblsp. coconut oil

I used the frozen, individually wrapped variety of tilapia since I'm just fine with previously-frozen fish. Now, I realize that Robert WhatsHisFace from Restaurant Impossible would chase after me with a big butcher knife for saying that previously-frozen fish is just as good as the fresh kind, but, HELLUURRR... I'm pretty sure Robert Whatshisface never tried to feed a family of boys on less than 100 bucks a week.

So anywhoo. Back to the cooking.

Put your cast iron skillet on the stove and turn the stove onto a medium heat to get the skillet pre-heated. I realize not everyone has a cast iron skillet, so if you don't have one, you can use just any ol' deep cooking pan with sides. However, read my lips when I say you've gotta get yourself a cast iron skillet - if you ever want to fry something proper, that is.

While you're skillet is pre-heating, go ahead and mix your lemon pepper seasoning with your cornmeal in a flat-bottomed dish that's large enough to lay your fish inside it. Mix the seasoning and cornmeal together with your hands to make sure it's good and married. 

Next, get your oil ready to add to the skillet. I used coconut oil for this recipe because 1.) it's much lighter when it fries and doesn't leave a heavy, greasy feel to the fish after it's done and 2.) coconut oil is *way* healthier than good ol' peanut or canola oil (which is exactly what my inner fat kid would've picked). If you've never used coconut oil before, you should really Google it sometime. Pretty amazing stuff, actually.

If you don't have any coconut oil on hand, olive oil would also work just fine for this. Now, go ahead and add your two tablespoons of oil to the skillet and let it start heating up.

This is the point where my "15 minutes" turned into 30. With a not-so-willing-captive audience, I  ended up spending a few intervals of time doing this in order to buy me some more time. Whoever said "multitasking" was a skill only learned in the office? Psh.


 But while *your* oil is heating up, I'd advise you get your assembly line setup and ready for the big show. I've always found it easiest to get through a frying session with the least amount of damage by assembling my line like so (meat, outer coating, and then skillet), so I can easily move the meat right through all the way to the finish line.

Once you've got that in order, your oil should be ready to go. Now, some of you might wonder, "Exactly how do you know when your oil is ready for frying?"

Well, my Nanny taught me a trick a long time ago and it went a little something like this:


That's right. Just take a pinch of your coating (in this case it's cornmeal) and toss it into the oil. If it bubbles up and makes a little noise, the oil is ready. If it doesn't, you better sit on it and have a little patience, 'cause it ain't ready quite yet.

When it is ready, go ahead and start moving your fish through the assembly line: dredge the fish in the seasoned cornmeal, making sure it's nice and thoroughly covered, and then place it into the oil.

This fish won't take very long to fry - usually only about 3-4 minutes per side - so keep a close watch on it. When you see the sides start looking a little firm and golden, it's time to flip it over.

Make sure when you flip, you flip carefully. Fish is very sensitive once it's been cooked, and it'll break right into pieces if you're not careful. Once you flip it, you should see that the bottom side is now a golden brown color.

Once you've flipped it and let it cook for another 3-4 minutes, you can go ahead and pull it out of the skillet and onto a fresh bed of rice or right alongside your favorite veggies. 

Oh sweet mother. The only thing missing from this recipe now is my lips. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm.

I've also got a great recipe for the basmati rice you see below the tilapia. I'll share that one with you next time around. :) Happy eating!

 Lemon Pepper Crusted Tilapia

• Three 4 oz. tilapia fillets
• 1/4 cup lemon pepper seasoning
• 1/2 cup corn meal
• 2 tblsp. coconut oil

Preheat cast iron skillet over medium heat on stovetop. Mix cornmeal and lemon pepper seasoning together in a flat, small-sided dish. Once skillet is heated, add 2 tblsp. of coconut oil to it. Allow oil to heat up until it bubbles when sprinkled with a pinch of the cornmeal. One piece at a time, dredge tilapia through the seasoned cornmeal until well-coated. Place coated fillet in the skillet. Cook 3-4 minutes each side until light golden brown, turning only once. Turn fish gently, as it gets flaky and can break apart when it's cooked. Once both sides are cooked, remove fillets from skillet and serve immediately.