Grandma’s Peanut Butter Cookies

This poor blog has been neglected.  Sorry, blog.  If it’s any consolation, everything else that was unessential in my life was also neglected during the month of December.  Lots of making and baking for others, not much making and baking with kids.  Actually, C helped at least a little with every treat we put into our neighbors’ goody boxes.  (That’ll be its own post soon.)  But no picture-taking and no time for blog-writing.

Now, however, the house still smells like my mom’s peanut butter cookies that both boys and I made this morning.  It was our first truly together cooking experience, as the boys got a kitchen tower from me for Christmas.  It was a necessity: K is 19 months and will not be left out of kitchen experiences any longer.  The boys both fit, but barely, and 3 rules were created in order to assure harmony: be patient, be helpful, be a good example.  Cookies were good motivation for C to do the right thing!

I must say that most of this baking experience was spent discovering and setting expectations for the kitchen tower, then refereeing.  So I did more work than usual, and K didn’t do much either.  (He was just thrilled to be at counter-height and able to mess with stuff.)  Hopefully each subsequent recipe will be less of me and more of them!

From my mom’s recipe box, with very minor adjustments

  • 1 scant cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup Crisco
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • (This makes a lot, especially small-sized cookies.  Feel free to halve!)

Preheat the oven to 350degrees.

The directions say to mix in the order given, so that was a little list-reading lesson for C.  I measured, he dumped the sugars; I measured and scooped the peanut butter, he begged to lick the cup.  K almost opened the very full vanilla.  I gave C the stick of butter to open while I measured out the Crisco.  He warned K not to taste the Crisco because it’s “very yucky.”  Such a good big brother.  C likes to crack the eggs and can do so without breaking them completely.  I managed to throw an entire eggshell into the running KitchenAid without cursing in front of my children.  I did take an extra few seconds to help the baby scoop and scrape the 2 teaspoons of baking powder, so I guess he did do something!  Since there were 3 cups of flour, there was one for C, one for K, and one for Mommy to dump in.  Then C must have violated one of the new Tower Rules because I did the salt and vanilla quickly and without his help.  He was on Tower Time-Out.

C wanted to help roll the dough into balls (slightly smaller than golf balls), but I just don’t think he’s ready for that.  I did, however, give both boys forks to make the criss-cross impressions.  And I left the cookies that they did alone; proof they helped!

Bake 10-12 minutes, depending on how soft or crunchy you like your cookies.  (I went with 11:45, and they were just a tad overdone for my taste.  Still fabulous with a glass of milk, though!)  C had a new job this time: he used the spatula to move them from the cookie sheet to the cooling racks.  Small steps to show how much he’s maturing!

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3-Cheese Veggie Pizza

Well hello!  Let me tell you why I haven’t been blogging.  Because I haven’t been cooking with the boys.  Because K is 15 months, which makes it nearly impossible to cook with him, ignore him while cooking with C, or cook with the both of them.  As lovely as it may sound that “I cook with my kids,” it simply isn’t practical sometimes.  And, lately, it hasn’t been practical at all!

I decided to give it a go today for a couple of reasons.  First, my husband was going to be late-but-not-that-late from work, giving me about 45 extra minutes of The Witching Hour (that miserable part of your day that inevitably includes tantrums, leg-pulling, timeouts, water spilling, and supper preparation).  I knew I needed something to keep us all busy and keep us from being famished.  Second, it’s just been a long time since I actually planned a meal to cook together.   So this pizza was perfect: kids love piling on toppings, we could snack healthily on the veggies and cheese, and I could give the boys baths while it baked.

From Simple and Delicious, June/July 2010 (I will make adjustments next time we make it; I’ll note those at the end.)

  • 2 tubes (8oz each) refrigerated garlic breadsticks
  • 3 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 small yellow squash, finely diced
  • 1 zucchini, finely diced
  • 4 Tbsp Italian salad dressing
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
  • garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2/3 cup ricotta cheese

I was one lucky lady today, because our high school neighbor brought over her beloved Bichon/Maltese who not only acted as a very effective vacuum for K’s lunch mess but provided distraction while I chopped the veggies.  I was planning on letting 3-year old C help with his own chopper, but having made it now, I will chop beforehand to streamline the process next time.  To get fully ready for the boys, I had the veggies chopped and at the ready, the cheeses out (Monterey Jack still in block form), mixing bowls and spoons at hand, and the oven preheating to 350.  C on his step stool, K in the under-counter seat.

We opened one can of breadsticks at a time and began pressing them onto the bottom and up the sides of a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  This wasn’t as fun for C as I thought it might be, probably because he wasn’t really effective.  However, he was content eating the chopped veggies and coaching me on where to place the next piece of dough.  (K was throwing the veggies on the floor and yelling because the cheese was in plain sight and he wasn’t getting any.)  I couldn’t find garlic breadsticks at the grocery store, so I had C brush on a tub of leftover Papa John’s garlic butter.  mmmm….  We baked the crust for 8+ minutes, until it was just starting to brown around the edges.

Meanwhile, C dumped all the veggies (plus some red bell pepper we happened to have, finely diced) into a medium mixing bowl, and we added 2 Tbsp Italian dressing, the basil, and the Italian seasoning.  I accidentally forgot the fresh parsley (which I will add next time) and purposely forgot 1 tsp of garlic powder (which I will not add next time).  He mixed – very thoroughly, I’m excited to add! – while I opened the cheese to quell the fussing baby.  C had fun grating the cheese with me on a box grater.  He loved to look inside and watch the ribbons of cheese peel off and into the grater.

When the crust was done, I brushed on a little more Italian dressing, grated on the Parmesan cheese, and topped it with 1 cup of the Monterey Jack.  C helped me dump the veggie mix onto the crust but then was done for the day.  He played the drop-and-pick-up game with K in his seat, which allowed me the time to spread out the veggies, drop the Ricotta in dollops around the pizza, and finish with the remaining Monterey Jack cheese and a sprinkling of garlic powder.

Bake for 20-22 minutes while you give your kids quick baths.  If you’ve planned it just right, the square pieces you cut will break into breadstick-width chunks, just right for little hands to pick up.  This was very yummy, especially with a glass of much-deserved Chardonnay.

Next time: I will probably go with a regular pizza crust, refrigerated or handmade (my hubby makes an amazing crust from scratch!).  The breadstick-slices were convenient, but pressing the seams together added about 10 minutes to prep.  I may or may not worry about the garlic  butter on the crust; will probably try it once without to subtract the calories.  The tomatoes were my favorite part so I will make sure to have lots of those, and the hubs suggested chopped canned artichokes, which would be fantastic.  And I would definitely use mozzarella (which I always have in the fridge) instead of Monterey Jack (which I had to purchase just for this recipe).

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Greens and Beans

The other day, C was very enthusiastic about helping make dinner.  We got through steps one and two and he was done.  Such is life with a 3-year old.  Especially this kid.  But this recipe is cheap, super easy, very healthy, and a kiddo can help all the way through it.  So give it a try!

I have no idea where this recipe came from.

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 cans canillini (white kidney) beans (I used Great Northern beans this time and they were fine.  Just make sure it’s a white bean.)
  • 1/2 bunch fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup water (I might make this a whole cup of chicken broth next time, seeing as I have a lot to use.)
  • black pepper, to taste
  • Parmesan cheese

I opened the cans of beans and handed them over to C, who dumped them into the colander and was very excited about rinsing them with the sprayer.  I finished the job and shook most of the water out of them.  I invited him over to the island to help with the chopping of the red pepper and he declined.  (Read: He didn’t want to help anymore because he was upset I wouldn’t let him spray more.)  Hmm… Wasn’t that just one step he made it through?

My plan was as follows:  He would wash the pepper, I would cut off the top, he would clean the inside, I would julienne it, he would chop pieces with his chopper and scoop the pieces off the cutting board.  I was also planning on letting him cut the spinach with me (his hand on the knife, my hand on his hand), mincing the garlic with our garlic press, and measuring in the chicken broth and pepper.

As it was, I added the oil to the deep skillet along with the chopped red pepper and minced garlic.  It cooked for about 4 minutes; I stirred it occasionally to keep the garlic from browning.  Then came the beans and the chopped spinach.  (You can also use a thawed and squeezed package of frozen spinach, but I find fresh to be so much easier to do – and cheaper.  I keep it in a bunch, wash it as best I can, then use my chef’s knife and cut right through the bunch.  Doesn’t really matter how big the pieces are as they cook down to almost nothing.)  I do the spinach in 2 batches, letting the first cook down before adding the rest.  Chicken broth, water, and pepper were added and the mixture was brought to a boil.  I lowered the heat to medium and let it boil for 5 minutes or until the liquid had evaporated/thickened.  And that’s it!

We love this with fresh ground pepper and Parmesan cheese on top of each portion and cornbread alongside.  Next time, I think I’ll add another can of beans and the full bunch of spinach, adjusting the other ingredients accordingly.  My boys ate so much that I was feeding them out of my own bowl!

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Honey Mustard Chicken

My new favorite thing is roasting a whole chicken.  Parents magazine included the how-to (along with great recipes for both the whole chicken and its leftovers) which gave me the confidence to try it myself.  Because a 5lb chicken is $5.  That’s meat for two meals for $5.  Plus, I use the carcass and drippings to make my own chicken broth, which I freeze in 2-cup portions.  I will never buy broth again.  Just think of the savings!

Today, C joined me in making the honey mustard sauce used to baste the chicken.  He still loves measuring the ingredients when he has the time to stand still and help.  (He turned 3 in May and really hasn’t stopped moving since.)  I went ahead and included him in the “yes this is a chicken’s body” part too.

Barely adapted from Simple and Delicious

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup prepared mustard
  • 1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

I measured the honey and mustard and C poured them into a small mixing bowl.  He loves watching the bubble come up in the honey.  And also eating it.  He poured in the ranch seasoning, and I reminded him to do it slowly so even the “dust” got into the bowl.  He scooped and dumped the parsley with a tablespoon.  I gave him a half teaspoon for the rest of the measurements so that when he had to do a 1/4 teaspoon he had to fill it only halfway.  (Kind of a lesson in self-control.)  By the time all the ingredients were added, he had lost interest, so I mixed.

I grabbed his interest right back by suggesting that he baste the chicken with the basting brush – by far his favorite kitchen utensil.  (We have a silicone one.)  First, though, the chicken needed patted dry, so he helped me with his own paper towel.  Gingerly.  Basting didn’t last too long either.  (I pulled up the skin and put the sauce directly on the meat, he basted on top of the skin.)  He said the chicken was “silly,” but never acted grossed out.  But I’m pretty sure he was!  So he headed upstairs to play with K while I finished the chicken.  There was a lot of sauce, so I kept pulling the skin away from the meat (snipping it with kitchen scissors as little as possible) to stuff more under.

The chicken is to be placed breast side down, drumsticks tucked under, in a roasting pan.  In a 400 degree oven, it took an hour.  I wish I’d have put foil over it at 30 minutes, as the skin was really brown instead of golden brown.  (Still tasted great, though!)  If you want to add vegetables, do so at 30 minutes.  Once it was done, I let the chicken sit while I prepared salads.  Carving it is my job too (the hubby did it the first time, then I realized I could certainly figure out how to do it myself!), and I looked to Ina for help.

For dinner, the four of us ate the 2 breasts as well as a wing or two.  After the boys were bathed and in bed I went through the carcass with my hands and pulled off the rest of the good meat; enough for two lunches of leftovers.  Usually I make broth using some carrots, onions, celery, salt, pepper, all the drippings, and enough water to cover the carcass (all boiled for an hour), but this one has such a distinct flavor that I opted to skip it.

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Yet another activity/snack C and I enjoy together, cutting up a whole cantaloupe offers many learning and cooking lessons, and is adaptable to your child’s age.  At a year old, C would just sit on the counter with a bib on, slurping up the chunks as I cut them and dropped them into the plastic bowl between his legs.  A couple of weeks ago (2 1/2 years old), he collected the cutting board and the appropriately-sized bowl, scooped out the goop, and used his wavy chopper to cut pieces alongside me.  Slurping up the chunks as we cut them, of course.

To cut a cantaloupe “our” way:

  • Wait until the cantaloupe (whole, uncut) smells like cantaloupe, but not so long that it is soft to the touch.
  • On your counter you’ll need a large cutting board, a long knife, a spoon, and a container for the cut fruit.
  • Be prepared with a way to dispose the goop and rind.  I throw it all in an empty trash bag and take it out to the outside garbage cans after we’re all done so it doesn’t smell up the kitchen trash.
  • If your child is helping, stand him on a stool in front of the cutting board with his cutter at the ready.  If he’s eating, set him on the counter, put a waterproof bib on (or take off his shirt if it’s warm enough!), and place the bowl between his legs.
  • Cut the cantaloupe in half, width-wise.
  • Draw your child’s attention to the goop inside, containing the seeds.  Discuss the size of the seeds versus other fruits.  How is it like the pumpkin you carved at Halloween?  Where are banana seeds?  Do you eat these seeds?  What fruits’ seeds do you eat? Scoop the goop out with the spoon and dispose of it as you wish.
  • Cut one half in half again, then again.  Carefully cut the rind away from the orange melon, avoiding any green.  (This takes practice!  A smaller knife may be helpful for more control.)
  • Hand over a rind-less slice to your helper for chopping into bite-sized pieces.  If you have an eater only, cut it into bite sized pieces yourself, dropping them into the bowl in front of him.  Remind him to chew and eat one piece at a time. (Or maybe that’s just my son…)
  • Continue with the other slices, disposing of the rinds along with the goop.  Discussion might turn toward which fruits/veggies you eat the outside skin and which you don’t.
  • Thoroughly wipe off your counter and your child.  Or let your helper do that.

Note 1: Sometimes we just do half at a time, placing the other half upside down on a plate in the fridge.  This is especially practical when your kiddo loses interest or when the melon isn’t quite ripe enough.

Note 2: My sister-in-law is an expert at the melon baller.  I’m not very efficient with it, especially with cantaloupe (watermelon is a little easier), but it is a fun, knife-less alternative.

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Cranberry Orange Bread

C is sick.  So this healthy bread might have germs in it; I’m pretty sure he sneezed during the prep process at least 3 times.  Surely germs die when baked 40 minutes at 350..?  Baking is a great activity when a kiddo is sick, as long as you have the patience for the illness-induced lack of listening skills and self-control.

Adapted from a recipe in some random cook book in the cabinet

  • 1  Tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 cups flour (I used mostly whole wheat, which gave the bread a really hearty consistency that I like)
  • 1/2 cup or less sugar (the recipe called for 3/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup Craisins (We get these at Sam’s Club, so they’re always around to bake with, have you noticed?)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (we used walnuts)

Preheat the oven to 350.

We began grating the orange peel with our little grater, but the orange was too soft and neither of us had the patience to grate a whole tablespoon.  That’s up to you, I guess.  C beat the egg with his bouncy whisk in a cereal bowl.  (It was the second egg, as the first one ended up on the floor.  Our very first egg casualty.  Whose fault?  Mine!)  Then we added the oil and squeezed in 1/4 cup of juice from the soft orange.  The orange peel would go in here too, if you decide to use it.  C ate whatever orange was left.

In a mixing bowl (the second one, because C sneezed right in the first one before we added any ingredients), we measured and mixed the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.  C did a great job scooping and scraping off the excess baking powder and soda.  We talked about how we usually just estimate 1/2 of the 1 teaspoon, but baking powder and baking soda are really tricky, so we have to make sure we get the measurements exactly right.

C poured the wet ingredients into the dry and began to mix as I added the additional 1/2 cup orange juice. (I don’t know why the recipe didn’t include this at the beginning with the rest of the wet ingredients.)  I had to finish mixing because the batter was pretty stiff.  In went the Craisins and nuts, with testing of each naturally.

I poured the batter into a greased loaf pan and stuck it in the oven for “30-40 minutes” (says the recipe).  I began testing it with a knife at 30, knowing that it would be yucky and dry if it over baked.  I took it out after 40, but would have been better at about 37.

There is a powdered sugar-based glaze that was meant to go on top, but I opted not to make it as it would counter-balance the effects of using whole wheat flour and cutting down the sugar.  But if you were making the bread with white flour and all the sugar for, say, a brunch or something, the glaze would be yummy: 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel, plus enough teaspoons of orange juice to make a glaze consistency.

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With all the snow and being stuck inside, you’d think we would be baking all the time.  Nope.  Because all I want is stuff like brownies, and we’re still making an effort to shield the boys from delicious junk like that as much as possible.  So the brownies were made after bedtime and eaten away from 2 1/2-year old eyes.  This cornbread, however, made to pair with one of our favorite crock pot recipes, was a family affair.

From the back of the Quaker cornmeal container, with my Grandma’s modifications.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup corn meal (white or yellow, though we prefer yellow)
  • generous 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 and grease an 8×8 baking pan.

C cracked the egg by tapping the side of it on the countertop, then I broke it in a 2-cup measuring cup so he could beat it.  (Bouncy whisk here)

I filled and C poured the flour and corn meal into a big bowl.  He scooped and dumped the baking powder and the salt.  We only used a 1 teaspoon, so he had to fill it halfway for the salt, which is a lesson in self-control!  He stirred the dry ingredients completely.  Meanwhile, K mouthed the salt container while sitting in his under-counter seat.  (He popped his 4th tooth this morning, so everything is being mouthed!)

Wet ingredients came next, first the pouring of the beaten egg, then the cup of milk (I helped C hold the cup), then the oil.  Since it was only a quarter cup, he held it steady and straight all by himself!  I’m pretty sure that was the first time I literally didn’t touch his hand to measure and pour a wet ingredient.  Small successes!

The directions say to mix just until blended, so we talked about not overmixing.  C was too careful, leaving quite a bit unmixed, so I finished up and poured it into the pan.

While it baked (for about 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle came out clean; don’t over-bake or it’ll be dry), I poured a bit of the corn meal onto a plastic plate for C to practice writing his letters (or squiggles, whatever) in.  He was occupied for 20 more minutes!  Though there was a fair amount of corn meal on the floor and the counter, it was worth it for a bit of independent, fine motor play!

Oh, and the cornbread turned out terrific, especially with a hearty dollop of butter on the top.

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