Brat Stew -or- Cooking with the Babe

K was up early from nap, and C was still sleeping, so guess who got to help Mommy make supper?  In our house, cooking with the boys isn’t be an event or a project.  It’s a way of life, a routine.  And it started 2 years ago with C, like this.

Adapted from Quick Cooking, probably 5 years ago

  • 4 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced into circles
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 large green pepper, chopped
  • 5 bratwurst links
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups (16oz) half-and-half
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3-4 teaspoons cold water

(Before I begin, I should mention that at 7 months, K is a great sitter and not a mover.  We have an under-counter seat that I intended to use while cooking, but he is much more content – and safe at the moment – sitting on the counter.  We’ll see whether I’m right, but I believe that by starting this way and continuing with the expectation that there is only sitting on the counter, we won’t have many problems with crawling around, standing, etc.  If it comes to that, the understanding will be: Helpers sit.  When you stop sitting, you’re done helping.)

I had all of my veggies and supplies ready beforehand so I could keep a constant eye on the babe.  While I chopped vegetables, he got to play with/learn about them.  A carrot is heavy, skinny, hard, smooth.  I can bite a green pepper; it’s juicy!  The produce bags make a great sound when I pat them! I chatted with him a bit so he heard words like “wet, carrot, smooth,” but mostly I let him explore on his own.  I think it was as fun for me to watch him as it was for him to discover!

After all of the veggies (potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, green pepper) were chopped, I put them in the slow cooker and mixed them up.  Then I took my kitchen scissors and cut the brats into 1-inch rounds (after removing the casings because I’m particular like that).  The brats stay on top of the vegetables.

I measured the chicken broth into a plastic lidded container that I knew K could hold.  Then I added the salt, basil, and pepper after letting K smell each one.  I put the lid on the container and let K shake it as best he could.  What an interesting noise.  I can feel something moving inside. I finished the job and poured it over the brats.

I put the cover on, put K down for nap, and the stew cooked on low for 4 hours.  The original recipe says 7 hours, but my slow cooker is super hot.  You should probably lean toward a longer cook time so you don’t end up with raw veggies and a late supper.

30 minutes before supper time, I stirred in the half-and-half.  I combined the cornstarch and water in a cereal bowl until smooth (cornstarch and water is a fun toddler science project!) and stirred that in too.  The crock pot was switched to high for 30 more minutes until the sauce was thickened.

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Granola Bars

Upon full consideration, I have decided that these granola bars are my favorite thing to make with C.  First, they taste amazing; just sweet enough, chewy, crunchy, marvelousness.  Second, they are pretty healthy, especially the munchable ingredients (this is the only recipe that I encourage breaking the “no testing” rule).  That’s the third point: it’s an activity and a snack all rolled into one.  And finally, the recipe is so engaging for kiddos (C is capable of doing most of the work) that it takes about an hour out of your morning.  So block off some time and stock up on dried fruits.  You’re gonna like this one.

Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats (or buzz your whole oats a few times in your food processor)
  • 1/2 cup or less granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup oat flour (really really buzz the oats in your food processor until they become oat flour.  Voila!)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp or more cinnamon
  • 2-3 cups dried fruit and nuts (see below)
  • 6 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter (or any nut butter)


You'll have a counter-ful!

Preheat oven to 350.  Line an 8×8 square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing it to go up and over right and left sides (you’ll use this to help you pull out the bars after they’re cooled).  Spray parchment lightly with cooking spray.


I got out two mixing bowls: one large for dry ingredients and one smaller, microwavable bowl for the wet ingredients.

With help, C scooped and measured (and buzzed) the oatmeal into the big bowl, along with the sugar, oat flour, salt, and cinnamon.  Then, into our 2-cup glass measuring cup, we layered our fruits and nuts of choice today.  This changes depending on what we have on hand and are in the mood for.  Today I let C choose what and how much.  There is a good list of options at Smitten Kitchen.  Today it was:

From the bottom: shredded coconut, dates, Craisins, dried apricots, raisins, raw almonds

I used kitchen scissors to cut the apricots, dates, and almonds into manageable pieces, and our bars are still really really chunky.  Snip into smaller pieces if you want a bar with a more consistent texture.


I cut the butter into smaller pieces in the small microwavable bowl, then popped it into the microwave to melt it.  C held the measuring cup as I squeezed in the honey, and he watched as the air bubble floated up from the bottom.  I measured in the corn syrup, water, and peanut butter as he licked the honey and peanut butter from the utensils.  We whisked until the ingredients were smooth, then poured it over the dry ingredients.  C had no interest in mixing wet and dry together but wanted to “test” the dates as I did it.

I poured everything into my prepared pan and used the back of the metal spoon to smash it down and even it out.  They were then baked for about 33 minutes.  Once you remove the pan from the oven and place it on a cooling rack to cool completely, they’ll set up nicely, so don’t let them get too brown.  My edges got a little dark, but it all turned out well.

After they were completely cool (during nap), I pulled up the edges of the parchment and placed the whole thing on the counter.  Using a serrated knife, I cut the bars into a few C-sized squares and a few adult-sized squares.  (The little crumbles were promptly eaten.  SO good.)  I wrapped them in plastic wrap and put most of them in a container in the freezer.  They take forever to thaw, so they’re perfect to throw frozen into your diaper bag as you’re leaving for the zoo.  They’ll be ready for morning snack after you see the cheetahs.

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Citrus Crunch Chicken

This baked dish is warm and cozy, but not heavy in your tummy.  And a snap to make.  Perfect for supper after a day of making peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate (recipe not to be posted, because it turned out not to be kid-friendly to make!).

From Kraft’s Food and Family, winter 2006 (also here)

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 1 orange
  • 1 pouch Shake ‘N Bake, original chicken flavor
  • chicken breasts, trimmed and pounded as necessary

Preheat oven to 400.

While C was trying to open the Shake ‘N Bake box (after identifying all of the c‘s and a‘s), I washed the fruit and grated half the peeling of each into a small bowl.  I made sure to grate off just the colored part of the peel because that’s where the flavor is.  C finally got the box open, saying “Shakenbake!  Shakenbake!” the whole time.  I had him pull out one packet and one bag while I sliced the fruit into thin circles with a serrated knife.

He was in charge of laying out the fruit in a single layer on the bottom of the glass baking dish, and we talked about which circles were the biggest, smallest, etc.  I also had him follow directions for which slice to put in the middle, right and left.  (Always looking for opportunities to practice those directional words!)  He ate the leftover orange slices.We poured the packet’s contents into the supplied plastic bag and added the grated lemon, lime, and orange peels.  After securing the bag at the top with a twist tie, I let C shake shake shake to his heart’s content!  Once it was mixed, we added one chicken breast at a time, shaking until the whole thing was covered.  I removed the chicken and placed it flat on the fruit slices.

Bake for 30 minute or until chicken is cooked through.  Serve with the baked fruit, if you want.  C loved both the lime and orange slices, once they cooled off!

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Oatmeal Cranberry Scones

Today I don’t have pictures of making these amazing scones because, you know what?, taking pictures and baking with a 2 1/2-year-old is tough!

We began this recipe almost 4 weeks ago when my family was visiting.  I had intended to have C make them with Grandma and Grandpa but realized after we sifted the dry ingredients that I hadn’t bought unsalted butter.  By the time Grandpa fetched some from the store, breakfast was over.  And playing the rest of the weekend left no room for scone-making.  Alas.  The dry ingredients remained sifted in an airtight container, ready for an empty afternoon.  Which was yesterday.

(I really have no idea where this recipe came from, but boy am I glad I found it!)

  • 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter
  • 1 1/3 cups oatmeal (old-fashioned, not quick cooking)
  • 1/2 cup (or more) Craisins
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350.

We got to use the sifter for this one!  C measured (with help) the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar right into the sifter, then helped turn the crank until all of the dry ingredients were sifted into a big mixing bowl.  (Then I realized we didn’t have unsalted butter, the dry ingredients were transferred to a storage container, and we cleaned up.  But you don’t have to do that.)

C finally figured out how to turn one stick of butter into half a stick of butter (by cutting it, of course, but first he said “break it”, then “shoot hoops with it”…).  I helped him chop the butter into tablespoon-ish pieces and transfer it into the dry ingredients.  I used our pastry blender utensil to mix and cut until it resembled “coarse meal,” whatever that means.  Basically, I made sure the butter was in about pea-sized chunks.  Meanwhile, C ate Craisins and dry oatmeal.

C scooped 4 third-cup scoops of oatmeal into the mixture and added the Craisins.  We measured and poured the buttermilk into the mixture, and I did all the stirring.  It was super sticky and clumpy, and I ended up using my hands more than a wooden spoon.  Once all of the dry ingredients were blended in (still leaving some butter chunks), I picked it all up and made it into a ball on my floured countertop.  Meanwhile, C spilled his Craisins and oatmeal on the floor.

I kneaded the dough about 6 times before patting it into a 1/2-inch thick circle.  I used a knife to cut 6 triangles, like a pie.  Next time I will probably use my 3-inch round biscuit cutter for C-sized portions.  The triangles were placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  I did not, but the recipe suggested brushing the tops of the scones with a beaten egg and sprinkling with cinnamon.  Just one more step I didn’t think was necessary.

My oven took 21 minutes to bake them until the edges were just brown.  Check yours at 18.  (Will use significantly less time for smaller circle scones.)  Remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack.  (This is my amazing cooling rack.)

Hands down best right out of the oven (and with a cup of coffee if you’re a Mommy), and definitely need eaten by day 2.  C and I shared a warm one before supper.

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Pumpkin Bread

Pie pumpkins were on sale just after Halloween, and with the help of our handy-dandy KitchenAid strainer attachment, we made our own puree!  I imagine it would be just as good with the tried-and-true canned stuff too.

Adapted slightly from Shivaya Naturals

  • 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Our recipe began by preparing the pumpkin: cutting it in half, scooping out the goop (saving the seeds for roasting, naturally), placing upside down on a baking sheet, and baking at 350 for 40 minutes.  The pumpkin was scooped out of the shells and pureed with the strainer/baby food maker and set aside.

C measured the flour, baking soda (the one with the “s”), and spices together in a small mixing bowl and mixed.  We then added the butter and sugar to the stand mixer and beat on high to cream them together.  C counted out the eggs, and I cracked them into the fluffy butter and sugar.  This was mixed well, and I scraped the sides of the bowl once.

We turned the mixer to low, and C and I took turns adding the dry ingredients and the pumpkin alternately.  When the batter was just combined, we turned off the mixer (didn’t take a test taste… I’m getting better at this!), measured out and added the chocolate chips and walnuts.  While C munched on the chips and walnuts, I stirred the batter until they were dispersed evenly.

I poured the batter into a well-greased loaf pan and baked it at 350 for about 55 minutes, when a toothpick came out clean.  Baking time could be between 50-60 minutes depending on your oven.  Start checking at 50 minutes so you don’t have dry bread.

Cool in pan on a cooling rack before turning out and cutting.  Store it in a Ziploc or air-tight container because it tends to dry out a bit.  I’m sure the experts say cool completely before slicing, but believe me, it’s worth a crumbly piece to eat it warm!

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Hamburger Packets

Easy and tasty, these were a fall and winter staple as I was growing up, and now in my own kitchen!  This is a great use of those leftover frozen hamburgers that are sitting in my your freezer from Labor Day weekend.

  • frozen hamburger patties (1 per packet)
  • potatoes, washed, peeled, and sliced (1 per packet)
  • carrots, peeled and julienned (1 per packet)
  • onion, peeled and sliced (1 small for 3 packets)
  • salt and pepper to taste

I measured out a sheet of foil for each packet, about 16 inches long and laid them on the counter within C’s reaching distance.  He took a frozen hamburger and placed it in the middle of each packet after we talked about how many we’d need.  (Three hamburgers for three people.)  The onions were already sliced, but C loved separating them into individual rings.  We then placed them on the hamburgers and salted and peppered according to taste (which is a little salt and a lot of pepper for all three of us).  Potatoes on top of onions, carrots on top and around the rest.  Kiddos are good at building and piling.  This was an easy one!

I folded in the right and left sides to the middle and folded them down, then rolled the tops and bottoms, making packets.  B’s was a little too small, leaving a teeny hole, and the juice leaked out and burned on the bottom of the oven.  Make sure your foil is big enough!  C told me whose packet was whose, and I used a Sharpie to write on names.

Bake at 350 for at least 45 minutes, depending on how fat or thin you sliced your potatoes and carrots.  Be super careful opening the packets, as the steam releases quickly.  Either dump contents out onto plates (like B does) or fold foil back and place entire packet on a plate (like I do).  Serve with A1, ketchup, or a dipping sauce of your choice.

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Mom’s (or Grandma’s) Zucchini Bread

I worked very hard back when C was a beginning eater to make sure he loved his veggies, fruits, and proteins before carbohydrates to keep him from becoming a carboholic like his mommy.  And though he does love all foods (really; pretty much everything but potatoes), he can always find room for another piece of homemade bread.  So, the focus has become how to make sure he gets healthy carbs.  Enter King Arthur Flour‘s White Whole Wheat flour.  (And their 100% whole wheat flour when I can get away with it!)  For kids who don’t like veggies, I’d pump up the zucchini a bit.  Fortunately for me, this is not my kid.  Unless K turns out that way.  Which we may discover soon… He had his first rice cereal this past week!

Adapted from my mom’s magnificent recipe

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (whatever you choose)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup sugar (I will use 2/3 next time)
  • 1 cup shredded, unpeeled zucchini (mine was already grated from a previous recipe, but C will definitely help me grate it next time)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup oil (or plain yogurt)
  • 1/4 tsp grated lemon peel (also pre-grated)
  • (optional) 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Unless we’re running short on time (in which case, I make an effort to prep as much during nap as I can), I read the ingredients from the recipe card and fetch them from the proper place so C can transport them to the counter.  This way, he hears a practical use of reading (remember, I was a kindergarten teacher), gets to know each of the ingredients, and has an active role in the process from the very start.

Ready, Set, Go!

Once all of the ingredients are set on the counter, we pull up the step stool and get going.  Measuring is a skill that has taken a long time to hone.  Like, a year.  But C is now very good at scooping in cups and teaspoons to get them full and even tries to shake them off if they’re not level.  Ever since he started cooking with me, I’ve drawn his attention to leveling off the measuring cups for accuracy.  This is a practice that my own grandma adheres to without fail.  And since he could talk, C has said, “Scrape it off like Great Grandma.”  Precious.

C helped me measure the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and baking powder in a mixing bowl.  Then he stirred it together, me finishing.  We set that bowl aside and brought out the stand mixer into which we measured the sugar, zucchini, and egg.  Then it was nap time, as was evidenced by C’s lack of attention and constant grabbing of the ingredients.

Waiting for nap to be done

After nap, we turned on the mixer to beat the zucchini mixture together.  I poured the oil into the measuring cup while C was holding it with my help, then we added it and the lemon peel to the zucchini mixture.  This was mixed well.  I added the flour mixture by cupfuls while the mixer was on low and the shield was on.  C could have added it himself, but his aim isn’t very good sometimes.  Fold in the nuts if you choose, after sampling of course.

It’s at this point that C wants to “test” the batter.  Actually, at any point that two things are mixed together he wants a taste.  I go back and forth on this.  On one hand, it is part of the real-life cooking process.  On the other, there is something to be said for completing the process first (and also, it’s not very healthy).  Usually for me, it depends on the recipe, how delicious the batter/dough is, and whether “we need to make sure we have enough” to fill muffin cups, etc.

I poured the batter into a greased loaf pan (8x4x2, says the recipe, though I’m not sure what mine is!), then baked at 350 for 55-60 minutes.  Your house will smell wonderful.  mmmm…  The bread should be cooled in the pan for about 10 minutes before loosening and turning onto a rack to cool completely.  The recipe also says to wrap in plastic wrap and store overnight before slicing.  Riiiiight..!

Done and delicious

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