Alphabet Breadsticks

I was in Target last Sunday and one area of the store was particularly popular, noisy, and a bit frantic: the Back-To-School department. Pencils, erasers, scissors, glue, glue sticks, markers, binders, notebooks, notepads, crayons, rulers, tissues, water colors (does anyone ever use those?), and backpacks are being hurled into carts … often someone else’s cart … and parents are pulling their hair because they just realized that they will have to make yet another trip to another store to cross that last item off the list.

Two words pop into my head and I smile: Empty Nest!

These parents and kids got me thinking about those last summer days before my boys returned to school and a more structured schedule. In the summer I loved the days that they could help me make lunch. One of their favorite things to make were Alphabet Breadsticks, a recipe from a Pampered Chef cookbook called “Kids in the Kitchen”. When my boys were young, making these breadsticks for lunch was a lesson in measuring, letters and numbers, creativity, and maybe a little bit of science.

So when my now 20-year-old son was home for a day last week, and I told him I was going to make them for my blog, he wasn’t about to be left out (of the making OR the eating). Plus, his photography skills are far above mine so we both benefitted!

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Alphabet Breadsticks

1 package (6.5 oz) pizza crust mix
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup hot (not boiling) water
2 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, minced
Pizza Sauce

Melt butter in a small bowl and stir in minced garlic; set aside.

In a bowl, combine pizza crust mix, oregano, granulated garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Add hot water and gently stir until evenly moistened and well combined. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes in a warm place.

Preheat oven to 425°.

Sprinkle a cutting board with flour, turn dough out onto cutting board and knead dough 10-12 times. Cut dough into 8 equal parts. Using your hands, roll each piece into ropes. Shape ropes into letters or designs. Place designs (and reshape) on a greased baking sheet. Brush breasticks with butter/garlic. 

Bake for 11-12 minutes or until golden brown. 

Serve warm with pizza sauce.

NOTE: Instead of the butter/garlic mixture, I used a Tuscan Herb Olive Oil from The Olive Tap. Also, for these photos, we made a double batch of the recipe. 

It is so much fun to see what designs kids will make. I made a tic-tac-toe board and my 20-year-old saw “hashtag”!  However, it is not just for kids. These pesto roll-ups would make a great appetizer for adults and kids alike.

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Roll out two of the dough pieces together into a rectangle and spread pesto on it. Roll it up from the short end and use dental floss to cut into 6 pieces. Slide the dental floss under the roll, position where you want to cut, cross the ends over each other and gently pull. The floss will cut it without crushing the spiral. Bake as directed above.

So what do you do for a finale on a project like this?


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Fried Rice

Want to get your kids more involved in the kitchen? Or just want a solid way to up-cycle leftovers? A little leftover cooked rice (or noodles), some leftover vegetables supplemented with some fresh ones, an egg or two, some meat … Fried Rice.

One of the keys to making fried rice is the same as one of my tips for getting kids to try new foods or foods they don’t think they like: cut things small. You want the ingredients to cook (or reheat) quickly and evenly so you don’t take leftovers and turn them into dehydrated bits.

When using leftovers, set them out of the refrigerator for 30 minutes prior to reheating. If you take the chill off of them first, it won’t take as long to reheat which in turn preserves the flavor and texture.

What you need:

  1. Eggs – Whisk them in a bowl and cook them like you would for scrambled eggs or an omelette; remove from the pan and cut into small bites.
  2. Fat – you have to revive and unite the flavors. I use a combination of an Omega-3 vegetable oil blend and a small amount of sesame oil.
  3. Asian seasonings – fresh ginger, garlic, crushed red pepper and lemon.
  4. Cooked rice/noodles – this can be leftover rice/noodles or you can cook it and let it cool before re-frying. A short cut is to keep Uncle Ben’s Instant Brown Rice on hand. It cooks in 10 minutes and although it is quick cooking rice it still maintains a firm texture and nutritional value.
  5. Veggies – carrots, onions, celery, broccoli, corn, peas, green beans (fresh, canned or frozen), mushrooms, water chestnuts … anything you like in your stir-fry dishes. Defrost frozen vegetables before cooking.
  6. Meat – I typically use leftover chicken or pork cut into very small pieces. You can also just use extra eggs and skip the meat. In these pictures I used leftover ground chicken from some Asian lettuce wraps.
  7. Sauce – soy sauce, sweet-and-sour sauce, sriracha sauce, schezuan sauce, or a mixture.

Take a large non-stick skillet and add 1-2 tablespoons of oil(s) over medium heat for 2 minutes. The oil(s) should be hot enough to sizzle when ingredients are added but not hot enough to splatter or burn the ingredients. Add 1-2 cloves garlic minced, 1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional), and 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger. Stir into oil. Add vegetables that require longer cooking times like carrots, mushrooms, fresh green beans and onions and a pinch of salt. Cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add next group of vegetables with similar cooking times like broccoli and celery (we want these to maintain their crunch and color), add another pinch of salt and cook 2 minutes. Stir in final group of vegetables which only need to be heated through like peas, corn and water chestnuts, add a final pinch of salt and cook 2 minutes. Remove vegetables from skillet into a serving bowl and set aside.

Return skillet to burner and add another 1-2 tablespoons of oil and heat over medium heat. Add rice, spreading into an even layer. Do not stir for 1 minute. Flip rice over with a spatula and allow it to “fry” for another minute. Add meat and stir. After 1 minute, add vegetables and scrambled eggs, folding to distribute all ingredient evenly. Remove from heat. Drizzle with a small amount of fresh lemon juice (optional).

Serve with diced green onions, chopped cilantro, and/or chopped celery leaves and sauce(s) of choice.

Fried rice is great kid-friendly food because they can be involved in so many stages of the cooking: choosing the vegetables (just tell them there has to be at least 3 or 4 to make it look good), whisking the eggs, chopping some of the vegetables, squeezing the lemon, decorating their bowl with the fresh toppings or sampling a variety of sauces.

Want to teach them to eat slowly? Give ’em chopsticks! 😉


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A re-introduction to meatballs

Swedish meatballs … Porcupine meatballs … Italian meatballs … Spaghetti and meatballs … Meatball subs … Meatball soup … Baked meatballs … Fried meatballs … Crock Pot meatballs …

I started thinking about how versatile meatballs are and ended up channeling my inner Forrest Gump! “I know everything there is to know about … ” meatballs.

A couple weeks ago, one of my cousins posted a question on Facebook asking for meal ideas now that the kids are home for summer and they are tired of PB&J and hot dogs. I remember those days. You want your kids to eat healthy but …

  • it’s hot
  • nobody wants the same thing
  • macaroni and cheese in a box is so easy
  • is it nap time yet?

I also had visions of teaching my kids how to cook while maintaining my pristine (or at least reasonably clean) kitchen.

Over the years, we had some successes, usually as a result of much trial-and-error (the errors ended in good old frozen pizza). There are a few general rules that came out of my efforts:

  1. Give them choices. If the kids help choose it or make it, they will eat it (at least some of it). Offer them a choice of two vegetables. Don’t worry about how much of it they actually eat … they will consume more food than you think possible when they are teens.
  2. Take turns. If you have more than one child, let each child choose a menu for one day of the week. Or let one child choose the protein, one choose the vegetable, one the fruit … how many kids do you have??
  3. Let them help. They don’t have to do a lot or the whole process. Give them one assignment in the process. They may show no interest in making anything but cookies with you but they will appreciate the lessons when they move into their first apartment (speaking from experience here).
  4. Cut things small. I think a big mistake we make with kids is giving them an intimidating pile of food, especially something new. Start with small portions and small pieces. Aren’t we all more willing to try something if it seems conquerable.
  5. Attach the meal to a book/movie/activity. Make scrambled eggs with a little green food coloring or finely diced (see tip #4) broccoli, add ham and read “Green Eggs and Ham”. Make it a theme and read “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back” and eat cake in the tub. Make grilled cheese with a new kind of cheese and read “The Stinky Cheese Man”. There are plenty of choices: “Stone Soup”, “Blueberries for Sal”, “James and the Giant Peach”.

And there’s always “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”. I don’t think there’s a more perfect food for getting kids involved in the kitchen than meatballs. Yes it will be messy but they will love it!

Basic Meatballs

3 pounds ground meat (beef, pork, pork sausage, Italian sausage, chicken, turkey)
2 cups fine bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 cup milk
Salt and Pepper

Put all ingredients in a large bowl and mix gently by hand until well combined. If you are using some ground sausage, you will not need to add much salt or pepper. If you aren’t using any ground sausage, you will need to add about a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of pepper. Roll or scoop (can use a cookie scoop) into equal sized balls (about 1 1/2 inch in diameter) and place in two 9×13 pans which have been coated with cooking spray. They can touch but don’t crowd. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes. Turn meatballs and return to oven for 10-15 minutes. Cut a meatball in half to make sure the inside is cooked through.

If making smaller meatballs (3/4″-1″ in diameter), turn after 20 minutes and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Serve with barbecue sauce, ranch, ketchup, pesto, or any other favorite dipping sauce.

This makes a big batch of meatballs. Using my 1 1/2″ cookie scoop, I get 60 meatballs from this recipe. So a) there are leftovers that easily reheat; b) you can freeze half or more (either before baking or after); and c) you can make these ahead, freeze them and then pull out for quick and easy dinners!

Don’t have bread crumbs on hand? Soak one cup of oats in the milk until soft before adding to meat mixture. Substitute crushed crackers or even cereal (maybe not Fruit Loops) like Corn Flakes, Rice Crispies, Special K for the bread crumbs. Set a few slices of bread (5-6) out on the cupboard and allow to “dry out” for an hour or two and grind in a food processor (freeze leftover crumbs for next time).

I haven’t even touched on the versatility of this recipe … but I will. Future posts will give variations for Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Italian Meatballs, and Thanksgiving Meatballs. After considering those recipes, you will be able to modify this basic recipe to meet whatever favorite combinations your family prefers!

Until then, round up your kids … read the book … make meatballs … watch the movie.

 


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Pizza-wich

Throwing away bread is a crime.

Not to say I’ve never done it, but I feel terrible guilt when I do. I make my own breadcrumbs (why buy them AND the bread that’s going in the trash!?!).  But sometimes more than just a few slices or buns are in danger of old age. Time for …

Pizza-wiches

1/2 lb. Italian sausage, browned and drained
2-4 oz. pepperoni slices, diced
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup finely diced green pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped black olives
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
8-10 oz. pizza sauce (or tomato sauce seasoned with Italian seasoning and garlic)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
4 leftover hamburger or hot dog buns
Parmesan cheese

Combine all ingredients except buns and Parmesan cheese in a bowl. Add more pizza sauce if needed to hold other ingredients together. Divide mixture into 8 portions and spread one portion on each half of a bun. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Place on a pan and broil in the oven until warm and bubbly.  

Serves: 2 very hungry people, or 4 if serving with additional sides.

Of course, you can use whatever toppings, in whatever combination, you want: leftover scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese; diced chicken, roasted red peppers and pesto; hamburger, ketchup, mustard, pickles, onions and cheese.  Just think about your favorite sandwich to order at a restaurant and make that combination.

Kid-friendly: mixing, measuring, choosing, spreading … and very little wait time for their reward!

College-kid-friendly too: cheap, no delivery charge, few dirty dishes … Just don’t get so proud of your accomplishment that you forget to turn off the broiler!!!  Yes … I remember college.


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