Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tuna Casserole Upgrade

Did your mom make Tuna Casserole?  Mine did.  I think one of the reasons a lot of people don't want to make this 1950's casserole is we think of it as outdated.  But in part it is also one of the reasons we want to make it;  it's a classic.  But I think there are a few tricks to updating this 1950's classic. First toss out the idea of using Elbow Macaroni noodles from Creamette - I mean this part of the recipe deserves an upgrade. Try a bigger thicker noodle with a bit of substance - Barilla Pipette or some Rigatoni.  Simply by changing the pasta, you are already off to a nice start in the upgrading process.  Below is the recipe that I have stuck with for the past few years. 

Tuna Casserole


1 pound box of Pipette or Rigatoni
3 cans of chunk light tuna in oil (the oil has more taste than the water)
*hint #1 use chunk light - it has less mercury than Albacor tuna, and you are using 3 cans
* hint #2 DON' T drain the tuna if it is packed in oil.  If packed in water, drain it.
1 can cream of chicken (I use Campbell's healthy request)
1/2 can of water (use the can from the soup) 
1 cup frozen peas
salt/ pepper
olive oil
2 Tablespoons of butter / plus 1 Tablespoon for the topping
10- 15 Ritz crackers (crushed) *hint use more or less depending on how much crust you want


Start by making your pasta. While the pasta is cooking, place the three cans of tuna in a bowl along with the frozen peas (still frozen), one can of Cream of Chicken Soup, and water *hint I fill the soup can half way with water and add that in to help keep the casserole moist. Plus I use the can so to help clean it out. Once the pasta is finished, add it to your bowl with your waiting mixture.  Also add 2 Tablespoons of butter (which will melt with the heat of the pasta), some olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in an oven-safe casserole dish with a cover.  Crush up 10-15 Ritz crackers and spread over the top of your casserole. Lastly, dab small pieces of butter across the top of casserole to help the crackers form a buttery topping.  Cover your casserole. Heat in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Enjoy.
*hint cover your casserole; it helps to keep it moist If you want some crunchy noodles on top, uncover the last 5 -10 minutes. If you prefer to keep it all moist, you must keep it covered. 

This recipe entry is dedicated to my dear friend Marian who always supports me. I am Blessed by her friendship. She asked me for this recipe -- so here it is -- sweet friend -- enjoy. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Beef Barley Soup -- so warm and hearty

As of late, everyone in our household has been sick.  Nothing awful.  I think we are going on our third week of one illness or another.  We keep passing it around.  Our home is calling for a soup night. I thought I would try to make beef barley.  My grandmother (my Dad's mother) used to make beef barley soup with ground beef, but I thought I would try to make it with stew meat. 

Beef barley soup was my brother's favorite recipe that my grandmother used to make.  One night at her house was particularly memorable.  We all sat down to eat her beef barley soup and were enjoying it. As when any good meal is put on the table, everyone stopped talking and started eating.  Above the sound of our slurping, we could barley hear my baby brother say, "if this is beef barley soup, where is the barley grandma?"  It was at that point everyone started searching for the barley in his bowl as if looking for the lost treasure of the Seven Seas.  We all quickly came to the conclusion that my grandmother had forgotten the barley. For years to come, it was always a great story to relive and retell.  So when making the beef barley soup, you can use ground beef or stew meat, but don't forget the barley.  Maybe that is only a funny joke in my family. 

Now I don't know my grandmother's recipe, but here is my version of beef barley soup. The soup turned out warm, hearty, and yummy.  Here is how I made it.

Hearty Beef Barley Soup


olive oil (the start of most wonderful recipes)
4 lbs. Beef Stew chunks (cut into small bite sized pieces)
1 medium onion
2-3 carrots
2 celery stalks
2 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
1 box chicken stock
8 cups of water
6 chicken bullion cubes
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
2-3 bay leaves
cheese rind (don't need this, but if you have it use it)
2-3 red potatoes
1 cup medium barley
3 cups or so of frozen veggie mix


Heat some olive oil in a stock pot.  Cut stew meat into small soup sized pieces. Brown the meat.  Salt and pepper after the meat is brown.  There will be a liquid at the bottom of your pot -- this is fine and only adds to the flavor of the soup.  Add chopped onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Add some salt and pepper.  *mommy hint - salt and pepper after each section of steps to build flavors. Add one box of chicken stock, 8 cups of water, and 6 chicken bullion cubes. *mommy hint - I  know many people would use beef stock and beef bullion, but I just wanted to use what I had in the house. And it worked just fine;  plus I prefer chicken stock to beef stock. But if you like beef stock better, use it.  Continue to add layers of flavors.  Add one can of diced tomatoes, bay leaves, diced potatoes, and one cup of barley. If you have a cheese rind this is the time to add it; if you don't just skip this step you will  not miss it.  *mommy hint - I always have cheese rinds in my freezer for the express purpose of making soups.  It adds a saltiness to the background of the soup.  It is not needed; it is just a little secret my Nonna (my mom's mother) taught me.  Simmer for 1 hour.  Then after the barley has been cooked, add 3 cups or so of your favorite frozen veggie mix.  Bring to boil again and serve.  So filling and yummy.  Enjoy.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Candy Airplanes Big Hit as Treat for Goody Bag

These candy airplane were a big success as a treat in my son's Valentine's Day gift bags.  But they could be used for treat bags for any occasion.  I originally got the idea from Disney's Family Fun magazine; someone put it on pinterest. The original plane's wings were made from a stick of gum, and the wheels were hard Lifesavers.  I modified it to be a bit more 3 year old friendly.  I don't know about your little ones, but my little ones don't chew gum yet. So with a few changes it is now ready for a tots goody bag.

Items needed to assemble plane:

Small Hersey chocolate bars (instead of gum)
Gummy Lifesavers (instead of hard mint Lifesavers)
Small rubber bands   
Step One:

Place rubber band between two gummy Lifesavers and keep your fingers in the rubber bands during the next steps. It makes it easier to put the plane together.
Step Two:

Fit the Smartie between the two Lifesavers "wheels."

 Step Three:

Then loop one side of the rubber band over the Hersey bar (keep your one finger/thumb in the other side of the rubber band so to hold it in place). Then loop the other side around the chocolate bar.

This is what it looks like from the underneath side of the plane.

They are easy to make with the kids, and they are a big hit when the goody bags are opened.  The best part is it is not another throw away item tossed into the goody bag. The kids actually eat them.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Baby Shower gift -- the perfect gift is the gift of your well earned experience

What to pack --- what to pack?  When you are going to have a baby, there are all sorts of things that need to be accomplished before the baby's arrival.  I remember making lists.  I think one of the items on my to do list was to make a list -- no kidding -- I actually wrote make a hospital packing list on my to do list.  I laughed when I went back to my to do list the next day and read make a list on my list. Anyway after having my two little ones I think I learned what was important to pack in my hospital bag and what wasn't. This new found information is not going to help me anymore because I don't plan on having more children.  So this is useless information floating around in my brain.

A few months back, my girlfriend Kristen was pregnant with her first little joy; since then she has given birth to a beautiful baby boy named Carter.  But back then, her up coming baby shower had me stumped for a perfect gift. She is a dear friend, and I wanted to do something special for her; I figure anybody can buy something off a registry.  Now I am not bashing the concept of the registry.  New mommys and daddys need lots of baby stuff.  Anyone who has had a baby shower knows that some of the items we place on the registry we never use; we all get swept up my the magical baby brain and zap too many odd items with the registry zapper machine.  Anyway this is not about discussing the necessity of the items on the registry.  But it is about putting together a thoughtful useful gift that is not part of the registry.

So here is my mommy bright idea that you can use for your next baby shower -- it was a hit with everyone.

I bought a laundry basket (for my gift bag - which they can used to carry the baby's laundry to and from the laundry room) filled with baby necessities that usually don't make it on a registry --- but are super essential. I added helpful tags to each item with the product's best use on the tag. Mostly it was essential baby items, but I tossed in a few of my favorite baby items and a couple toys/books. It was a beautiful gift. Lastly, let's go back to the start of this entry.  The hospital packing list.  I typed up a great hospital bag packing list for her and added that to the gift.  This way she will not have to write make a hospital bag packing list on her to do list.

* Just a side note: I have not been paid to talk about these products.  They are just the products that I have come to love through personal trial and error.

Hospital Packing List
Pack at least two weeks earlier then you think you need to
Mommy/Daddy Needs

Comfy clothing to change into after the
“First Shower”

Razor and shaving cream
Shampoo and Conditioner
Comfy underwear – cotton – (pick ones that if you have to toss out, it would be ok)
Nursing bra
Disposable nursing pads (6 )
Hairclip or band
Jewelry (whatever you want to wear after baby is born – small earrings and necklace – I feel naked without my girlie accessories – but maybe that is just me)

Makeup (I am sure you will not want a lot, but I know I wanted some mascara – it made me feel a little better and remember there will be lots of pictures taken)

Lotion (light scent or no scent)
Slippers to walk around hospital
Toothbrush for you
Toothbrush for hubby (he’ll think you are the most thoughtful wife EVER!)
Change of clothing and slippers for hubby (comfy)
Camera equipment (make sure everything is charged)
List of people you want Daddy /your Mom etc... to text or call for you to let them know about the baby’s arrival (this way you don’t have to think about it)

No perfume (don’t want your mommy scent to be confusing to new breastfeeding baby – let baby smell you)

Small plastic accordion folder (that snaps shut or has a tie that closes - this is good for collecting all the
small piece of information the nurses/doctors give you - information sheets, baby’s hearing test, misc. papers, baby’s ID band, Mommy and Daddy’s ID -- keepsakes)

Extra duffel bag (help you bring home gifts from people and extra stuff hospital gives you)
Baby book (so you can have a nurse put the baby’s foot prints in the book for you – they do this all day long it will be harder for you to do this at home)

Spiral notebook (need this to make a log of baby’s feeding and diaper changes)
Insurance information (baby pre-approval number and phone number)

Baby Needs
Nail clippers
Sleeper with hand covers (good to go home outfit)

*Must drink lots of water after you give birth (we will chat about this later)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Successful Easy Meals for Kids using Veggie Burger

I know you have been there -- it is lunch time, and you aren't sure what to make the kids. This was one of my shinning mommy moments. So I thought I would share my great find, so my success can be your next success. The reasons this lunch was successful are it was fast, easy, I had the ingredients, it contained the elusive veggies, and ooooh did I mention -- they loved it. Now all of us have made a pizza on an English muffin before. The shinning mommy moment isn't the pizza; it is the addition of the veggies. Because of the texture of the veggies, the kids have no idea they are eating them.
Dr. Praeger's California veggie burger is the key to the story of my success.

Veggie Pizza

 • English muffin/ or bite sized pitas/ or a tortilla (switch it up - they are tots -they will think it is a different meal they love every time you make it)
• Pizza sauce
• Dr Praeger's California veggie burger
• Olive oil
• Mozzarella cheese

Heat some olive oil in a small pan and warm California burger. As you are cooking the burger, break it up into a veggie paste consistency. Toast English muffin lightly because you are going to continue cooking it once other ingredients are on it, and you don't want it to burn. Kids usually don't like anything that has burned spots. Once English muffin is lightly cooked, add some pizza sauce, spread a layer of veggie mixture, and top with cheese. Heat pizzas in a toaster oven or your regular oven until cheese is melted. I hope your kids enjoy it as much as mine did. If you want to use the bite size pitas there is no need to warm them ahead of topping them.  If you want to use the tortilla, cook your pizza in a 400 degree oven for 8 to 9 minutes in order to get the tortilla a bit crispy.

I would also suggest using Dr Praeger's California burger in other ways. Get creative; this is an easy way to add veggie to many different meals. Another success I had with these veggie burgers is making a veggie tortilla wrap.

Veggie Tortilla Wrap

• Tortilla
• Olive oil (you would be hard pressed to find recipes I put together without this golden liquid from heaven -- well, that is just what I call it)
•Dr. Praeger's California burger
• Cheese of your choice
• You could even use ham or turkey or any deli meat you like (if you want to add meat)

Heat olive oil and California burger in a pan. While heating veggie burger break it up into a veggie paste consistency. Warm tortilla. Once veggie mixture is ready, it is time to put the wrap together. Take tortilla add cheese, meat if you want, add veggie mixture --- then roll the tortilla into an easy to eat kiddie wrap. It is yummy, warm, healthy, and filled with tasty veggies (with a texture that hides from the kids).

Lastly, I would say I have also been successful adding that same crushed up veggie burger to pastina (any kind of small pasta). I make the pastina. Once boiled and drained, I add a bit of butter, a dribble of olive oil, some Parmesan cheese, and the crushed up veggie burger. This adds some veggies to a simple buttered noodles and cheese lunch or dinner.

And the kids enjoy all of these variations to the veggie burger. It is very versatile -- I am sure you can come up with other ways of incorporating this easy to use veggie burger into dished you already make that need a little veggie addition. Oddly enough, I have never served my kids this veggie burger as a burger --- go figure. Now go out there and get creative with this veggie burger. Here is my veggie pizza cut in half and decorated to look like a monster.  Have fun with your kids food.