Monday, July 30, 2012

The Best Way to Freeze Cookie Dough

When I made Sidney's Egg Challenge cookies last week, I decided to freeze some of the dough because I have no self control when there are treats around the house. If you're like me, you'll appreciate how easy it is to freeze cookie dough.

Here's what you need:
- Baking Sheet
- Parchment Paper
- Plastic Wrap
- Gallon Sized Ziploc bag
- Permanent Marker

Here's what you do:
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Roll the entire batch of cookie dough into balls just like you would if you were baking them and place them on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Be sure to place them far enough apart so that they are not touching or they will get stuck together.
3. Stick the baking sheet in the freezer uncovered.
4. Freeze the cookie dough balls for at least hour, maybe two.

5. Take a gallon sized freezer bag and label it with the recipe name, date, cooking temperature and time details.
6. After an hour or two, remove the frozen cookie dough balls from the freezer.

7. Lay the cookie dough balls on a piece of plastic wrap in a single level and wrap. I like to double wrap the dough to protect it against freezer burn.  I love that Ava gets as excited as I do with a camera (and cookies!).  I think maybe one cookie dough ball made it in her shot!
8. Place the plastic-wrapped cookie dough balls in the labeled freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible from the bag and seal.
9. Stash the cookies in the freezer for later!
10. When I go to bake the frozen cookies I usually only thaw the cookies while the oven is preheating and I let them bake about 2 minutes longer than the original recipe states.  But I always check on them a bit early just to be safe!

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Spirit

Did you watch the Opening Ceremonies last night?  We watched a bit of it.  My kids aren't old enough to understand what the Olympics are all about but they sure did have fun with these Olympic arts and crafts projects!

First we went to the Missouri History Museum for their arts and crafts day and the crafts were all centered around the Olympics.  The best project was the USA "Uncle Sam" hat.

 Here is Ava working on her hat.

Then Ava decided that she liked my hat better so she "traded" me.

 Here is Sidney working on her hat (she mostly played with the stickers).

She went crazy for the fireworks.  We put so many fireworks on her hat that we had to prop it up with a Popsicle stick!

The girls also got to decorate their gold medals and make an Olympic torch.

Our last project came from the Disney Family Fun magazine - Ribbon Wands!  All you need is a couple of round sticks, paint or markers and a long ribbon.  I bought one long stick from Michael's and sawed it in half.  We decided to use markers rather than paint because the girls didn't want to wait for the paint to dry.  Then I just wrapped a long, satin ribbon around the end of the wand with fabric tape.  Super quick and easy!

 Sidney loves to craft in her monkey jams!

Ava made her wand a rainbow wand.

Here are some pictures of the girls pretending to be Olympians!


Let the games begin!

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Exploring Nature with Kids

It has been SO hot lately.  It was pretty much unbearable to be outside unless you were in the pool.  We had a brief break from the heat this past weekend so the girls and I decided to take advantage of the cooler temps and play outside.

I made these binoculars during the heat wave.  I thought it would be fun to go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt around our neighborhood.  I searched around on Pinterest and found some great ideas.  Here is our "hunting" list:

Things to bring:
- Binoculars
- Magnifying glass
- Jar to collect things
- Camera
- Wet Wipes
- Backpack to hold everything
- Journal and Pen

Things to find:
- Something Fuzzy
- Two Kinds of Seeds
- Two pieces of man-made litter
- Something Straight
- Something Round
- Something Smooth
- Something Rough
- Two different types of leaves
- Something that make noise
- A chewed leaf
- A beautiful Rock
- Something you think is beautiful
- A pinecone
- Something Green
- A stick
- Something you think is special

Click here to download a copy of the list.

Here are some pictures of my tiny adventurers!

Our big find - an "L" shaped stick!

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Basement Project

We've been mulling over the decision to finish our basement since April and now the day has finally come.  We spent a good part of the weekend moving everything out of our unfinished basement to its temporary home - our dining room.

The crew came out this morning bright and early to start framing the basement.  Our goal is to complete this project before our baby girl arrives in October, and while our contractor has assured us that there should be no problems with that, everyone else tells us their horror stories.  I prefer to be ignorant and trust our contractor.

It's pretty noisy around here so I have a feeling that we'll be spending as much time outside our house as possible.  Today we went to the Missouri History Museum and saw Mr. Saxophone (who also plays the guitar).
Ava's in the middle holding hands with her friends, Katie and Julia.
More updates to come!

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Cookie Brownie Surprise Bites

This weekend went by so fast.  I am still worn out.  On Saturday, we had a picnic at Long View Park with some friends.  This is my favorite park right now.  The playground is small enough that I can keep my eyes on both kids, but big enough to entertain Ava.  And they have a horse stable with a bunch of horses.  There's also a bunch of shaded walking trails and one of them leads to a pond.  And they have a huge pavilion that you can rent for picnics.  This is the only good picture I got of the pavilion and tables, but trust me, it's nice even though Sidney's face looks horrified.

Back to the treats...each family brought a side and treats to share.  I decided to try a new recipe that I found on Pinterest - Cookie Brownie Surprise Bites.  You basically smash a "surprise" between pre-made refrigerated cookie dough and brownie batter.  What took me so long to discover this??!!??!!  Genius! 

One package of pre-made refrigerated cookie dough
One box of brownie mix (and the necessary ingredients, i.e.; oil, eggs)
The "surprise" - I used Rolos and Mini Oreos (you could also use caramels or Reese's PB Cups or chocolate covered pretzels or whatever)

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Heavily grease a mini muffin tin.
3.  Make your brownie mix according to the box instructions.

4.  Press ~1.5 Tbsp of cookie dough into the bottom of each muffin cup.

5.  Add your "surprise" on top of the cookie dough.
6.  Using a spoon, cover the cookie dough and surprise with your brownie batter, filling it to 3/4 full.  If you fill it to the top, be sure you've greased the top of your muffin tin as well or it will be hard to remove the treats without breaking them.
7.  Bake for 15-18 minutes.
8.  If you let them cool it will be easier to remove them from the muffin tin.  I take mine out a bit early so that they don't over cook while cooling.

Hope you had a fun weekend! 

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Sidney's Egg Challenge Cookies

I mentioned yesterday that Sidney had her first egg challenge (and failed).  I did a lot of feeling sorry for myself and Sidney yesterday, but promised myself that I'd get over it.  So I'm over it.  Kind of.

But let me back up a bit.  I'm a newbie when it comes to the food challenge ordeal.  With Ava's nut allergy, our pediatrician gave us the go ahead to do an "at-home" food challenge after her blood work indicated there was no nut allergy.  That pretty much meant that we fed Ava a bunch of nuts and peanut butter and kept the EpiPen nearby for a few hours.  Good thing Ava's blood work was accurate!  When you do an official food challenge in a medical setting, they mix a small amount of the food product with a binding food, like pudding or yogurt (neither of which Sidney can eat because of her dairy allergy).  I came up with a few alternative binding foods, but I was worried that Sidney wouldn't go for it and the food challenge would be a big waste of time.  So I got the doctor's okay to back some cookies and brownies with eggs if all else fails.

As I mentioned yesterday, Sidney didn't even come close to trying my yummy baked goods. By bite number 2 of egg powder mixed with her fave Alphabet Noodles, Sidney officially failed the egg challenge :(  While I wallowed in my sorrows yesterday, I polished off at least 4 of Sidney's egg challenge cookies.  They are so good - I wish Sidney could try them!  The recipe comes from Cooks Illustrated.  My husband loves Cooks Illustrated because they test and re-test all their recipes over and over again until it's perfect.  So in essence, these should be the perfect chocolate chip cookie EVER.  You decide:

2 ⅛ cups bleached all-purpose flour (about 10½ ounces)
½ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), melted and cooled slightly (I used Sidney's dairy-free vegan butter)
1 cup brown sugar (light or dark), 7 ounces
½ cup granulated sugar (3½ ounces)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-2 cups chocolate chips or chunks (semi or bittersweet)

1.  Adjust oven rack to middle position.  Heat oven to 325 degrees F.
2.  Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
3.  Either by hand or with electric mixer, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. 
4.  Mix in egg, yolk, and vanilla. 
5.  Add dry ingredients; mix until just combined. 
6.  Stir in chips.

7.  Drop ~1/4 cup cookie dough balls onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
8.  Bake until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes (start checking at 13 minutes - I took mine out at ~14 minutes).

9.  Cool cookies on cookie sheets. 
10.  Serve or store in airtight container.  I like to put a piece of bread in the container to keep the cookies chewy.

Enjoy a few for Sidney!

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Egg Challenge Fail

This face pretty much sums it up.  Sidney failed her first egg challenge after her first bite of egg powder mixed in alphabet noodles.  Disappointed doesn't even begin to describe how I feel.  If you had asked me beforehand if I thought Sidney would fail the challenge, I would have told you with 110% confidence NO.  She had skin tests done about a year ago that indicated she was allergic to eggs (and dairy), but for many reasons including her recent blood work that indicated there was no egg allergy present, I didn't believe she had a true egg allergy.  But she does.  So, so sad.  I know, I know, things could always be worse, so much worse.  But I'm going to spend the next hour or so while Sidney naps wallowing in self pity.  Then I'll give myself a good slap in the face and tell myself to get over it.  Until then....

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dollar Crafts: Sun Catchers

We have had  A LOT of sun lately.  In fact, we could use a little less sun and more rain.  But if you can't beat 'em....make sun catchers!  I found these little cuties in the Dollar bins at Michaels.  They say that they are for ages 8+, but my 4 and 2 year old had a lot of fun making them.  Sidney (my 2 year old) needed some help, but she really enjoyed playing with the plastic beads.

Sidney had just woken up from her nap and insisted on crafting in her monkey jams, bedhead and all!

Here is Sidney's work in progress.  The instructions say to "finish applying the plastic pieces using tweezers".  Sidney used her own technique!

Ava was very focused, as she usually is during art projects.  When she finished her butterfly, she helped Sidney with her flower too.

Ava suggested that we share the plastic pieces so that the sun catchers were more colorful, which was a good idea.

Despite my dirty windows, I think the sun catchers look great!

A few things to note for next time...
1.  Use more plastic pieces.  The instructions warn that they will shrink down in the heating process and they certainly do.  I had to add some extra pieces and leave the sun catchers in the oven for longer to fill in the gaps.  I didn't hurt anything, just took longer than expected in the oven.
2.  I have been warning the girls that if they drop the sun catchers, they could break.  They have done a great job not dropping their sun catchers, while I, on the other hand, have dropped them several times.  And they didn't break!  So I guess they're more durable than I expected, but I'd still be careful.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer Fun

I have had no time to blog lately, but for good reasons.  We've been so busy doing fun summer activities that we haven't had time for many projects.  

Here's a recap:

Lots of swimming.  Our goal this summer is to get Ava and Sidney comfortable in the water.  We just finished our last swim lesson this past Saturday.

We took the girls to their first Cardinal's game!  Go Cards!

We celebrated the 4th of July at Innsbrook.  It was a HOT weekend so we got to spend a lot of time in lake.  
Sidney preferred to hang out on the boat and be Papa's First Mate.
The Innsbrook fireworks are the best.  You really can't beat watching fireworks over a lake on your boat.

After much protesting about her hair (brushing it, drying it, putting it in a pony), we decided just to cut Ava's hair cut.  It wasn't too drastic but it's much more manageable now.
Ava was super excited about her new "rainbow flower barrette" and glitter hearts.

The Lantern Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden is incredible.
Tim, Ava and Sidney watching the Porcelain Dragon.
The Porcelain Dragons are made entirely of tens of thousands of Chinese porcelain cooking utensils!
This Sail Boat is made from plastic water bottles!
The Jiang Tai Gong Fishing set was one of our favorites!
Ava got to make a wish and hang her gold coin on the Wishing Tree.  She wished for a bunny rabbit!
We all took a stab at throwing pennies in the Wishing Well.  Sidney hit "Love" on her own with no help - on her THIRD throw - amazing!  Ava hit "Health" on her own.  Tim and I finally connected with a gold plate after throwing nearly a dollar in the Wishing Well.

The girls and I have been going to the Missouri History Museum whenever we can for their free Story time and Arts & Crafts.  It is so much fun and the art projects are so cute.

Our little garden is doing amazing!  
We have more tomatoes and basil than we know what to do with!  Tim is going to make my  favorite soup - Gazpacho Cordobes - using all garden tomatoes for the first time.  He has been making it for me every week using store-bought veggies so it will be interesting to see how it turns out with our garden tomatoes.  If you like cold tomato soup, you have to try out this recipe.  It's a lot of work (for Tim) but it does not disappoint!

Next week is another busy week, but not for good reasons.  Lots of doctors appointments :(  Hopefully we can squeeze some fun in too!

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