Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Culinary creations: Concocted by me, inspired by others #cook #review

Disclosure: “Great Homemade Soups” was provided to me for the purpose of review. Any opinions expressed are my own. This post contains an affiliate link and clicking on it will take you to an Amazon page to read more about or purchase the book. I receive a small commission for any sales. Please read my complete disclosure policy.

I am not a fan of cooking. There, I said it. It was hard to say because I seem to be surrounded by other blogging moms who come up with fabulous kitchen concoctions and actually enjoy doing it. That makes me feel like somewhat of an anomaly. Ever had that feeling?

Saying I dislike preparing dinners – or any other meal – would be fairly accurate as I find it burdensome and to plan and prepare scheduled meals. I mean, why do children have to eat anyway? I know you’re laughing, nodding your understanding or, the worse, shaking your head in absolute horror. It’s okay, I can take it.

Weirdly enough though, when I see magazine articles or cookbooks with foods I like or I think the children would like I get excited. I even tear out some of the recipes to try and flip cookbooks with good intentions. That is why when I was contacted to take a gander at the book “Great Homemade Soups: A Cook's Collection” by best-selling chef Paul Gayler, I excitedly responded with my interest and a commitment to try and review.

What was I thinking? It takes me eons to get around to trying recipes. It’ll take me another eon to try one from Chef Gayler’s book, but that is unacceptable for the purpose of a true tested or read product. I did read some of the recipes and drool over the pictures to share a little bit of that here along with some of my own concoctions.

Chef Paul Gayler has put together more than 100 soup recipes from other world-class chefs and features everything from classic soups to the unusual, exotic and what he calls “soon-to-be classics.” Right now on my “to-try” list are the Carrot, Tortilla and Smoked Chilli Soup, Jamaican Pepper Pot Soup as well as Chris and Jeff Galvin’s soupe a l’oignon gratinée, among others. (Lucky for me, my children have very diverse and mature palates.) Since I am so often under the weather as of late I turn to easy-to-prepare choices and easy-to-follow recipes.

The recipes in “Great Homemade Soups” are just that. Unfortunately, I seldom have the ingredients needed for these mouth-watering creations or the energy to pick them up (hence the delay in reviewing the cookbook), but there is one thing it has done for me: Given me inspiration, which is what I take away from a lot of the recipes I read.

My recent, Gayler-inspired concoctions

Chicken and rice soup

I took pictures of the beginning, almost done and after we ate some… It was good… but forgot to take a bowled pic because it took longer than I thought to prepare. I used whole grain dry rice instead of boil-in bag or box. That, in and of itself, is not the problem; the problem was me forgetting how long the rice would takes to cook.

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This is a simple soup because I use whatever I have available. Of course, chicken breast and rice must be on hand. If you’re going to prepare this you can use whatever chicken you’d like. I prefer the breast because it’s easiest. I added cut carrots (had frozen available), chopped celery and garlic, and there may be some finally chopped red onions in there. (My children think they don’t like onions.) I also added cream of something soup (it was either chicken or celery) and seasoned to taste (my preferences are Old Bay, black pepper and sea salt. I’ll also use garlic and onion powder if I don’t have any fresh.

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Ideally, the chicken would have already been prepared in advance and left over from another dish. If not, cook ‘til just done in the oven or skillet. Add everything to your slow cooker and set to low if it’s the start of the day. Set on high at mid to late afternoon; any later and 10-minute or prepared rice are best.

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Pictured to the left is a Chicken and Bean Stew I made on a whim. I added all ingredients into my Crock-Pot the same as above. And I ended up having the same problem with this as I did with the soup. I used frozen beans, but didn’t realize they weren’t pre-cooked so our initial servings were sans beans. Both ways were really yummy. 2013-12-30 18.52.45

On the right is a chicken and rice stew (Can you tell what ingredients I normally have on hand?) with baked sweet potato that I scooped outta the skin then mixed in cinnamon and Turbinado. My brain will not allow me to tell you how I made it ‘cause it doesn’t remember


My non-slow cooker dishes

Another one-dish favorite is Cheeseburger Pie, which I make two ways. The first way is with Bisquick or a homemade, thin bread-like dough. It’s easy to make: sauté your ground meat (I use turkey, but chicken is good as well), onions and garlic.* Put mixture into a pie dish, fold in shredded cheese and pour the “dough” over the mixture until just covered. Bake for about 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

*Can use any preferred chopped ingredients. Tomatoes, mushrooms, green beans and peas are also good.

The second way, pictured below, is done with a rolled crust (I use Pillsbury or Kroger brands). Prepare the filling like before, roll out one crust into the bottom of the dish, spoon in filling and add the top crust.

A note about cheese: I’ve founded that finely shredded cheese almost disappears and there’s very little cheese taste. With standard shredded you won’t have to double or triple the amount to get the look and taste. Also, I add more cheese on top of the bottom crust and on top of the filling after it’s in the pie pan and before the top crust.

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There ya have it; my most recent (over the past six months or so), inspired concoctions in lieu of purchasing ingredients, following a recipe and taking the time to test something new. However, I have drooled over the pictures in the “Great Homemade Soups: A Cook’s Collection” so much that I’ve added the ingredients for Susan Spicer’s Roast Duck, Andouille and Greens Gumbo to my shopping list.



Final say about Chef Paul Gayler’s newest cookbook

You’ll definitely be pleased if you purchase a copy of “Great Homemade Soups.” The pictures are large and vibrant, the ingredients list and instructions easy to follow. In general, it’s a great read for a cookbook and it’s one you may want to leave on your coffee table or a bookstand in your kitchen. A cookbook that’s a work of art and a pleasure to use. Can’t beat it.

Have you seen or purchased a copy of “Great Homemade Soups: A Cook’s Collection?” Take a moment to leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Traveling with toddlers: A mom's survival guide

More than 20 years ago when my oldest daughter was a toddler I, thankfully, didn’t have most of the traveling troubles parents have with toddlers. Amber was a quiet girl who didn’t like being reprimanded. As long as she had something to keep her occupied we both were content. However, I know for a lot of parenting traveling with toddlers is like ice dancing while a monkey throws bananas at you. It's survival of the fittest and your little one is conditioned to win. Glares from fellow passengers along with the fits and tantrums of your child will have you doubting your sanity. Unlike childless vacation-goers, your trip requires careful preparation and endurance. Relax and realize things may not go as planned. For moments you can control, let these helpful gadgets give you a dose of toddler-travel relief.

Carry On

c804f201-8c5c-4ddf-861a-dc356c09bc65Transporting your child around the airport is an adventure. Strollers are bulky and useless once your toddler kicks into spider monkey mode. Carrying your luggage plus a heavy child through security and boarding the plane is precarious. Enter the Ride on Carry On. This innovative product converts your roll-aboard luggage into a kids travel stroller. Snap the safety-tested chair onto your existing rolling luggage and you're off. Added perks include a convertible headrest that turns into a tray for eating during layovers. Once you are ready to board just collapse the seat and stow it away with your carry-on.

Amber will need this for my granddaughter, but when Amber was a tot she thought of it as an exciting adventure. She had her own carryon bag complete with mom-approved  items of her choice. and her kid-sized rolling suitcase. In the beginning, I just carried her when we had to make a mad dash and as she got older we did the “hold my pocket & don’t let go” run. It actually works and often seems fun to them especially if you tell them you’re racing.

Travel Tech

Do yourself a favor and refrain from packing a carry-on full of toys. The airlines are already equipped with interesting toys. Barf bags, plastic cups, straws and the in-flight magazine are far more amusing. Once the allure of paper goods has faded, turn to the hypnotizing power of visual stimulation. A tablet like the Samsung Galaxy Note from T-Mobile can be pre-loaded with entertaining, kid-friendly apps. Bigger than a phone, smaller than a tablet, it's the perfect size to carry for your tot.


The plane ride is only the beginning. Hotels contain dozens of curiosities to poke and prod at. Reduce the perils of new surroundings with the Travel Tot, a childproofing kit to help guard your kid against table corners, electrical outlets and other inevitable hazards. This tool-free and non-destructing component requires only a few minutes for instant damage control.

Convenient idea, huh?  I’ve had quite a bit of luck with my four at them maintaining the boundaries set upon them upon arrival. I didn’t have to be a move things, cover things, etc., kind of parent. Lucky, right?

Sleep Away

When traveling with children, your vacation begins at bedtime. Give your youngster (and yourself) a fighting chance at a proper night's sleep with a cozy bed. No more makeshift cots or sharing beds with your little one. The Shrunks portable bed is proportionately-sized when inflated and its deflated version is easy to pack. For your peace of mind, this portable bed contains BPA-safe and lead-safe materials. Make it feel like home with a soft bed sheet your toddler can snuggle up in. The unique design lets you tuck in any standard-sized crib sheet so it feels like a real bed.

I wish they had those for big kids. Recently, on our first night away I discovered I won’t be sleeping with my 10-year-old daughter ever again. She’s still the child who has her feet and legs all over the place including on my legs. We had two queen-sized beds so I just switched kids the next night.

There ya have it; traveling with toddlers made simple. What are your best traveling with kids tips? Get them ready ‘cause the season to be on the go is here.

Sleeping travelers circa 2006-07

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Good luck getting yours to sleep like this on a plane.