LENTILS AND CHEESE BAKE

 

Makes 6-8 servings

 

1 3/4 cups lentils, sorted and rinsed

2 cups water

2 cups diced canned tomatoes

2 large carrots, thinly sliced

½ cup celery, thinly sliced

1 large onion, chopped

1 green or red pepper, cored and chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 whole bay leaves

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

¼ teaspoon sage, thyme

3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

 

To prepare oven and baking dish:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

To assemble:

Combine all ingredients except shredded cheese and parsley in the baking dish.

To bake:

Cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes.

Bake uncovered 40 minutes or until lentils and vegetables are tender.

Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top. Bake 5 minutes or until cheese melts.

Remove and let stand a few minutes. Sprinkle parsley on top.

To serve:

Serve freely out of baking dish or cut into portions.

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donna@donnaerickson.com

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SPROUT SEEDS IN EGGSHELLS

 

                                 

 

Kids and dirt seem to have a natural attraction for one another.  Why not promote a love for a favorite activity this season by giving children a chance for some responsibility and fun by messing with dirt, sprouting seeds and tending their own little plants indoors?   They’ll give your family vegetable garden a head start and learn the earliest beginnings of the food they’ll enjoy this summer. Instead of buying small flowerpots, use eggshell halves for planters.  When it’s time to transplant the young plants outdoors, place them in the soil eggshell and all.  Crush the eggshells a bit and they will provide nourishment to the soil and your growing plants.

Here’s what you’ll need:

-12 empty eggshell halves from large eggs

-Potting soil

-Easy to grow flower, vegetable, and herb seeds

– Egg carton

-Clear plastic bag larger than an egg carton

-Water spritzer or plastic squeeze bottle such as a honey bear bottle for watering

-Felt tip marker

Here’s the fun:

While preparing a weekend breakfast of omelets or scrambled eggs, save the shell halves for the project.  If I’m cracking a medium size egg, I tap the top 1/3 with a knife and discard the smaller top portion.  Pour the raw eggs one by one into your mixing bowl for your meal.

Rinse out the eggshells well in hot water.  Using a darning needle, poke a couple of holes in the bottom of the shells to allow for some drainage.  Place washed eggshell halves upright in the egg carton to dry.

Fill each shell at least 2/3 full with potting soil and plant seeds according to the directions on the package.  Label the shells with felt-tip markers if you wish.  Or, if you have a row of the same type of seed, make your own style marker with craft supplies and tape it to the carton at the end of the row.

Gently water each planted shell, then place the egg carton covered in a dark place. Check the carton daily making sure the soil remains moist until the seeds have sprouted.

Once the seeds sprout, set the carton in a sunny window uncovered.  Continue to water the seedlings.  When danger of frost is over, transplant them into your garden, shells and all.

 

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MAKE BASIC CHEESE OMELETS WITH KIDS

 

Summertime is the perfect time to teach school-age kids new cooking skills. Their schedules are relaxed, they’re eager to learn something new and, yes, they’re always hungry. So, why not enjoy a change of pace from the ordinary, and stir up something delicious together?

I can say this with a smile, because when I engaged my 9-year-old friend Josh in omelet-making, he could hardly wait to get cracking when he came into my cabin kitchen.

We washed hands, and then, “One, two three, four,” he counted, as he cracked the fresh eggs collected from a neighbor’s chicken coop and whisked them with milk and seasonings. Meanwhile, his younger “sous chef” sister grated cheese, and put chopped sweet peppers in bowls for optional omelet fillings.

Butter sizzled in a small skillet while Josh poured in half of the egg mixture, swirled it around, then waited until puffy bubbles appeared. He sprinkled lots of cheese on top, checked the edges as they browned, then carefully folded the omelet in half with the spatula to make a crescent shape. He let it cook a bit more on low heat, then slid the perfect omelet onto a plate.

Beaming at his culinary creation, he confidently exclaimed, “I’m going to make omelets for my cousins in Oregon when I go on vacation tomorrow!”

Once your kids get into omelet-making with your guidance and supervision, they will take pride in their specialty. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, an omelet is healthy, tasty and easy to make.

BASIC TWO-EGG CHEESE OMELET

Serves one.

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

dash of pepper

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons grated cheese such as cheddar

Whisk the eggs and milk together lightly in a mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper.

An adult should heat an 8-inch nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add butter and swirl it around until it melts and coats the bottom. Reduce heat to medium and pour in the egg mixture. Shake the pan gently a time or two so that eggs cook evenly.

When bubbles begin to rise to the top, sprinkle cheese on top. When eggs have set, use a spatula to gently fold one side of the omelet over the other side. Cook until lightly brown and then slide omelet onto a plate. Serve immediately.

Cook’s tip: In addition to cheese, use your imagination to create other fillings for your omelets such as spinach, ham and sauteed vegetables.

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FRESH RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE

Skipping through winding trails, spotting leaping frogs along creek beds and counting deer as they pass by the front porch are a few of the adventures in store for young Georgia and her older sister, Eliza, when they visit their grandparents’ home nestled deep in the Wisconsin woods. What a delight for city kids. Like a page out of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic, “Little House in the Big Woods” (set in Wisconsin), many of the girls’ experiences mirror the lifestyle and pioneer spirit of the late 1800s.

For Georgia, walking on a dead-end road to the rhubarb patch in May to harvest giant leafy stalks and, together with grandmother Nancy, prepare rhubarb sauce to ladle over breakfast pancakes, and bake rhubarb custard pie for evening dessert is a delight.

“Georgia is the baker and loves to cook,” says Nancy, a retired school administrator. “She washes and dices the stalks, cracks eggs and measures carefully. It’s fun!” she adds. “Cooking together is a way to share a common interest.”

Like the first robin, the greening grass and the budding trees, add “first rhubarb pie” to your family’s “signs of spring” list.

Whether you harvest rhubarb from your garden, or find stalks in your grocery produce section, give Nancy’s winning rhubarb custard pie recipe a try with your kids while rhubarb is fresh and in season.

FRESH RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE

Makes one 9-inch single-crust pie
Pastry for 9-inch single-crust pie
1 1/3 cups sugar (add more according to taste)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
3 eggs
4 cups fresh rhubarb, diced
2 tablespoons firm butter

Preheat oven to 400 F.

  1. Fit pastry into a 9-inch pie plate. Set aside.
  2. Let your child measure and stir together sugar, flour, nutmeg and dash of salt in a mixing bowl.
  3. Beat eggs until smooth.
  4. Stir dry mixture into beaten eggs. Add diced rhubarb. Stir.
  5. Fill the crust evenly with the rhubarb mixture. Dot with firm butter. (Cover edge with 2-to-3-inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning, if you wish. Remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.)

Bake for 50 minutes.

Cool, and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Note: If you are new to fresh rhubarb, be aware that the large leaves are poisonous.

TULIP ART–FROM EGG CARTONS

                  
 
Stop. Don’t toss those cardboard egg cartons away after dying dozens of Easter eggs. Save them up, and on a rainy afternoon when you’re wondering what to do indoors, create a blooming bouquet of tulips to celebrate spring. In fact, these colorful flowers can be enjoyed in a bouquet just about anytime and anywhere! Mine is arranged in a shiny, empty soup can to brighten my office year-round.
  All you need for a bouquet of a dozen blooms are the following items:
  1 empty cardboard egg carton
  Poster or acrylic paints
  Paintbrush or sponge brush
  12 long, thick pipe cleaners
  Small buttons or beads that can be threaded on the pipe cleaner
  Shiny recycled, clean tin can for a “vase”
  First, remove the lid of the egg carton. Paint the base. For a multicolored bouquet, paint the individual cups different colors. Let dry.
  Cut out each cup to create a tulip bloom, rounding off the edges. Cut zig-zag edges to resemble flower petals. Touch up each bloom with more paint.
  Poke a hole in the center of each egg-cup flower. For a stem, insert a pipe cleaner through the hole. Thread a few beads or buttons onto the end of the pipe cleaner that is inside the flower. Twist or bend the end of the pipe cleaner to hold these objects in place.
  Makes 12.
Remove the label from a tall tin can. Smooth off any rough edges around the rim. Paint the outside of the can with a few dots, squiggles or designs, if you wish, or simply leave it plain and shiny.
  Arrange the colorful tulips in the can for a spring centerpiece the whole family will enjoy. Let them flop in all directions, just like fresh tulips.
Extra tip: Make an extra colorful bouquet in a tin can, attach a card with a greeting and deliver it to someone at a nursing home or hospital. It’s easy to transport, and it shows you care.
  Note: Small beads may not be appropriate for children 3 and under. 

REPURPOSE ITEMS INTO A STUNNING PAPER FLOWER BOUQUET

    

 

You and your kids will be inspired to create a blooming bouquet of colorful paper flowers to celebrate the arrival of spring. In fact, these flowers can be enjoyed just about anytime and anywhere.

  You’ll only need basic stuff, such as an empty cardboard egg carton left over from your Easter egg decorating projects, tissue paper from gift bags, some long, thick pipe cleaners, paint, a dab of glue and a shiny tin can or pretty vase for arranging and displaying the whimsical blooms.

  First, repurpose the bottom of a cardboard egg carton. With the lid removed, paint the outside of the base of the carton. For a multicolored bouquet, paint the individual cups different colors. After one coat, I let mine dry, and then I dipped a toothpick in a contrasting color and made tiny polka dots all around. For sunflowers, paint the cups brown or black. Let dry.

  Cut out each cup and round off pointed edges. Grab the pipe cleaners, and one by one, glue an end of each one to the center of a cup for the stems. Let dry. 

  Next, repurpose tissue paper from gift bags. Use a round bowl or saucer 6-inches in diameter for a pattern. For each flower, set the pattern on top of six layers of tissue paper and draw a circle with a pencil. Cut the layers out in the circle shape, staple the stack of six together at the center point, and then punch a hole near the staple. Make 12 1-1/2-inch slits around the circle to create “petals.”

  Drizzle glue around the outside rim of one of the pipe cleaner egg cups. Immediately slide a packet of six tissue circles up a pipe cleaner stem and press onto the glue. Let dry. Scrunch the tissue around the clipped petals. Make several and arrange the flowers in a vase, pitcher or shiny tall tin can. It will be a spring centerpiece the whole family will enjoy. 

  TIP: Donna is on Facebook: Become a fan on the new Donna’s Day Fan Page today. Find Donna’s fresh and thrifty ideas for celebrating food and fun throughout the year. Join the conversation now at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Donnas-Day/10150143749885235?ref=ts

SET EVERYTHING EASTER AT SUNDAY’S TABLE

 
Woven straw baskets, chicks and pastel candies set the scene for a springy Easter Sunday table. Here are a few last-minute creative twists and flourishes your kids can do to add even more spark to the celebration. Hop to it!
ADORABLE BUNNY NAPKINS
  Follow these folding directions carefully, and you’ll have bunnies multiplying in minutes. Make one for each place setting, or let them hippity hop around the table.
1. Open a large, square cloth napkin or a piece of sturdy soft fabric (approximately 19 inches by 19 inches). Lay it out in front of you wrong side up. Make a 3-inch triangular fold on each of two opposite corners.
2. Continue folding evenly on each side three to four times toward the middle of the cloth. Finally, fold one side over the other.
  3.Lift it up and make a loose knot about one third down the length of the narrow folded cloth. The first long “ear” of the bunny will poke out when the knot is in place.
4. Bring the bottom of the length up toward you, and tuck in and through the knot to reveal a second ear. Adjust the ears and tighten the knot to form the bunny’s head. Loosen the lower portion a bit for the body. Set your bunny at the Easter table and add a place card.
                                  
EASTER EGG PLACE MATS
Paint oval-shaped vinyl place mats to resemble decorated Easter eggs. Use permanent nontoxic paint pens in spring colors. If place mats aren’t available, find an oval-shaped roaster-pan lid for a perfect pattern for drawing oval shapes on large sheets of poster board or art paper. Cut out enough for all the place settings at the table. Decorate with Easter-themed stickers or glue on rickrack, ribbons and other odds and ends.
EASTER EGG PLACE CARDS
  For a place-card pattern, squeeze the rim of an empty tin soup can (with no sharp edges) into an oval shape. Place it rim side down on cardstock or construction paper, trace around it, and cut out the shape. Make one for each person at the table and write a name on each. Decorate with markers or watercolors and set at each place.

MAKE DELICIOUS CREPES FOR MEALS AND SNACKTIME

 

A quick trip to the grocery store has taken on new meaning these days. You never know what will be in stock. Hopefully you can get the basics of milk, flour, eggs and butter for this recipe, so you and your kids can enjoy cooking up this easy, fancy-looking recipe of French crepes.

Crepes are so versatile — they are tasty and nutritious for breakfast or a snack, or roll them up and heat briefly with leftovers or other items in your refrigerator and pantry such as goat cheese and honey, or salsa and grated Cheddar cheese.

You might want to double the batch of 12 crepes and refrigerate or freeze with wax paper between them for additional snacking and meals. Or, think dessert, and coax a tantalizing stack into a divine “crepe cake” to brighten spirits. Stack a dozen or more with whipped cream and sliced strawberries in between the layers. Top with candles and sing if there is a birthday in the house.

 

FRENCH CREPES

Makes 12 eight-inch crepes.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups milk

3 eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted plus more for cookin

1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

To make batter: In medium bowl, combine flour, salt, milk, eggs and melted butter. Add vanilla, if using. Whisk until smooth. Or, place in a blender and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To cook crepes: Remove batter from refrigerator. Stir. Lightly butter flat large skillet or crepe pan. Heat over medium-high heat. Pour a scant 1/4 cup batter in center of skillet and swirl batter around to form an 8-inch round crepe. Cook until underside is golden brown. (Note: Lift up corner to check color.) Using a narrow spatula, flip crepe. Cook until other side is lightly brown, about 30 seconds.

To serve: Set on a plate. Roll up with fruit or applesauce inside. Or, fold in half or quarters. Add favorite toppings or simply squeeze some fresh lemon juice and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

MAKE A BEDTIME NIGHTLIGHT

 

Just when it seems your young child has drifted off to sleep for the night, a plaintive voice echoes through the hallway. “Mom! I can’t sleep. I think there’s a monster in my closet!” So you check the closet carefully.“Nope, honey. No monsters.” But it doesn’t help much. More drama kicks in.“I want a glass of water … I can’t find my teddy bear … Will you leave the light on, Mom, pleeeze?”

Whether it’s anxiety about school, monsters in the closet or navigating the change to daylight saving time, sometimes children need extra comfort to put closure on the day. Well, here’s instructions for a very special nightlight that your child can make and use. He can even switch it on and off without leaving his bed.

Before your child begins making the bedtime friend, have him think about what he wants it to be. An angel? Ladybug? Goofy alien? Leprechaun? Or, maybe a puppy or bunny with felt ears that stick out in funny angles.

Here’s what you’ll need:
— Standard-size brown or plain colored lunch bag

— Craft supplies to create your character’s face, such as construction or tissue paper, yarn, pipe cleaners, charms, ribbon, glitter,beads, etc.
— Scissors

— Household glue
— Hole punch (optional)
— An inexpensive standard-size, plastic, lightweight flashlight with batteries — Rubber band

First, cut out craft foam sheets or poster board in eye, nose and mouth shapes. Cut holes in the middle of the eyes and mouth pieces to eventually allow light to shine through. Glue the features to the front of the bag. When dry, an adult may use small, sharp scissors to cut out the center of the eyes and mouth on the bag.

Then add details for personality. Glue on rickrack eyebrows, attach lightweight junk jewelry earrings or pipe-cleaner antennae, depending on what you are creating. Outline lips with shiny beads or glitter. And don’t forget the hair — add braided yarn and fashion a style. It’s also fun to use a hole punch to make additional features or patterns on the bag that will be revealed when the flashlight is turned on.

When complete, carefully slip it over the top of the flashlight and secure with a rubber band, just above the switch. The nightlight will be on and off bedtime duty when you say so!

For older kids, it can be a simple whimsical glow to have on their bedstand in the evening. Or how about using it to light up a tent when camping this summer?

POPOVERS MAKE SPRING MEALS SPECIAL

  

 

  The first signs of spring include yard and garage sales sprouting up in our communities. Maybe you and your kids are tempted, like me, to scout these out for our neighbors’ castoffs and enticing bargains. 

  I’m not advocating for accumulating more stuff to add to already full cupboards and storage closets, but I’m aware that the decluttering craze has opened up opportunities for bargain shoppers like me. I’m always on the hunt for an unexpected surprise. 

  This season is a good time to snag a buy on a gently used product you can enjoy together with your kids and grandkids. Be on the lookout for an item you might not purchase in a store, like an electric Panini pan for yummy lunch-making this summer, a waffle iron for extended Saturday morning breakfasts, or my latest find, a never-been-used nonstick popover pan. 

  Popovers are easy to prepare, and they’ll make any springtime brunch or supper extra special. When it’s time for popovers at our house, my granddaughter helps me push the button on the blender, and then I “pop” the batter filled cups in the oven. When baking (no peeking), they puff up so high that when they are done there is always a collective “wow” or “whoa” when we open the oven door and see the spectacle. 

  POPOVERS

  Makes 6.

  Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

  1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted, plus softened butter for greasing the popover or muffin pan

  3 eggs at room temperature

  1 cup milk at room temperature

  1 cup all-purpose flour

  1/2 teaspoon salt

  Grease aluminum popover pan (or 6 compartments of a muffin pan) with butter. Place the pan in the preheated oven while you prepare the batter. 

  Whisk or whirl butter, eggs, milk, flour and salt in a blender for a minute on medium speed until smooth. 

  An adult should fill the hot popover cups with batter until half full. If using a muffin pan, fill cups 2/3 full. 

  Place in oven for 20 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees and bake 20 minutes longer (no peeking while they bake).

  Remove from oven and immediately poke the side of each popover with the tip of a knife or wooden skewer to release steam trapped inside. This keeps them from collapsing. Remove from pan and arrange in a serving basket. Serve hot. 

  Extra tasty ideas:

  — Add 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest to the batter to add a refreshing spring taste. 

  — Popovers make tasty edible containers for crab, shrimp or tuna salad for a main course. Cut the top 1/3 off of the popover. Scoop out a space in lower portion. Fill with salad and top with popover piece. Serve.