What’s your favorite way to kick off a new study?
Despite our lack of woks, everything came out well. Most of the Mongolian Beef was devoured.
Lasagna isn’t something I make often, simply because my family just isn’t that fond of noodles. I love it, though, so when we began our study of Italy, I knew it had to be on the menu.
After collecting all of the ingredients, I started planning out our day and realized something: this was a meal that my children could make almost entirely by themselves. They both love to help in the kitchen, but they are both at that stage where they are really proud to be able to tell Daddy that they made a dish entirely on their own. I determined that this meal would be theirs.
To prep it, I browned the meat for the lasagna and allowed it to cool a bit. I set out all of the ingredients for the pasta dish and then called my Big Helper. She put up her hair, tied on an apron, and set to work.
First, we mixed one egg with a 15 ounce carton of ricotta cheese. We opened a jar of tomato sauce and added a oregano, basil, and garlic, crushing the first two between our fingers in order to release the flavors. She added a teaspoon of sugar to cut the acid, then stirred it up and pronounced it ready.
After spreading the bottom of the baking dish with a bit of sauce, she grabbed a lasagna noodle and used a child’s table knife to spread it with the ricotta mixture. I measured and cut several noodles and then let her have at it. When she had a layer ready, she laid them in the pan and topped them with more sauce. Then she added some of the browned meat (we used sausage, but ground beef works just as well), a sprinkling of mozzarella, and then began again with the noodles. Repeat four or five times.
After topping the whole dish with another layer of cheese to top it off, we covered it with foil and put it in the oven at 350 for about an hour. At that point we removed the foil and gave it a few more minutes to brown the top.
I had fully prepared myself to be cleaning sauce off the ceiling by the time she was done, but not so. Aside from a bit of ricotta that had dripped from the noodles, the counter was in very good shape. Impressive!
When the lasagna was nearly finished baking, I called my Little Man to come make the salads. He pulled a chair to the other side of the counter, and as I chopped the veggies, he arranged everything on each person’s plate. (I think he ate as much as he distributed, but still.) He was quite proud of his efforts, and we all got our salads made to order that night.
Having stuck the makings of Italian herb bread in the bread machine that morning, we were soon ready to eat.
My Big Helper’s lasagna was excellent, and she was so excited that she passed up her usual sandwich the next day at lunchtime in order to have leftovers.
This meal was perfect for her to prepare because everything (barring the meat) was assembled cold – and with a bit of prep beforehand, that could be, too. I definitely need to get more meal plans ready that they can do – they were so excited to help,and they’re learning valuable kitchen skills at the same time!
What do your children help you with in the kitchen?
Each week I try to have at least one nice dinner where we can all eat together and not be in a rush. We generally are all home and eat at the same time, but often someone’s hurrying off somewhere or bathtime is approaching.
I decided this week to make our French dinner our fancy one, and we served chicken cordon bleu.
This isn’t difficult, and it tastes great – but it calls for ingredients we don’t always keep on hand, and it makes a mess getting it ready for the oven – but after that, it’s easy as pie. Well, easier, maybe.
Here’s my easier American version:
– Slice open boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
– Lay a thin slice of ham inside and top that with a slice of Swiss cheese. Fold the chicken closed and secure it with toothpicks.
– Give the chicken a bath in melted butter and then dredge it in seasoned bread crumbs.
– Lay on a greased baking sheet (I lined mine with foil for easier clean-up) and bake at 350F for about an hour.
Next, we made a simple bechamel sauce to go with it.
– Melt two tablespoons of butter. Stir in two tablespoons of flour.
– Slowly pour in milk – maybe a cup? – and stir slowly over medium-low heat until sauce is thickened.
– Add shredded cheese of your choice to taste. Swiss would be yummy! but we were out, so we used cheddar.
– Pour over your cooked chicken.
Our finished plates looked like this:
Voila! Chicken cordon bleu!
We all liked this dish. I used to stuff chicken with cheese and broccoli often but quit doing that when the kids came along since it’s a bit more labor intensive. This was so popular, though, that I may have to start doing it again!
Do you stuff your chicken? With what??
- The Knight at Dawn by Mary Pope Osborne
- The Best Book of Knights and Castles by Deborah Jane Murrell
- Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Medieval Castle by Joanna Cole
Who can study the UK without studying tea? We read about tea traditions online, and then we chose a date and time for our tea party.
My Big Helper created an invitation for her friend, and we delivered it to her mailbox that night.
We chose to have our tea party on an early release day from school – so the Big Helper and her friend were finished at noon. My Little Man and I picked them both up, and then they played while I added the finishing touches to our table.
I covered the table with a simple tablecloth and used a cake plate to arrange our treats. We planned our menu after studying the recipes on this site. We learned that it is standard to have a few sandwiches (usually with a cream cheese base), to have a few sweets, and to have something fruity.
We made our menu be a kid-friendly version of this. We served cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with the crusts cut off and in different shapes for easy identification. We also made simple cream puffs, brownies, blueberry muffins, and crumpets. We served everything with strawberry jelly and honey. Instead of tea (to avoid the caffeine and sugar), My Little Man chose to have sugar-free strawberry juice.
When the time arrived, our trio decided to “dress” for tea. I”m not quite sure how they think the Brits appear for tea, but they were having too much fun for me to rain on their parade.
My Big Helper took her role as hostess very seriously, and she practiced pouring for days leading up to the party with a miniature tea set.
All three children found this small set difficult to use, but they got a kick out of using it – and they loved holding onto the lid to keep it from flying off!
Tea didn’t last long – the kids were too hungry and too excited to try everything to linger. They inhaled several pots of ‘tea’ and sampled everything on the platter – which I refilled several times. We decided that English crumpets are not quite for us, and they weren’t fond of cream puffs, either, but they loved the idea of different sandwiches in shapes according to a certain identification ‘code.’
While I thought they might have eaten enough to warrant a very small supper, they were true to the tea party spirit and were ready for another meal just a bit later.
I’m definitely seeing more tea parties in our future – and we’ll be checking out the UK section of Epcot to see what tasty treats they might feature!
Do your kids have tea parties? How do their parties work?
This door was the door of a tomb. It is made out of stone. The Egyptians believed that the spirits would come out of it.
These are gifts because the Egyptians believed that in the Afterlife they would need their things.
Our tour guide was wonderful about explaining things in terms that everyone could understand. We had a great time on our tour, and seeing real Egyptian artifacts was pretty cool, too!
What interesting things have you found in an art museum?
First, though, we had to get some energy out and work up a good sweat. Who can eat ice cream when they’re as cool as a cucumber?
Next, we had to hike over to the new dock and throw a few rocks and pine cones in the lake. Really, who could possibly concentrate on cooking when all that cool water is beckoning?
Finally, we were ready to make ice cream. This recipe is super simple and can be prepared in about 20 minutes. You can make it one of two ways: in nested freezer bags, or in nested coffee cans. The cans are my favorite because you can then roll the cans back and forth and make the work into a game – but the bags work just as well.
First, in either your small can or one quart freezer bag, pour 1 cup of whipping cream (or any non-homogenized cream), 1/2 cup of sugar, and a splash of vanilla. Seal it tightly and put it into the larger container – either the larger coffee can or a 1 gallon freezer bag.
Layer ice and rock salt in the outer bag or can and then seal that. If you are using the cans, start rolling them back and forth. If you’re using the bags, turn on some music and have a dance party! The idea is to keep that cream moving, moving, moving, until it thickens up into ice cream. Don’t let the cream stop moving!
This guy turned his bag over and over and over and … well, you get the idea.
When it has reached the consistency you like, open the bags very carefully – you don’t want to get the salty water from the outer container in the ice cream! – and scoop out your ice cream. Add any toppings you like – but it’s really great plain, too (and I don’t even like vanilla ice cream!).
I meant to take a picture of the finished product … but we were too busy eating it. I forgot. It was really yummy.
Next time your kids are hot and a bit bored, get out some bags, crank up the music, and make some ice cream!
They appreciated the finished product, though, and enjoyed squeezing out the buttermilk like Betsy did, although they didn’t like the taste of the buttermilk!
Since we weren’t sugaring, and it wasn’t snowing, there wasn’t an easy way to recreate Betsy’s waxing of the maple syrup in the snow. I did learn a few things about New England and maple syrup from visiting my grandmother as a kid, though, and so we churned our own vanilla ice cream. While the churn was going, we did a blind taste test of real maple syrup and a fast food restaurant’s syrup. (The real stuff was identified by nearly every child by appearance alone, and every single one choose it in the taste test.) After our ice cream was ready, we topped it with maple syrup, New England-style, and headed back to the fire for our snack.
In the book, Betsy and her friends make a new outfit for a little boy in the hopes of helping him get adopted. While we’ve taking on several simple sewing projects, I opted not to try to make pants. Instead, we knotted scarves for a scarf mission in Scituate, Massachusetts.
When each girl finished making her scarf, she decorated a simple card to go with it. They were really creative with these!
We had a great time celebrating Understood Betsy style, and we really packed a lot into the few hours that we had. This is the perfect winter book – and since it takes place about a hundred years ago, there are many skills to practice throughout the reading.
Have you read Understood Betsy?
It’s book club time again! We ate well this month after reading The Smuggler’s Treasure, an American Girl History Mystery set in New Orleans during the War of 1812.
Then we moved them to a tray so we could roll and slice the second batch …
and while all of the dough was rising, we headed off to talk future careers. The main characters of our story were torn – one wanted to run the bakery someday, while the other wanted a different life. After the girls each shared their dreams for their own future, they thought about how they would market their bakery – if they had one. Each girl came up with a name and logo for her bakery – except for these three. They decided to work together and did the project jointly.
Next it was time to fry the beignets. The girls watched from a safe distance, and then after they drained, we dropped three into their bags on top of a small pile of powdered sugar, just as they’re served in Cafe du Monde now.
The girls polished off these beignets and some wanted more, so we tried them in the more traditional Amish style, dusted with regular sugar: