Menu Plan Monday – January 25, 2016

It’s been a  long time since I was excited about menu planning.  I think I was stuck in a rut.  I kept making the same meals over and over again, feeling pressured by time and the crush of other activities, and cooking no longer felt fun.

I’ve been fasting for the past few weeks, though, and after some time with a severely limited menu, I’m excited about all of the flavor options out there.  I’ve been hunting down new, healthy recipes, and I can’t wait to find more.

So here’s what I’m looking forward to making this week:

Cinnamon Almond Granola @ A Nest in the Rocks



What will you be cooking up this week?

For more Menu Plan Mondays, visit OrgJunkie.

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Stealing Magic”

Disclosure Pic

This week the girls took their turn at Stealing Magic, the second book in The Sixty-Eight Rooms series by Marianne Malone.

While the boys read this book last week, the girls took a very different approach to it.

Book Club Girls Edition Stealing Magic

After discussing the story, we moved right into painting.  Jack and Ruthie traveled to Paris in 1837 during one of their visits to the Sixty-Eight Rooms, and so we focused on Parisian culture during this meeting. 

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Stealing Magic" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Each girl brought a canvas to the party.  We covered our kitchen table with a bright purple tablecloth and got to work.  We painted Eiffel Tower backlit with a sunset.  I loved listening to the girls compliment each other’s work throughout this process.  They also all chose to put their own unique spin on it.  Some went for heavy texture while others worked for smooth, realistic colors.  Their paintings turned out great!

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Stealing Magic" @ A Nest in the Rocks

By the time we finished painting, everyone was hungry.  We broke out the crepe supplies and mixed up a batch of Creative Crepes.  Everyone chose to make two, and they all made their own.  These girls have skills – they flipped wonderful, thin, round crepes!

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Stealing Magic" @ A Nest in the Rocks

It’s hard to top strawberries, chocolate, and whipped cream – and so that’s how we topped our crepes.

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Stealing Magic" @ A Nest in the RocksAfterwards, we headed outside since the weather was pretty warm.  I showed the girls how to roll newspaper into short, medium, and long tubes, then asked them to build a kid-sized Eiffel Tower.  Although they rolled lots of tubes, they ran out of time before they were able to finish.  Judging from the huge amount of rolled newspaper still in my house, however, this project was a hit – and My Big Helper continues to plan new structures.

There are many opportunities for learning within the pages of Stealing Magic.    We tapped only one avenue of this – there’s so much more to explore.  Give Stealing Magic a try – it’s definitely worth the read.

What are your kids reading this month?

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Cheesy Pizza Dip

Cheesy Pizza Dip @ A Nest in the Rocks

I love appetizers.  My family teases me about that, because sometimes I’d much rather munch my way through dinner than have a typical meal.  That’s why I love this recipe so much.  You get all the taste of pizza with the fun of an appetizer.  It’s shareable and fun but super tasty, too.

Cheesy Pizza Dip
Serves 4
A cheesy and fun appetizer with your favorite pizza flavors
Write a review
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
402 calories
13 g
102 g
32 g
16 g
17 g
207 g
698 g
4 g
0 g
10 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
Amount Per Serving
Calories 402
Calories from Fat 284
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 32g
Saturated Fat 17g
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 9g
Cholesterol 102mg
Sodium 698mg
Total Carbohydrates 13g
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 4g
Protein 16g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
  1. 8 oz cream cheese
  2. 1 t garlic powder
  3. 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  4. 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  5. 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  6. 1/4 teaspoon basil
  7. 1 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
  8. 1 c. pizza sauce
  9. 1/2 sautéed onion (optional)
  10. 1 c. kale, chopped and sautéed (optional)
  11. 8 pepperoni (optional)
  12. 1/4 c. sliced black olives (optional)
  1. Soften cream cheese.
  2. Mix dried herbs with cream cheese and half of shredded cheese.
  3. Mix in onions, olives, and/or kale.
  4. Spread cheese mixture in bottom of pie plate.
  5. Top cheese mixture with pizza sauce.
  6. Spread remaining shredded cheese on top of sauce.
  7. Top with pepperoni.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until hot and bubbly.
  9. Serve with crackers, bagel chips, or tortilla chips.
A Nest in the Rocks

10 Great Dishes for Kiddie Cooks

Kids in the Kitchen @ A Nest in the Rocks

My kids love to help out in the kitchen.  I started baking with them when they were very small, but it took a long time for me to feel comfortable having them “cook.”  I finally decided that it came down to the skills that they knew and the safety factor of the dish they were attempting. 

Cooking is great for kids for lots of reasons, but for beginner kiddie cooks, these dishes are perfect.  Your kids can make these dishes with only basic instruction, and since everything is cold, they can’t get burned.  If you handle the stove/oven parts, they’ll be able to (nearly) fully prepare a dish.

Here are a few dishes to get your kid started:

  • Lasagna:  This is a PERFECT dish for a young cook. I cook the meat the day before, so it is cold and easily crumbled.  I won’t promise a mess-free kitchen when your child is finished, but you WILL have a tasty dinner and a proud kid.
  • Green Bean Casserole:  Since you basically open cans and stir, this is great for kids.  Be careful of sharp edges on the cans – but other than that, this one is fool-proof.
  • Garlic Bread: If you soften the butter to near-liquid form and sprinkle in some garlic powder, then your child can stir and spread.  If you don’t have a pastry brush, a new, washed paintbrush works great!
  • Salad:  My Little Man loves to assemble our salads – and I do mean  assemble.  While he does use a veggie peeler on the occasional carrot or cuke, for the most part, I chop the veggies and leave them in piles on a big cutting board.  He stands on a chair nearby, and when I’m finished, he then arranges each salad on each person’s plate.  He gets a kick out of ‘making’ such an important part of our meal!
  • Goofy Cake:  This cake is completely scratch made and delicious – and it’s perfect for a young child to help mix up because it contains no eggs!  If your child is tempted by the chocolatey goodness and sticks in a finger, you don’t have to worry about salmonella.  There’s another kiddie plus to this cake, though – the acids and bases react to make a volcano in every cake!  Your kid will love to help you mix this one up.
  • Peanut Butter Apple Nachos:  The most dangerous part of this recipe is slicing the apples.  If you have a combo apple chopper/corer, your child may be able to do this alone.  If not, wash and slice the apples.  Your child can arrange them on a plate and add the toppings.  That’s really the best part, right?
  • Cinnamon Almond Granola:  Most kids love to stir and mix things up.  That’s what makes granola the perfect food for a kid to make.  Granola doesn’t have to be measured precisely, and the more you stir, the better!  This is our favorite kind.
  • Whole Wheat Pinch-Me Cake:  I remember making this with my mom when I was little, and now my kids love to make it, too!  The best part of the dish is pinching the dough off the rest, rolling it into a small ball, and then coating it with cinnamon and sugar.  It feels like the most important job in the world – and if you’ve ever eaten a good Pinch-Me Cake, you’ll know it is.
  • Circus-Inspired Snack Mix:  This recipe is fabulous for toddlers.  Nothing’s dangerous, needs to be cut, or needs to be precisely measured.  Just choose your ingredients, toss them together in a bowl, and pour into containers for snacking.
  • Whole Wheat Pumpkin Snickerdoodles:  Like the Pinch-Me Cake, these cookies need to be rolled into balls and dipped.  The dough does contain egg, so be sure to monitor those little hands.

There you have it.  My top ten Great Dishes for Kiddie Cooks.  What would you add?

Menu Plan Monday – May 4, 2015

Baseball Menu Planning @ A Nest in the Rocks

Baseball season is in full swing, and with several rain-outs already, My Little Man is slated to play three games this week – plus volunteer in the concession stand.  It’s going to be a doozy of a week.  Fortunately for us, his games are late, which makes bedtime crazy but mealtime a bit calmer.  Still, I think a real meal plan is definitely in order. So – here goes!


– Scrambled eggs, bananas

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Baked Oatmeal

Applesauce Muffins


Hamburgers, salad, applesauce

– Grilled ham, Guilty Good Green Beans, brown rice, Whole Wheat Bread in a Bread Machine

– Skillet sausage pasta bake, salad, herbed Italian bread, fruit

– Grilled chicken, cous-cous, salad, loaded roasted cauliflower, applesauce

– Leftovers

– Picnic dinner with friends

– Dinner out for Mother’s Day


What’s on your menu this week?


For more Menu Plan Monday, visit Orgjunkie.



World Tour: Fruit Galette


We really had fun with French foods, but one of our favorites was the galette.  A large free form fruit tart, it was sweet and fun to make.  Because this summer has been so crazy hot, we changed the recipe up a bit to make our own individual galettes instead of one big one – this way we could bake them in the toaster oven instead of turning on the big one.


We began with Emeril’s fruit galette recipe.  After reading it carefully and understanding how it was supposed to work, we pretty much tossed it out the window and made up our own.  First, we prepared our fruit.



We peeled and sliced 4 ripe peaches and added two handfuls of washed blueberries.  So precise, aren’t we?  We added 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, and several dashes of Fruit Fresh.  My Big Helper stirred it up and then we moved on to the crust.



My great-grandmother made fabulous pie crust, so while I’m sure that Emeril’s is good, I see no reason to mess with perfection!  We made a half-batch of Grandma’s crust for this project.  For her crust, mix together 1 1/2 c. flour with 1/2 t. salt. Cut in 1/2 c. shortening and then add 3 tablespoons of water.


Using clean fingers, gently press the water into the mixture.  Form a ball and then divide it loosely in half.  We divided that yet again, and then use one ball for each galette.  This made tarts about the size of a salad plate.




On a well-floured surface, roll out a ball of dough.  Gently transfer it to a foil-lined baking sheet, sprayed or buttered to prevent sticking.  With a slotted spoon, transfer some of the fruit mixture to the center of the dough circle.  Fold up the edges of the dough to contain the fruit, adding more fruit to the center as you fold up the edges.



Repeat until you have made all tarts.  Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until crust just begins to brown at the edges and the fruit is cooked through when poked with a fork.


We meant to take a picture to show you the finished project.  We wanted to take a picture of the finished galette … but we were too busy eating them.  My Big Helper and I loved these tarts.  Very similar to a peach pie, these were cute, could be eaten by hand if necessary, and would be amazing topped with whipped cream or ice cream.


My favorite part of making these tarts was that I didn’t have to make the crust fit anything.  However it rolled out worked.  This is a very flexible crust, but I do like my pies to be pretty …. but these tarts are pretty in their rustic–ness.  The imperfections make them beautiful – thus, no stress over patched crust or a crooked center.  🙂


We will definitely be making these again!

World Tour – Italian Lasagna


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?

World Tour – Black Forest Cake

We decided we couldn’t study Germany without making one sweet treat, so we settled on Black Forest Cake.  
We used this recipe as our starting point.
Since we don’t drink coffee, we subbed hot chocolate for that ingredient and swapped out some of the flour for whole wheat.  My Big Girl loves cherries, so we decided to bake our cake in two round pans, although the author’s Bundt looked yummy.  

After baking and chilling, we spread cherries on the bottom layer and then topped it with the other one.  I quickly made the ganache according to the recipe’s instructions and poured it over the top.  YUM!

The cake would’ve been much prettier served on a white plate, but these are plastic and we picnicked outside, so … we dealt.  You get the idea, though – rich and goo-y and quite decadent!

World Tour – Germany’s Appelfpannkuchen

Our World Tour began with Germany.  We decided to make appelfpannkuchen, a type of pancake with caramelized apples on the bottom – something I thought both kids would like.  We used a recipe from Emeril’s There’s a Chef in My World  cookbook as our starting point.  
Since this is not my recipe and I couldn’t find it online, I can’t share it exactly, but here are the highlights:
First, you peel, core, and slice two apples very thin.  Cook them in a bit of butter over high heat in an oven-safe frying pan, then add brown sugar until cooked through and caramelized.  Meanwhile, mix up the pancake ‘batter’ (which was very heavy on the eggs and gave it a very eggy texture – if we make this again, I’ll reduce the egg count) and pour it over the top of the apples.  Slide the pan into a very hot oven and bake until golden brown.  When finished, ours looked like that (see above).
I sliced our appelfpannkuchen into wedges and we served it with powdered sugar or syrup.


My picky Little Man gobbled his down without a single comment – especially rare when trying new foods! – and ran off to play.

My Big Girl firmly declared the apples to be her favorite part and promptly asked for a second slice.

So far, we’re very fond of Deutschland!

World Tour – Invent A Cake in France

Now that we’ve spent a few months studying other countries, one thing that stands out to us all is that some are known (more than others) for their cuisine.  After watching Ratatouille, we all became even more curious about how to create your own recipe – so we decided to try it.

We used Jenae from I Can Teach My Child‘s base plan for creating a cake recipe and went from there.

(Basically, you have a group of dry ingredients that you must use – things like flour, sugar, and leavening.  Then you choose the liquids, seasonings, and extras and mix it up.  There are printable charts on Jenae’s webpage to make it easier.)

My Big Helper chose to use milk, butter, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate chips, and marshmallows.

We compared the ingredient lists with similar cake recipes and used the following:

2 c. flour
2 eggs
2 t. baking powder
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 1/2 c. milk (I’d try 1 1/4 next time)
1/2 c. butter
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla
a handful of chocolate chips
a handful of marshmallows, chopped

Stir all dry ingredients together and then add in the wet ones.  Stir in the chips and marshmallows at the end and pour into a greased 9X13″ cake pan.  Bake at 250 for about 30 minutes or until done.

While the Big Helper asked to do this project, My Little Man soon came running to join in.  He suggest using M & Ms when we couldn’t find enough chocolate chips, and both kids were happy to stir the ingredients and watch it bake.

I must admit, I was a bit skeptical about this whole process, but it worked really well.  The cake was super moist and tasted pleasantly cinnamon-y.  The chocolate fell to the bottom and the marshmallows all rose to the top and roasted, making the top of the cake a pretty, puffy golden brown.  If you happened to get a bite of both the chocolate and the marshmallow, it even tasted a bit like a s’more!

We received several surprise visitors in the days following this experiment, and both kids were excited to offer their cake as a refreshment option.  I’m sure we’ll be experimenting more with this recipe – and many others – in the future!

If YOU were inventing your own cake, what would you put in it?