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?

World Tour – Creative Crepes

This week we ‘jetted’ off to France for another leg of our world tour.  As always, we began by finding North Carolina on the globe and then the various continents and countries that we’ve already studied, until we found France.

Next we read two books that provide a simple overview of French culture.  (France by Alan Blackwood and Brigitte Chosson, and Take a Trip to France by Jonathon Rutland).  Of course, the kids were more than ready to sample some French cuisine, so we began with crepes!

My friend Isabelle, who is a French citizen, gave me this recipe (the following does include a few of our own modifications).  She told us that she had never actually eaten crepes for breakfast until she moved to the United States – that at home they were always eaten as a snack or for a dessert.  You learn something new every day!

Since this week has gone haywire and the only meal we seemed guaranteed to eat at home this week was breakfast, we went ahead and ate our early-morning Americanized version.  They sure were good, though!

Start with a crepe batter:

1 c. flour
1 pinch salt
1 T. sugar
1 1/4 c. milk
2 T. melted butter + some for the pan
2 eggs

Whisk together until smooth.  (Isabelle’s original recipe says to refrigerate for an hour or overnight.  I tried that, and it worked, but we liked it better prepared just before eating.  Isabelle doesn’t mix hers ahead, either.)

Over medium heat, butter a small non-stick frying pan and let it get hot.  Add a few tablespoons of the batter and rotate the pan until covered.  Pour the rest back into the bowl and let it cook until the top appears dry.  Flip with a rubber spatula.  The second side will cook in seconds.  Slide out of the pan and repeat until batter is gone.

Now comes the fun part!

My Big Helper wanted to make cinnamon apple crepes.  (Something we saw on Pinterest.)  To make these, we peeled and thinly sliced two apples, added a drizzle of water, a drizzle of honey, and a small pat of butter.  We cooked them in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until soft, then added cinnamon to taste and stirred.

After cooking a crepe, we filled it with apples.  My Big Helper wanted to try chocolate sauce on hers, so we used Hershey’s (Don’t tell Isabelle – she makes the real stuff!)

She loved them!

My Little Man was less sure, but he thought the apples were great.

The best part about crepes is that like a tortilla, you can fill them with anything.  So, next we went with fresh fruit – and again with the chocolate.

The pineapple-chocolate combo was my personal favorite.

Today for breakfast we served these again to our guests – they liked both the fresh fruit and eggs/ham/cheese varieties.

How do you like YOUR crepes??

PS – Thanks, Isabelle, for the recipe!  We’ll definitely be making these again!

Field Work Friday – Ice Cream in a Bag

June is National Dairy Month, and with the heat we’ve been having, I’ve been craving ice cream!  We decided to head to a local park and make some.

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!