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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Saint Patrick’s Day Jello Pot of Gold

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I like to make these fun “pots of gold” as a special Saint Patrick’s Day dessert. My kids love them. I used lemon flavored Jello prepared with the “jiggler” directions on the package. To assemble: Cut the Jello into cubes. Cut the bottom of a lime to get a flat surface for the lime to stand upright. Cut the top of the lime off and scoop out the insides. Fill with the Jello cubes. Enjoy!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine’s Day Treat

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Boulden Boulden came home from school today with this sweet Valentine’s Day treat. It is a baby food jar filled with Hershey’s Kisses. It is topped with a mini muffin baking cup, wrapped with a ribbon. The tag has a heart made from his finger prints. They even used a heart-shaped hole punch, so adorable! Thank you Montessori teachers.

Saint Patrick’s Day Rainbow Cupcakes

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Superstar and I enjoyed a frosty cold day indoors baking up these fun Saint Patrick’s Day rainbow cupcakes. My two little leprechauns were over the rainbow with excitement. I am happy to report that they did find their pot of gold—details coming soon.

White cake mix (18.25 oz)
Food coloring (red, yellow, green, and blue)
Baking cups

Prepare the cake mix according to the package instructions. Divide the batter into 7 small bowls. I put ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons into each bowl. Add food coloring to each bowl and mix to create the colors of the rainbow. I have seen other recipes for this cupcake that only include purple and don’t include both indigo and violet. It is just my personal preference to use every opportunity to educate my kids. We made a true rainbow.

Red: 19 drops red
Orange: 12 drops yellow and 4 drops red
Yellow: 12 drops yellow
Green: 12 drops green
Blue: 12 drops blue
Indigo: 9 drops blue and 4 drops red
Violet: 9 drops red and 6 drops blue

Line a cupcake pan with baking cups. Evenly distribute the batter among the baking cups, starting with violet on the bottom and ending with red on the top. I used a rounded teaspoon per color, per cupcake. Savvy Tip: I sprayed the teaspoon with cooking spray so the batter spooned more easily into the baking cups, then I gently spread the batter with the back of the spoon until it covered the color underneath. Bake at 350 for 18-22 minutes. Cool and frost. The recipe was supposed to yield 16 cupcakes, but I only got 12.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Savvy Irish Gift Idea

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Are you looking to bring an Irish smile to someone’s face on Saint Patrick’s Day? Give them a cup of good luck! I picked up this adorable Shamrock plant at my local nursery this week and replanted it in a teacup—it is two gifts in one.

The Shamrock is the national plant of Ireland. Saint Patrick used shamrock leaves to teach pagans about the trinity: The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit. People wear shamrocks on March 17th in honor of Saint Patrick.

The word shamrock comes from the Irish Gaelic word Seamrog that means summer plant. Lucky clover, or oxalis house plants, are sold at stores in early March, as the symbol of Saint Patrick’s Day. They clean the air, add beautiful green color accents to home decor, and help create a pleasant, relaxing and healthy home environment.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jo’s Famous Guinness Beef Stew

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I have tweaked this recipe for years and it is finally exactly the way I like it. We have this every year the week of Saint Patrick’s Day. Bain taitneamh as do bhéil (pronounced: Bane tatniv OS du veil and means Bon Appetit in Gaelic)! 

6 strips thick-cut bacon (about 8 ounces), cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
Coarse sea salt and ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
6 cloves of garlic, minced
6 cups beef stock
1 cup Guinness stout
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons butter
3 lbs potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 7 cups)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups carrots (we like the baby carrots)

1. In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp and browned. Drain on paper towels. Pour fat into a bowl, and reserve. Wipe out pot with paper towels.
2. Add 2 tablespoons reserved fat to pot, and heat over medium-high heat until hot. Season meat with salt and pepper. In batches, cook until brown on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beef to a bowl (not the same one with the fat reserves). Add more reserved fat between batches if needed.
3. Pour fat from pot into the bowl, and reserve. Add 1 cup stock to pot, and cook, stirring and scraping bottom, for 1 minute. Pour over meat.
4. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Return beef to pot. Add beef stock, Guinness, red wine, tomato paste, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and bay leaves. Stir to combine. Bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, then cover and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
5. While the meat and stock are simmering, melt butter in another large pot over medium heat. Add potatoes, onion, and carrots. Sauté vegetables until golden, about 20 minutes. Set aside until the beef stew in step four has simmered for one hour.
6. Add vegetables to beef stew. Simmer uncovered until vegetables and beef are very tender, about 40 minutes. Stir in bacon. Discard bay leaves. Tilt pan and spoon off fat. Transfer stew to serving bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Can be prepared up to 2 days ahead.
I like to serve it over egg noodles.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Who is Saint Patrick?

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All over the world, March 17th is set aside to celebrate St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. We wear green, eat, drink, and occasionally have a parade. Have you ever wondered who Saint Patrick was and why we celebrate his life?  Time for a quick history lesson!  I can hear my children groan in agony as I remind them that celebrating something you know nothing about is, frankly, stupid (yes, I used the “s” word).

Apparently, two authentic letters from him have survived. It is from these letters that the only universally accepted details of his life are revealed. He was born in Roman Britain. At about the age of 16, he was kidnapped from Wales by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family.

He became a priest in Britain. He became an ordained bishop and chose to return to Ireland as a missionary. The precise dates of Patrick’s life cannot be determined with certainty, but it is widely accepted that he was working as a missionary in Ireland during the second half of the 5th century.

Pious legend credits St. Patrick with banishing snakes from the island, chasing them into the sea after they assailed him during a 40-day fast he was undertaking on top of a hill. This legend evokes Biblical symbolism and scientists have weighed in with theories purporting to disprove the validity of this story. Others suggest that the snakes (or serpents) are representative of the Druids. True, untrue, myth, legend . . . it makes for a good story.

According to Irish folklore, he also used a shamrock to explain the Christian concept of Trinity to the Irish. In spite of continuous opposition from pagan leaders, he continued to evangelize for thirty years while baptizing newly converted Christians and establishing monasteries, churches, and schools. He died on March 17th and was canonized by the local church.

Originally, the color associated with Saint Patrick was blue. Over the years this has changed to green. Shamrocks were often worn in honor of Saint Patrick. The phrase "the wearing of the green", meaning to wear a shamrock on one's clothing, derives from a song of the same name . . . and there you go.

Saint Patrick's Day was first publicly celebrated in Boston in 1737 where a large population of Irish immigrants resided. It was not until 1903 that Saint Patrick's Day became an official public holiday in Ireland. During the mid 90's, the Irish government also began a campaign to promote tourism in Ireland on March 17th.

While many Catholics still quietly celebrate this day of religious observance by going to mass, Saint Patrick's Day slowly evolved to become a celebration of Irish heritage, when all things Irish make an annual appearance in festivities around the world.

We are a proud Irish American family. Every year we celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with a day of remembrance and storytelling in celebration of the ancestors who have gone before us, in celebration of our heritage, with pride in our culture. It is a day, however fleeting, when we can shake the suburban dust off our children to remind them how we got here. Because for this Irish American it is also a celebration of the journey that started in Ireland over one hundred years ago, and against incredible odds, ends in a small southern town with an Irish Catholic boy who married this Irish Protestant girl.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Winter Appetizers

Looking for some good party appetizer recipes? Click here to download the Better Homes and Garden’s Winter Appetizer booklet.  The crab dip would make a great Super Bowl Party choice.  Happy eating!

Crab Dip

Makes: 10 servings
Serving size: 2 tablespoons
Yield: 1-1/3 cups
Prep: 20 mins Chill: 2 hrs to 24 hrs


1 cup cooked crabmeat or one 6-ounce can crabmeat, drained, flaked, and cartilage removed
1/2 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/2 cup dairy sour cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion or green onion
1 tablespoon snipped fresh dillweed or 1 teaspoon dried dillweed
1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel or lime peel
1 teaspoon lemon juice or lime juice
Several dashes bottled hot pepper sauce
Dash cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and black pepper
Finely chopped red or green onion (optional)
Assorted crackers and/or vegetable dippers


1. In a small bowl stir together crab, mayonnaise, sour cream, the 2 tablespoons onion, the 1 tablespoon dill, the 1 teaspoon lemon peel, lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, and, if desired, cayenne pepper. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

2. Transfer dip to a serving dish. Cover and chill for 2 to 24 hours. If desired, garnish wtih finely chopped red or green onion. Serve with crackers or vegetable dippers. Makes about 1-1/3 cups (10 servings).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Label Your Super Bowl Food

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When serving food buffet style, guests always appreciate it when the food is labeled. No one likes biting into something and discovering it is not what they thought it was. My father once swapped escargot for mushrooms to see if I would notice the difference. I noticed and 25 years later it still activates my gag reflexes when I think about it—yuck. Shelley, I don’t know how you escaped that one.

I have put together these fun Super Bowl Food Labels. Click here to download the file. To make them, laminate the paper and cut out the labels. Use wet erase markers to write the name of the dish on the label. Then, hot glue the label to a craft stick. After the party, peal the hot-glued craft sticks off the labels and throw them away. Save the labels for next year.

You could also make a disposable version. Print and cut out the labels (unlaminated). Use a glue stick to attach them to craft sticks.

A note (diatribe) about food allergies:
This is always a controversial subject and here is my opinion (not that you care, but it is my blog so I can say what I want). My family is impossible to feed. My oldest child is on a gluten-free-casein-free diet (he has something similar to celiac disease). My second and third children were born allergic to all protein (both Shelley’s boys have the same allergy). Over the years they have outgrown most of it, but still cannot eat most cow/dairy products. Just as I had adjusted to life as the house with the “funny milk” (soy), child number three was also born allergic to soy, an allergy he shares with his father. To further complicate things, child number four is allergic to strawberries and red food coloring.

When I say allergic, I mean so allergic that even an invisible amount will make my children very sick. Sometimes it feels like God said, “If you can’t make healthy food choices on your own, I will make them for you.” I have developed a new relationship with food. I never really spent much time noticing food ingredients. If it tasted good, it was good enough for me. I spent the first 3 years after my son’s diagnosis reading the ingredient list on the back of packaged food and translating things like Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate and Magnesium Caseinate. I came up with a list of acceptable products, only to discover that occasionally the ingredients change or they are made in a factory with other products and can be cross-contaminated. I eventually gave up. Now we only eat fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, eggs, nuts. . . Much to my horror I am discovering that that the genetic engineering of our food supply is placing some of these items in the danger zone for our family (but that is a topic for another day).

I do not ever expect others to be able to feed my family. I do not expect others to make special accommodations for my family. I travel with my own supply of food wherever I go—if there is ever a national emergency we will not starve. I even give my children’s teachers an annual supply of allergy free treats, snacks, and small trinkets (I don’t get why our society always chooses to reward children with food, then wonders why we all grow up with food issues).

I do, however, expect full disclosure and basic courtesy. I need to know what I am feeding my family. Not telling me about that “secret ingredient” is very dangerous. Being hurt or offended that we brought our own food is selfish-- yes, a sip, a bite, a nibble, a taste, or a morsel IS harmful. Thinking that we are over exaggerating the seriousness of this issue is judgmental and, frankly, none of your business. Treating tiny children like they have literally ruined the party because they can’t have ice-cream is mean—“Normally, we have an ice cream social as our end-of-the-year party, but this year we can’t. Why do some people have to ruin it for everyone?” Please, please, please, all I am asking for is some compassion. . . . and if you feel like going the extra mile, labeling your food at a party REALLY helps.

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