In Our House: Cooking Essentials

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I’m not a perfect cook, but I’m definitely a good cook. Not trying to toot my own horn, but there are very few complaints in our house about food. My friends and family ask a lot for recipes and tips, but it’s not always easy to do. Here are some of the hurdles I’ve been facing.

I’m really not that adventurous of a cook. I don’t know a lot of foods or recipes or ways to cook. I’m just learning to be adventurous in eating and trying to translate that to our kitchen. And most of our food is quite fattening 🙂

I’m also not a measuring cook. I’ve learned this is why I’m a terrible baker, haha. I throw things in and they work. It’s not magic, by any means; it’s experience. Things go wrong. Sometimes the food is just bland. Sometimes it’s a disaster and we order pizza instead. But that’s how we learn, right?

And so, this has lead me to writing this post to answer the question I’m often asked: what do you keep handy in your kitchen so you have what you need to “throw things together”?

Spice “Rack”: olive oil, canola oil, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, basil, parsley, dill weed, Italian seasoning, paprika, onion salt, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, fajita seasoning

Pantry: Cans of veggies and beans, diced tomatoes, white rice, instant mashed potatoes (for thickening only!), lots of varieties of noodles, cream of mushroom soup, tomato soup, chicken stock, beef stock, onions, potatoes, flour, sugar

Fridge: sour cream, butter, some kind of white wine, a beer, milk, large jar of minced garlic, lemon juice, shredded Parmesan cheese, assortment of shredded cheeses, Velveeta

What essentials do you try to keep on hand?

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La Classe de français: Multi-level Management

Not going to lie, I’m a tiny bit apprehensive about my new transition to teaching every student K-8. Not because I can’t do it, and not because I won’t rock it (oh, I will!) but because switching management styles throughout the day to use what works best at different age levels is, well, daunting. Luckily, I’ve taught 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade before, so that covers a large portion of my bases. I feel really comfortable with 3-12.

But what about those K-2ers? I feel fairly comfortable with them, and if I ever went back to K-5 teaching, those are the grades I’d prefer, but I realized my management needed a tune-up. So I trolled Pinterest (when am I NOT trolling Pinterest lol???) and came across this nifty site as a pin. I immediately lifted about, oh, four of the ideas and adjusted them for my own classes, then promptly bought and assembled all the necessary pieces.IMG_1299

 Let’s go from right to left. Mostly because I want to spread out the pictures in my post, haha. First up is Pastilles de pouvoir, which stems from Holly’s Power Pellets. These were easy to use because I don’t have to adapt them at all! I just hand out Skittles to kids who are following directions or doing the right thing. I got the container from Dollar Tree and it just fit a 42 ounce bag of Skittles. I love the spout lid on top for easy access and pouring without spreading too many germs.

Next is Solution d’intelligence, which Holly called Smart Spray. Littles are very superstitious and any kind of good superstition can only work for them! I like that I might be able to take away some of their apprehension about the language and any difficulties they perceive with the use of this bottle of glitter and water spray. I purchased the supplies at Dollar Tree, but I wish I would’ve found a bottle that was shaped differently because the label I made has all kinds of wrinkles from the Mod Podge, and alas, I’m a bit too much of a perfectionist for it not to bug me.

The last one pictured are Cailloux heureux, or Happy Rocks that Holly found on Kindergals. I have to adapt this a bit because it is made as an accumulating reward for a whole class, and I have 12 classes just from K-3 each week. That’s a bit much to keep track of for rewards. Anyone have suggestions for these? With the 2nd and 3rd graders, I can pass them out to hold onto in class when they do something kind or helpful (and maybe send them with the kids since they are so cheap!), but I worry that K’s and 1st graders will stick them somewhere or try to swallow them. Any suggestions? But they are super cute, n’est-ce pas?

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I got the bucket from Party City for $1 and the flat glass rocks from Dollar Tree. Add some Sharpie faces and voilĂ !

The other tool I made (partially) is PĂ©pites de silence, or Silent Sprinkles for encouraging students to quiet down in certain situations (you tape the openings with clear tape so it sounds like sprinkles without the mess – genius idea, Holly!). I mixed the rice and glitter in a bag, but I could not find a darn large shaker anywhere! I seriously looked at four different stores. And then, in the pasta aisle at Wal-Mart, I had an epiphany: I can use a Parmesan cheese shaker! Sadly, we don’t eat that kind of Parmesan cheese, but my dad saves those containers for his garage and he put one aside for me. Once I pick it up and Mod Podge the label on, I’ll update this post with a picture.

BONUS! (I feel like Oprah yelling on her show about presents!)

Are you a French teacher? Do you WANT these labels? Great, download them here and enjoy them!

Do you have any other amazing tools for managing classes among multiple grade levels? I’d love to hear them!

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Food Hack: Over the Top Meatloaf Sandwich

I have an obsession. If I love something at a restaurant, I have to try to recreate it or improve it at home. I just can’t help myself. Hence my wonderful Chicken Bryan (Ă  la Carrabba’s) or Yummy Salmon Pasta (based on a no-longer-offered TGI Friday’s recipe). It’s no surprise, then, that since The Cheesecake Factory cut my FAVORITE sandwich, I have felt a strong calling to recreate it. And recreate it, I did!

Behold:

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Yes, it was good. Pretty near close to perfect, actually. Yes, it was so good that we are going to eat it again for lunch tomorrow. The essential ingredients of the sandwich (in order from bottom to top) are Texas toast, meatloaf, sauteed onions and mushrooms, swiss cheese, a beer, fresh arugula, tomato bacon jam, and garlic aioli. Here are my suggestions for making it perfectly:

  • Meatloaf — Use the recipe on the back of the Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix box, but substitute Stove Top Stuffing for breadcrumbs. Cook a portion without ketchup covering the top, and use that for the sandwiches. It’s best on the day after you had it for dinner (trust me).
  • Sauteed onions and mushrooms — TCF sautees these in Guinness, which we didn’t have on hand but that I would definitely suggest because it does add something extra. I didn’t use mushroom since my husband doesn’t like them, and I added some Worchestershire sauce when carmelizing the onions because of not having a dark beer on hand like Guinness. It helped.
  • Swiss cheese — TCF marinates their swiss in Guinness as well. I just did it in regular beer. I think I’m going to do a beer/Worchestershire sauce mixture next time, even if I have Guinness on hand. I topped the bottom of my sandwiches with these cheese slices that had been soaking in beer and stuck them in the oven for a minute or two under the broiler. Perfection!
  • Arugula — use a heaping fist-full. Seriously, you think it might be weird, but it brings a real balance to the sandwich.
  • Tomato bacon jam — Use this recipe but skip the pepper. It unbalances the whole sandwich if you have the pepper. It really wasn’t bad to prepare as far as jams go and it makes a whole pint, so you will have plenty extra to freeze for later use (it only lasts 3-4 days in the fridge). This is the closest recipe I’ve found to TCF.
  • Garlic aioli — I mixed minced garlic with mayo. I didn’t run it through the food processor like I should have and I used way too much garlic. Good thing we are a garlic-loving family or it would have been too strong!

So there you have it, the ultra-complicated-yet-perfectly-matched-and-delicious sandwich. What are some of the recipes you’d love to copy from a restaurant?

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Reader Q&A: Morning Routine

Okay, readers — I need your help!

I am NOT a morning person. In fact, since having the baby I’ve reverted back to my natural 1 am bedtime. I say natural because whenever I’m allowed to go to bed and get up when I want, that’s what happens. I usually get my best work done between 10pm and 12am, and then start getting sleepy by 1am.

So my new dream job is wonderful, except that we have decided not to move this year. Which means a 1.25 hour commute each way, every day (1.5 hours on a bad day). Which means that my new wake-up time will be only four short hours after my current bedtime. Yikes.

So, dear readers, how do you wake up in the mornings? What is your morning routine? Right now, I envision mine going like this:

5 am – shower (these do NOT wake me up – I want to go back to sleep because of the hot water!)

5:15 am – make hot tea, drink while feeding the baby, read Facebook or on my Kindle

5:30 am – blow dry and fix hair

5:45 am – make up and get dressed

5:55 am – make to-go mug of hot tea and traveling breakfast, grab stuff and out the door

6:00 am – 7:30 am – driving, thinking about day and mentally preparing/planning, pumping around 7 am while driving

7:30 am – arrive at job, brush teeth (no point in doing it before breakfast), make any last-minute copies

7:45 am – start work

I need any and all suggestions to make life easier! I can skip hair washing every other day, but will still need a quick shower and styling time.

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Menu Planning Help

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Update: I will soon be sharing each of these recipes so if you want to know how to make them, stay tuned!

I started an iPhone photo dump last night (actually, I didn’t realize my iPhone did it automatically to my computer lol!) and as I was going through photos planning photo dump posts so you can see what we’ve been doing since I got pregnant (sorry), a brilliant idea struck.

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You know those times when you don’t know what to cook? It happens in our house a lot. I’m a great cook with lots of ideas, but nothing sounds good. And, often, when I finally decide to make something and we are just kind of blasĂ© about it, by the time it is finished we realize how good it actually tastes and that it really did hit the spot. But when we go to restaurants, we have the same problem unless there are pictures. We both tend to gravitate towards menu options that have a satisfying-looking photo accompanying the description, or else we stick to something we’ve had before.

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So, beginning with the very few pictures I have on my phone, I’m going to start a menu photo book labeled with what is on the plate. It just means remembering to take a pic with my phone before we start eating, and then labeling and printing that pic later. I’m not going to do any fancy laminating or anything – just throw the pics in a binder and let them sit on a shelf until we can’t decide what to have. But seriously, what an EASY life hack to help us out! Do you have any great menu planning ideas for those nights when you don’t know what to have? Leave a comment below!

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