Monday, February 28, 2011

Play Dough Day

We FINALLY had a snow day. From the weather report the night before we were really hoping that everything the weather man teased us with would really happen. Our youngest immediately asked for a play dough day. Like the good Daddy that he is, my husband ran up to the store for a few packets of Kool Aid so I could make play dough if we did wind up with a snow day.

When our alarm went off this morning, my husband immediately grabbed the remote control and tuned into the local news. I was so excited I fell immediately back to sleep. Hubby went to tell the kids to sleep in. Sometimes we have amazingly obedient kids. :-)

Homemade play dough is a tradition in our house. It's a winter staple. It is very simple to make and it is also very quick. You really don't need the Kool Aid, but it does make the play dough smell pretty good. Food coloring will work just fine if you would rather use that. I use both.

Start with one cup of white flour in a saucepan.

Add 1/2 cup of table salt.

Add 1 Tablespoon of cream of tartare.

Add 1 Tablespoon of vegetable or canola oil. I used canola oil.

And finally add 1 cup of water to the pan.

Whisk everything together to form a nice smooth paste.

Like this.

Turn the heat onto medium and trade your whisk for a sturdy wooden spoon that can get into the corners of your pan.

It does not take long for things to start looking pretty ugly. That's what you want though. The trick is to use your muscles and give the whole thing a good stir while it thickens up.

When the dough pulls together and forms a ball, dump it out and let it cool off for a bit.

When the dough is cool enough to work with, sprinkle a package of Kool Aid onto the dough. I am using grape flavor for this batch.

To knead in the Kool Aid, just start folding one corner of the dough over so the dough is folded in half. Then press down so the dough flattens out again.

Now grab another corner, fold it over, flatten and repeat. You are kneading. :-)

This purple color is not doing anything for me, so I am going to add a bit of food coloring and knead it in.

That is a bit better.

For storage, I mold the dough into blocks to store in a plastic container.

You can store the dough in any air tight container you have.

I wound up making 7 batches. The white dough in the middle does not have any Kool Aid in it. I left it dough colored and because I am all out of vanilla, I used a few drops of almond extract to give it a good scent. I also added about 1/4 of silver glitter to it. It was just a fun touch, but not necessary. For the brown dough, I added about two tablespoons of cocoa powder to the dough. It smells incredibly good. Don't try tasting this stuff though. It is pure yuck.

After that, the kids went crazy with it. They played "Iron Chef: Play Dough" for close to three hours. I gave them an assignment and set the timer. When time was up, I awarded a first place and second place prize for each round. The kids kept track of their wins. Here are some of their winning creations.

Summer Time Treat: Root Beer Float

Favorite Fast Food: Pizza

Favorite Snack: Mandarin Oranges with Blueberries. Also pictured with Lemon Pudding Pie and Bruschetta

Favorite Breakfast Food: Pancakes

What I am most proud of, is that our almost 17 year old played along and had just as much fun as our 11 year old daughter. I love that the kids spend face time with each other playing with something creative and with each other. Go Play dough!

For a printer friendly version of this recipe click here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How to Make Awesome Chicken Stew

This is a follow up post to How to Build a Fire. Last weekend we had a lovely snow storm. The forecast was calling for lots of wind and lots of snow and we were not disappointed. We spent the day at home parked in front of a warm fire playing games. Since I had a lazy day of relaxing ahead of me, I decided to start a pot of chicken stew. We used our coffee table as our dining table and ate in front of the fire. It was fun because it was different and a couple of the kids used the hearth of the fireplace as a seat and they were so warm and toasty.

This is one of our family favorites. It is not a week night meal for a busy family, but it is definitely worth the time it takes to make. I highly recommend this recipe. The board of ingredients is missing two things. Dried or fresh thyme is a must and I forgot to put the frozen peas and pearl onions on the board. I have a tendency to forget to put the frozen ingredients on the board. Shame on me.

We start with a drizzle of olive oil in a large stock pot over medium high heat.

Add half a pound of bacon that has been cut into thin strips.

This is what bacon looks like when it is cooking perfectly.

When the bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoons letting the fat drain off through the slots. Put the bacon on a paper towel so absorb as much fat as possible. This will be one of the toppings for the finished stew so you can set this aside for now.

Remove some of the fat from the bottom of the stock pot with a spoon. You want to leave some behind though because this fat has great flavor.

Add the celery, onions, carrot, salt and pepper to the pot.

Stir everything around so the salt and pepper as well as the bacon fat can coat the veggies. As the veggies cook, scrap the bottom of the stock pot with a wooden spoon. The brown bits at the bottom of the pan have a lot of flavor that we want in the stew...not stuck to the pot.

Cook the veggies until they are very soft. Add the cognac if you are using it. (Be very careful about adding alcohol to a pot on a gas stove. If you are all concerned, turn off your flame while you add the alcohol and then turn the burner back on.) Let the alcohol cook out for about five minutes. You want the alcohol reduced to concentrate the flavor. This is an important step. You are only adding a bit of cognac, but it gives this stew an amazing rich flavor.

Next in is the red wine. Red wine is not often paired with chicken, but in this dish, it is super good. If you want to avoid alcohol, then just use chicken or vegetable stock instead. It will still be a super good stew. If you are using the red wine, be prepared for the fact that chicken cooked in red wine absorbs the wine and has a tendency to get slightly purplish...that is a good thing. It means it is going to be yummy!

Cook the red wine for about five minutes. Again scrape the bottom of the pan to get all those bits off the pan and into the stew. When the wine has reduced it should look something like this.

Now we add the thyme. I am using dried today, but fresh would be just fine as well.

Now we add the chicken. You can use any chicken pieces that you would like to this stew. I happen to be using split breasts with rib meat because I buy them whenever they are on special and I stock up.

Cover the chicken up with stock. Put a lid on the pot and turn the heat up to high in order to bring everything up to a boil. When the liquid is boiling reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the chicken for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, lets make another topping for the stew. Mushroom caps are so good in this stew. I prepare them as a topping for the stew so that those that do not like mushrooms still eat the stew. Toss your mushrooms into a big bowl. You need stirring space.

Now add a drizzle of olive oil to the mushroom as well as a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Then start stirring the mushrooms. You want to move that oil and seasoning around so the mushroom get well coated as they absorb oil.

Add another drizzle of olive oil to a non stick fry pan over medium high heat.

Cook the mushrooms until they are soft and cooked all the way through.

Set these aside until you are ready to serve dinner. I always make extra because by dinner time, there are always less mushrooms in the bowl. :-)

Don't forget about your chicken. You do not want to over cook it. It gets chewy if it is over cooked.

Pull the chicken out of a pan and let it cool off.

Pull the chicken off the bone. If you need a de-boning reminder IT IS IN THIS POST. I shredded the chicken into pretty generous pieces cause my fellas think that is awesome. But you can do what ever makes your people happy. :-)

Now we are back to the lovely liquid. Get as much fat off the top of the stew as you can. No one needs to eat that.

Remember the pearl onions that I forgot to put on the board? Here they are!

Next, add your lovely pearl onions and crank the heat back up to high. We need to bring this liquid to a boil.

Now just a check to make sure you are paying attention. We added fat to cook the bacon, then removed some of the bacon fat. Then we cooked the chicken and took out some of that fat. Now we are adding butter. Just wanted to make sure you were up to speed.

Mix the butter around in your bowl a bit to get it moving.

Add the flour and mix it up.

It should look something like this.

When your liquid is boiling, add the butter flour mixture to the liquid. My liquid is not boiling and this was a stupid picture to: a) take, b) post c) a & b Answer: b.

This is a little more like it. Just add the butter flour gunk in and stir it in with a whisk. It will thicken the stew like magic. You will love it.

As soon as the liquid thickens, add the chicken and turn the heat down to low.

I decided to add some peas in at the last minute because I really like peas. But you don't have to if you don't want to.

Look at all that yummy goodness. All we need to do is warm the peas and we are ready to eat. If you cook the peas for awhile they will turn grey. I don't know what else to say about that. Don't over cook your peas.

I am serving my lovely chicken stew over....instant mashed potatoes with a few chives mixed in. You can serve this over rice, or pasta...basically any starch that you like to eat with chicken stew.

Now add a couple scoops of stew to the bowl. But wait we're not done yet.

Remember all those lovely toppings we made? Bacon, mushrooms, and I added some sliced green onions, but you don't have to if you don't want to. NOW, you can eat.

Awesome Chicken Stew


1/2 Pound Bacon Cut into Small Thin Strips
Olive Oil
1 Cup Diced Carrots
1/2 Cup Sliced Celery
1 Cup Diced Onions
2 Tablespoons Cognac
1 Cup Red Wine
1 Tablespoon Dried Thyme
4 Split Breast Halves with Rib Meat
1 Quart Chicken Stock
1 Tablespoon Butter
1 1/2 Tablespoon Flour
3/4 Cup Frozen Pearl Onions
1 Cups Frozen Peas


1. Add a drizzle of olive oil to a large stock pot over medium high heat. Add the sliced bacon and cook until crisp. Remove bacon from Pot with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

2. Remove half of the bacon fat from the pot and discard. Add carrots, onion, celery, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to the pot. Stir veggies and seasoning together and cook veggies until they are soft. Scrape the bottom of the pan when you stir veggies.

3. Carefully add cognac to veggies and let cognac reduce for 5 minutes.

4. Carefully add red wine to veggies. Let wine reduce for five minutes.

5. Add the chicken breasts and chicken stock to the pot. Turn the heat up to high and bring the liquids up to a boil. When the liquids are boiling turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

6. When the chicken is done cooking, remove it from the pot and let it cool. Remove the chicken from the bone and shred or chop into bit sized pieces.

7. Turn the heat up to high and add the pearl onions. Bring the stew liquid to a boil.

8. Stir the butter and flour together in a small bowl. When the stew is boiling, add the butter flour mixture and stir in with a whisk. Boil and stir until the stew thickens.

9. Turn the heat down to low. Add the shredded or chopped chicken and frozen peas to the pot. Continue to cook just until peas are heated, about two minutes.

10. Serve stew over a starch of your choice. Add mushrooms, bacon bits, and green onions if you so desire. Enjoy. Serves 8.

*Note: I always make a double batch because we love it so much.
*Note: It also freezes very well. Just heat it up and make a starch to serve with the stew. :-)

For a printer friendly version of this recipe click here.