Aunt B will be visiting with her two boys for Easter. I have my parents in town too. That means I need to prepare food for a group, which is actually something I like to do. I am not sure why cooking for a large group is so much more appealing to me than the daily cooking for my own small(er) family, but it is (see previous post). One idea I have for Easter brunch is Hash Brown Casserole. It is easy to assemble ahead, and it includes melted cheese, which automatically gives the recipe bonus points.
There are many variations of this casserole available, but I am sharing the recipe I use. I like to serve this casserole with ham or scrambled eggs. I also think it works well with steak or hamburgers later in the day.
1 2-lb package frozen, diced hash brown potatoes– thawed (the cubes)
1/2 c. melted butter
1 10-oz. can Campbell’s cream of celery soup (could replace with cream of chicken)
8-oz. sour cream
1/2 c. chopped green onions
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (+ a little extra to sprinkle on the top before baking)
1 t. salt (or to taste)
1/4 t. pepper (or to taste)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Put all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir until combined.
Spread in a 9×11 casserole dish.
Sprinkle extra shredded cheddar cheese on top.
Cover in foil and bake for ~35 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 5 minutes or so until the top is slightly golden and edges are bubbly.
I so enjoy making party food, cooking a big dish for a group, or assembling appetizers and class snack foods, but I avoid the daily grind of cooking family dinner that will be eaten in 3.7 minutes followed by kitchen clean-up like the plague (and don’t even get me started on packing school lunches).
If TheRoomDad has taken care of the grocery shopping, I can be persuaded to make fast dinners during the week that have minimal clean up. I have a recipe for turkey apple quesadillas that is acceptable as a mid-week meal. It is an odd combination of ingredients, but the adults and children at my house love them. The other nice thing about the recipe is the fact that all of the key food groups are in one bite, so I don’t have the pressure of having to come up with a side dish TOO. Utensils are not required to eat this “meal”, and we really don’t have to have plates either, so clean-up is a breeze.
Have you developed a resistance to making weeknight dinners night after night after night, or is it just me?
Dijon mustard (I use Grey Poupon)
flour tortillas (any size– I like large then folded in half when heating)
Munster cheese slices (our grocery’s deli section has pre-sliced packs. Cut or break each slice into halves or thirds when assembling the quesadilla)
Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced (or another tart, green apple)
deli turkey, thinly sliced
Mix equal parts honey and Dijon mustard in a small bowl. I start with 1 tablespoon each of mustard and honey. That is usually enough for 4 quesadillas (4 large tortillas folded in half).
If using the large tortillas, spread the honey mustard on half of the tortilla.
Layer 1 1/2 slices of Munster on the honey mustard spread. Since I cut the deli slices into smaller strips, I place ~3 1/2-slices across the half of the tortilla with the honey mustard.
Add 1-2 slices of turkey on top of the cheese.
Place several apple slices on the turkey.
Top the apple slices with 1/2 to 1 cheese slice.
Fold the tortilla in half to close.
Spray a skillet with Pam and using medium heat, cook the quesadilla on both sides until the cheese is melted, and the tortilla is browned.
Remove from heat, cut in thirds or quarters, and serve immediately.
You can purchase a “brick” of Munster cheese and grate the cheese instead of using slices.
A former student recommended I read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein because there is a character in the story who has the same last name I do. It took me a few months to get to it, but I finally read it during my spring break.
This book follows a group of characters who are trapped in a library through a scavenger hunt of library knowledge in order to escape. The book becomes a puzzle for the reader too. It taps into your library skills and background knowledge of classic books. The riddles inserted into the story reminded me of a few other books I read and really liked. I had a starter list of this style of books in my Style-Alike book post, but I thought it was time for a dedicated scavenger-hunt-wrapped-in-a-mystery list.
Most titles on the list have the “riddle” element to them, but I also included classic mystery books like Nancy Drew where characters uncover clues to solve the crime without having to decode a puzzle first to reveal the clue.
The 7th Level by Jody Feldman
Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs
Benjamin Pratt & Keepers of the School series by Andrew Clements
Chasing Vermeer (and others) by Blue Balliett
Conspiracy 365 series by Gabrielle Lord (must be read in order)
Floors series by Patrick Carman
Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman
Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon
The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan (and The 39 Clues series)
The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart
Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
Red Blazer Girls series by Michael D. Beil
The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch
The Sherlock Files series by Tracy Barrett
The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley
The Teddy Bear Habit by James Lincoln Collier (older publication)
Theodore Boone Detective series by John Grisham
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Mysteries are actually a great book style for younger readers (1st through 3rd grade) because students have to maintain plot details from earlier in the book to understand any resolutions that happen later in the book. There are many series for this lower reading level that are popular. Reading multiple books from a series strengthens reading because they typically follow the same plot pattern in each book. This gets repetitive for an adult but actually helps improve reading skills in kids because they can begin to more accurately anticipate what will happen next, which makes the story easier to follow and remember.
The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids by Debbie Dadey and Marcia T. Jones
A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (I like the ones by the original author the best, 1-19)
After the novelty of the petal bag sewing project wore off, I launched into the next crafty activity– Ukrainian Easter Eggs. I haven’t made them for a few years because on top of the incredible time suck to complete just one egg, they require a lot of counter space, and they are not that kid friendly. The egg dying process involves hot wax and fire, and until this year, I didn’t really want to supervise Miss Priss and Mr. Star Wars trying to make the eggs. I could have told them that they could not participate in the great Ukrainian egg decorating project and given them inferior PAAS dyes as a consolation, but that would be cruel.
Ukrainian Easter Eggs are decorated using layers of beeswax and dyes. It takes a steady hand and a lot of patience. Sewing Sister can freehand hers, but I have to sketch guidelines with pencil to get better results. It can take several hours to make one egg, but the results are worth it (in this obsessive RoomMom’s opinion).
Mix dyes according to dye packet instructions with boiled distilled water. You really need to order the Ukrainian egg dyes. The colors are much more vibrant than anything you find with the regular Easter supplies at WalMart or the grocery store, and they are made for adding one color over another. You want tall containers with lids like a wide mouth pint Mason jar. Let dyes cool overnight, and keep lids on the dyes when you are not using them.
Bring eggs that you will be decorating to room temperature. The eggs are uncooked and NOT blown out. Wipe the egg gently with a paper towel moistened with white vinegar. This helps the dye coat the egg more evenly.
Draw guidelines on your egg lightly with a fine mechanical pencil. I always use patterns from the Ukrainian design books I have, and it shows me how to divide the egg. Most eggs start with a basic division into 8 sections. Pencil in any other tricky parts of the design. Pencil mistakes can be erased by wiping the egg with a piece of paper towel moistened with white vinegar.
Any areas of the egg that will stay white get covered with wax first.
Light the candle and let it burn while you work. Gently hold your kistka (the drawing tool) in the side of the candle flame. Do not hold the point of the kistka in the flame. Once the kistka is hot, dig the back of the “well” in the beeswax to fill. Begin tracing the first lines in the pattern with the kistka. Stop every few strokes to reheat the little tool in the flame and fill with more beeswax as necessary. It will be a little like writing with an ink pen that needs to be dipped in ink.
After covering all of the white parts of the design with wax, dip the egg in the lightest color (usually yellow). After several minutes (even up to 30 minutes), remove the egg from the dye, dry, and begin the next section of the design in the next lightest color.
Repeat until the design is finished. Dip in the final color, which will be the background of the egg. With Ukrainian eggs, the last color is often royal blue or black.
Remove the egg from the dye, dry completely by rolling and patting with paper towel.
Carefully hold the egg near the flame of the candle and wait for the beeswax to begin to melt. When the wax looks glassy and melted, wipe the wax away with paper towel. Continue to clear small sections of wax until all wax has been removed from the egg. Adjust your piece of paper towel, so you are always wiping with a clean portion of the paper towel.
After the egg is finished, you can drain it. I never do. The eggs are actually stronger if you leave them whole. Over time, the eggs dry out on their own if you keep them on a shelf out of drafts and movement. Do beware; if an egg cracks before it has completely dried out, you will come home to one stinky mess!
Do not retrace lines. You may think that beeswax is not covering the egg, but it is. When you retrace lines, it creates duplicate, sketchy looking lines and will not look as tidy when complete.
This process can be frustrating for kids (and beginners).
Congratulations to Lucy and Stephanie for winning the petal gift bag giveaway! Thanks to all who submitted an entry.
If you missed out on the giveaway but want to make your own petal bag, click here for directions. I have many other little gift ideas for teachers, friends, and neighbors, so be sure to click the picture links below or the Sirsees tab in the black bar above.