easy slow cooker chicken recipe: Moroccan-Spiced Tomato Chicken

December 30th, 2010 by admin 4 comments »

In a shocking turn of events today, I managed to think about dinner far enough in advance to put chicken in the slow cooker (is anyone else still adjusting to not saying “Crock-Pot”?) before I left on a few errands. Each of which turned out to be problematic. So, so nice to come home and be ahead of the feeding game.

My Moroccan-Spiced Tomato Chicken recipe, which Carter loves because it’s sweet, is the one and only recipe I’ve written that has appeared in print, in the Home Plates column in the San Jose Mercury News. I was sure I’d shared it on Baking with Carter, but it turns out I’ve been holding out on you.

LIke the Quick Chicken with Salsa and Cheese recipe that I did share, the Moroccan-Spiced Tomato Chicken recipe is adapted from Beth Hensperger’s book Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Two, which I highly recommend. (To save time and cleanup, I skip the original recipe’s step of browning the chicken in olive oil with garlic first, but knock yourself out if you like the added flavor.)

When I used to work at the erstwhile Internet search engine Infoseek, “easy chicken recipe” was perennially a top search phrase. Now that I’m a working mom, the popularity makes even more sense. Add “kid-friendly,” and you really have a winner. So without further ado, here’s my favorite kid-friendly, easy chicken recipe:

Moroccan-Spiced Tomato Chicken with Almonds

4–6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (one package)
1 cup tomato salsa (good jarred variety)
2 tablespoons dried currants or raisins
4 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup whole-wheat couscous

Spray the inside of a 1 1/2 to 3 quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Trim extra fat and put the chicken in the slow cooker. Combine the salsa, currants, honey, cumin, and cinnamon and pour over the chicken. Cover and cook on low for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until the chicken is cooked (fork tender and juices run clear). Cook couscous according to package directions. Serve chicken over couscous.

Optionally: Toast 2 tablespoons slivered almonds in dry skillet on stovetop until brown and fragrant; serve chicken over couscous and top with toasted almonds.

This is one chicken recipe I can count on Carter, who has a sweet tooth, eating. He loves the currants/raisins, and I’m sure the honey helps too. Of course, he puts his own spin on the meal, eating the couscous separately with ketchup.

I searched “easy chicken recipe” at Food Blog Search, and here are some more ideas:

Tin Foil Chicken & Veggies from Kitchen Parade

Honey Mustard Chicken from Eclectic Recipes

Easy Cornflake Crumb Chicken from Chew on That

Grilled Island Chicken from Sarah’s Cucina Bella

Just a Little Mexican Chicken from Zesty Cook

serendipity, or discovering the Palo Alto Duck Pond at sunset

December 29th, 2010 by admin 4 comments »

sunsetPicked up Carter from Kids’ Club yesterday. Missed the recycling center by minutes. Started the ritual driving-by of Palo Alto Airport. Went too far. Entered Baylands Park. Found the Duck Pond. At sunset. Lost track of time. Wish you were here. We will be back.

Carter’s top three reasons for returning: Water. Room to run. Unobstructed views of airplanes and helicopters landing and taking off from Palo Alto Airport.

fun science for everyone: make magic goo from corn starch and water

December 27th, 2010 by admin 6 comments »

I’m know for being science-phobic (I took yearbook instead of chemistry in high school), but the Scientific Explorer’s Mind Blowing Science Kit for Young Scientists Santa got Carter for Christmas could change that. Today Carter and I made “magic goo.” Try it even if there’s no kid around.

Magic Goo
Simply mix 5 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/8 cup (1 ounce) water in a bowl with your fingers. Squeeze the mixture, ball it up, put it down. What happens? Is it a liquid or a solid? Technically, this corn starch-water mixture is a “non-Newtonian” liquid, which means pressure as well as temperature can affect its viscosity. (Newton was in the temperature-only camp.) When you squeeze the mixture, it feels like a solid, but take away the pressure and it goes quickly back to liquid state.

Of course beyond the science lesson about solids and liquids, tactile exploration is a key benefit of this easy science experiment. Bottom line, though, do it yourself with or without kids because it’s fun.

For more details and a larger-scale recipe, check out Steve Spangler Science’s take on this chemistry experiment. The site’s tagline is “making science fun!” It’s never too soon to start or too late to try.

Cookies and milk for Santa Claus: easy, fast blondies recipe

December 25th, 2010 by admin 1 comment »

blondies for santaHow embarrassing is it, when you write a blog with the work “baking” in it, and your son’s idea of baking cookies is to break apart grocery-store premade dough, put it on a baking sheet in the oven, and, voila, chocolate chip cookies? That was Carter’s plan when he woke me up at 7 a.m. to get Santa’s snack ready. (He never, ever sleeps in on weekends. And he never, ever wakes up Daddy.)

I have fought off my cookie-baking phobia (remember the chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies) in the past, and on Christmas Eve, I was determined that the cookies were going to be homemade. It was the only option anyway, since I had no premade dough on hand. We made blondies. Yes, I took a shortcut opting for bar cookies and skipping doling out dough. Worse, though, I planned to cut them into squares. Carter saw that as an attempt to thwart his next notion about making cookies: once, you actually make the dough, cookie cutters follow.

Fortunately, the dough was soft enough that he could cut out a stocking, a gingerbread man (always seems sexist to say that, but “person” just doesn’t seem the same), a star, a tree, and a squiggly circle, the last compliments of his PlayDoh set. All for Santa Claus.

Tonight, Carter was following Santa’s progression online. When Santa got closer to California, Carter popped out of bed to remind me to pour milk for Santa. We had enough trimmings and squares to nibble on with Grandpa and Aunt Janet, and to share with neighbors. So to all, it was a good night. Hope yours was, too.

Santa’s Blondies

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4–1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a mixing bowl. Melt butter and pour into a separate mixing bowl. Add sugar to butter and whisk to blend. Whisk in eggs one at a time and then vanilla. Add flour mixture in several small batches until incorporated.

Spread batter in baking pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Bake until the edges are browning and a tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 25–30 minutes. Be careful not to overbake. Cool and cut into squares or use cookie cutters to cut out shapes.

Kid tip: To grease the pan, Carter likes to “paint” the butter on with a silicone pastry brush, which may appeal to other kids.

Adapted from Epicurious Blondies with Pecans and Chocolate Chips

When does a “play date” become a party? Is five kids the tipping point?

December 18th, 2010 by admin No comments »

Carter melted down while I was briefly out of town early this month because, “I couldn’t wait for you to come home, and I couldn’t wait for my play date to come!” With Carter in fulltime daycare and neighbor kids to play with on weekends, I didn’t used to have to worry about official play dates. Those days are over. He sees his classmates who aren’t in daycare or don’t have a nanny having play dates often, and he wants them too.

Awhile back, he invited himself over to Kiley’s house for a play date. Fortunately, her mom was nice enough to email me and arrange a Sunday play date. Carter was fine. I was the awkward guest. I didn’t know whether to stay or go, and I’m pretty sure overstayed.

Next Carter told Anastasia and her mom to meet use at the park on a Sunday at 2:30 pm. I wasn’t sure how seriously they took the invitation (we couldn’t make it anyway), so I emailed Anastasia’s mom and arranged a play date—two weeks away!!! Not only could Carter not stand the wait, he also had time to invite Kaitlyn. And Paul. And Sonia. And Finley (the only one who couldn’t make it.) Now would you call having five kindergarteners over a “play date” or a “party”?

Last Sunday, Carter got up at 7 a.m. and filled five cups with apple juice and added silly straws. The doorbell rang, finally, at 1:15 pm. Showtime. The moms helped get everyone settled. I assured them it was ok to go. Then I was on my own.

The kids took turns helping make white frosting to decorate a premade gingerbread house. Coloring a giant pirate poster also was a hit. As was the PlayMobil soccer game. But an hour and a half later the kids needed to be aired out. Lucky me: Carter had promised we’d go to the park. I called on Nandini, Paul and Sonia’s mom, for backup. Off we went, two moms, five kids, scooter, bike, and wagon in tow to the park, the final play date activity. Phew.

Running around didn’t tire me out as much as redirecting group dynamics, like when one girl was ok with one girl next to her but not another. (Kindergarten rule: Can’t say, “Can’t play.)” It was also tough because Carter is still learning social graces and cues. Going to school with so many kids his age and older is a big change from daycare where he was the oldest child. He gets so, so, so excited playing with his friends that he has an especially hard time listening and staying calm when things aren’t going exactly as he wants them to. Tears threatened several times, and even spilled over a bit (like when I tried to get out of taking the kids to the park).

But for Carter, the fun far outweighed everything else. He is already talking about his next play date—at Anastasia’s house.

safety announcement: wear a helmet when ice skating

December 12th, 2010 by admin No comments »

IMG_1387After being a little angel in the Nutcracker, Carter switched back to ice skating classes on Saturday mornings. (There will be no more double-booking classes on Saturday after the meltdowns that having ballet and soccer on the same day caused.) Today, I skated with him after class.

One girl. Two girl. Carter. Mommy. The dominoes fell, and backwards I went, banging my head on the ice. Carter was fine—he was wearing a helmet—but worried about me. The ice skating equivalent of a lifeguard skated me off the ice and set me up with a bag of frozen peas. I’ll be buying myself a helmet before getting back in the rink.

I have a bit of a lump on my head.

When we got home, Carter sent me straight to bed. Then he brought me a jelly-pan tray of candle-decorated sweets to make me feel better. Embarrassingly not homemade, the mini blueberry muffins and mini angel food cake come from letting Carter loose in Mollie Stone’s the other day. (To his credit, he also filled his child-size shopping cart with broccoli, organic raspberries, and Concord grape, apple, and Odwalla icky-green juices.)

showing up a year after the break-in

October 1st, 2010 by admin No comments »

Unplanned, unintended hiatus. Months go by without blogging, and here I am showing up finally.

Much has happened. Carter has started kindergarten, rides his bike without training wheels, and lost his first tooth. As the “snack coordinator” for Team Dynamite, I officially become a soccer mom on Saturday.

Saturday is also the one-year anniversary of the break-in. I am not the same, and I am not over it. How sad and annoying is that? I still don’t have a new wedding ring, but a titanium (both nonallergenic and airplane grade, how appropriate) one is on its way.

You know you can get anything on Amazon, except, perhaps, peace of mind.

why kids should play with raw eggs

July 19th, 2010 by admin 5 comments »

playing with raw eggsSprinkles’ vanilla cupcake mix calls for two egg whites—although the package says you need three eggs (?)—offering the perfect opportunity for Carter to advance from cracking eggs to separating eggs. Of course, gadget-lover that I am, I use an egg-separator, which looks something like the plastic kid-friendly Egg Yolky egg separator without the face and feet.

Instead of just tossing the yolks, I let Carter poke at them. I know. I know. Yes, there’s a risk of getting  a risk of getting  salmonella from raw eggs.* But I’d rather teach Carter to keep his hands away from his face when handling raw eggs and to wash his hands after than to have him afraid of touching an egg white or yolk.

Safety of the specific food aside, grownups sometimes forget how much fun—or yucky but still interesting—touching food can be. In terms of child development (one of the Baking with Carter blog themes), sensory and tactile experiences are essential—and baking is an easy way to provide them them, no expensive toys required. I still remember Carter saying in amazement, “It’s so soft!” the first time he touched all-purpose flour. So go ahead and let your kids touch softened butter, squish brown sugar in their hands, and , if you’re ok with it, poke an egg yolk.

Poking egg yolks can also be looked as as a science experiment. Carter tested how much pressure it took to break the yolks and then smeared them around in the bowl to study their viscosity. He asked: What would happen if he poured in water? Well, I said, hot-enough water could start to cook them. Otherwise? Not much. He dumped in a cup of water, which was room temperature, to see for himself. The water floated to the top; the heavier eggs sank.

Then I had him wash his hands with soap and water twice.

By the time the cupcakes came out of the oven, it was too late to eat them. In the morning, my aspiring baker brought me breakfast in bed: a cupcake, with lots and lots of red sprinkles, of course.

*Caution: Always wash hands with soap and water thoroughly after handling raw eggs. Do this activity only with children you can trust to keeps their hands away from their mouths and face. To be extra safe, use pasteurized eggs.

alphabet cookies, with red sprinkles, of course

June 20th, 2010 by admin 2 comments »

letter_cookies From letters to sounds to words, Carter is making the literacy journey. He aced letters and sounds, started reading words well over a year ago, and can sound out new words. But he’s a bit spooked about reading. No fear of baking, though, so our culinary take: alphabet cookies. We used Alton Brown’s trusty sugar cookie recipe, teamed up with Carter’s neighbor friend Sonia, and got rolling. As you can see, I kid not about Carter’s love of red sprinkles.

One note: If you buy alphabet cookie cutters, be sure to check the size. Miniature letters will spell “frustration” with kids. The letter cookie cutters we used are 2 inches high. They came as part of  The Alphabake: A Cookbook and Cookie Cutter Set. The set comes with 26 ABC cookie cutters, a square baking sheet, and a wipe-off, 32-page cookbook. Author Debra Pearson has some fun ideas, such as making a “negative” cookie with the letters of your name or a word cut out; edible Cocoa Cookie Kisses, with Xs and Os; and not-for-consumption salt play dough. You can also just buy ABC cookie cutters, which often come with numbers, too; for example, Wilton has a 50-piece ABC and 123 cookie cutter set with cookie cutters that are about 3.5 inches in size.

unsure, unhappy, unwell? act “as if” everything is ok

May 24th, 2010 by admin 1 comment »
There are worse places to be sick than overlooking Vancouver's harbor

There are worse places to be sick than Vancouver

Act “as if.” This is great advice for working women, which I first heard from Jo Miller, a crackerjack executive leadership coach. For instance, if you act as if you’re a leader and see yourself in that role, in turn, colleagues will treat you accordingly.

The ubiquitous “how to be happy” articles always offer a variation of this strategy: Act happy, even if you don’t feel happy, and soon you will be happy.

The Friday before we left for vacation, Carter came home sniffling a little. A four-hour nap on Saturday cured him. Only five kids made it to daycare that Monday, the same day my throat started to get sore. Tuesday, I was home sick. Wednesday, we left for six days in Vancouver.

My strategy: Act as if I weren’t miserably sick.

It’s day 5 in Vancouver, and I wish I could report that I psyched myself into feeling better. I didn’t. I’ve gotten sicker every day. But I’d like to think that I complained less than usual. And despite being sick, I’ve had a great time away with my boys. (I don’t have to act as if I were happy, because I am—except about being sick.) Now, I’ll just have to act as if I’m not guilty of giving the daycare virus back to Carter as I dole out some more children’s ibuprofen.