Friday, August 30, 2013

Baked Chicken Parmesan with Ricotta and Spinach


Chicken parmesan with a special twist! Hidden beneath the traditional mozzarella is a slathering of ricotta cheese peppered with ribbons of baby spinach. An element of surprise to perk up this Italian American comfort food classic.
Chicken cutlets are marinated in buttermilk then coated in parmesan bread crumbs and baked until crispy. Baking is my preferred method. Frying is so messy, fussy and time-consuming.
I make up for the not-frying by taking the extra time to marinate the cutlets in buttermilk. This produces fork tender results and if you do happen to over cook them, which is an easy thing being the cutlets are so thin and are baked twice, the buttermilk helps keep them moist and juicy.
Once baked they are smothered in a spicy, red pepper Arrabbiata sauce then slathered with the ricotta and spinach followed by the mozzarella cheese.
Another trip into the oven to melt the cheese(s) and plating them with spaghetti is all that stands between you and this melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
Baked Chicken Parmesan with Ricotta and Spinach
Rating: 5
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Yield: serves 4 generously
Baked Chicken Parmesan with Ricotta and Spinach
1 + 1/2 pounds chicken cutlets, cut in half
coarse salt and fresh black pepper
1 + 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup seasoned Italian bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
2 (24 ounce) jars of Arrabbiata sauce (like Bertolli)
1 cup ricotta cheese, preferably fresh
2 packed cups baby spinach leaves, stems removed
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
12 ounces whole grain spaghetti
fresh chopped basil or parsley for serving
  1. Season the chicken cutlets on both side with salt and pepper. Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl and add the chicken, cover with saran wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour to as long as overnight.
  2. In a large shallow dish combine the seasoned bread crumbs and parmesan. Grease a large baking sheet or roasting pan with olive oil. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. Remove the chicken, one piece at a time from the buttermilk, allow excess to drip off then dredge in the bread crumbs using your fingers to pat the crumbs on. Place on baking sheet. Repeat until all the chicken is coated.
  4. Bake about 20 minutes until golden and just cooked through. Meanwhile make stacks of the spinach leaves and slice lengthwise into thin ribbons (chiffonade). Add the ricotta to a small bowl and mix in the spinach ribbons.
  5. Remove the chicken from the oven. Top each cutlet generously with sauce, then a generous spread of ricotta followed by a layer of mozzarella. Return to oven about 10 minutes or until cheese is hot and melted. Optionally you can turn the broiler on for a minute to brown the cheese.
  6. Meanwhile cook the spaghetti according to package directions in plenty of salted water to al dente. Drain and toss with the sauce.
  7. Serve cutlets over the spaghetti with a sprinkle of fresh herbs and parmesan cheese.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Preschool Science and Sensory Tools

It is no secret, young children learn through play.  Here are some really fun things you can keep on hand for your little preschooler or elementary aged kiddo for some real hands on fun and learning from Fun-A-Day!

Also - a lot of these things you may already have around your house that your little one might "borrow" for a bit.  Water/Sensory tables like the one pictured are GREAT!  I have always had one for my three kiddos. Rather than buying one, we took two large plastic totes, turned one over and glued the second on top (bottom to bottom).  Super easy and perfect height for a preschooler too and you can reuse the totes when they out grow the table :)

That being said, I do have certain “tools of the trade” that I love using when doing silly experiments and playing in sensory bins. I’m not focusing on ingredients today — rather, the items that help the kiddos explore those ingredients. Since there really are a limitless amount of tools little scientists can use, I limited myself to 15! I’d love to hear what your favorites are in the comments section below! :)

Affiliate links are included for your convenience. Many of these items can also be found at your local grocery store, The Dollar Store, Dollar Tree, and a variety of chain stores.

The kids always get a kick out of using child-sized tweezers, chopsticks, and mini tongs

! They’re great for transferring and picking up items during sensory and science play. Tweezers and chopsticks are a great alternative for those children who aren’t as excited about getting their hands dirty. They also add a fine motor dimension to all of the sensory fun!

I think funnels are Engineer’s favorite science/sensory tube. He especially loves using them to add liquids to empty bottles at our water table! They’re also great for adding little bits and bobs to discovery bottles! Many kiddos just like to pour different items into the top of the funnels and watch as the items fall (or don’t fall) through the mouth of the funnel.

There’s just something about squeezing these plastic bottles that kids react to! Maybe it’s the force they get to exert on the bottles or the possible mess they might be able to make? We use the bottles to add vinegar and water to our fun science experiments, paint in the snow, “write” with liquids, mix colors, etc.

With all of the freezing experiments we’ve done over the summer, ice cube trays have become go-to science tools at my house! Ice cube trays are also great to hold small items and liquids for science/sensory fun. The specially-shaped trays can add a new dimension to play as well — to make shaped ice cubes and shaped Jell-O concoctions, for example.

Nothing makes a child feel more like a scientist than eye droppers! They add a different fine motor aspect to sensory and science play, allowing the children to work the small muscles in their hands. Transferring liquids, dropping vinegar on baking soda, and mixing colors are just a few ways to use eye droppers. Turkey basters also work well as droppers, and I am just LOVING these Jumbo Eye Droppers from Learning Resources (I haven’t tried them out yet, but I plan to soon)!!

We do fun science experiments in multiple containers, depending on what we’re doing and where we are! In my classroom, I have a two-bin water table that’s a great height for the preschoolers (they also have a four-bin version

). I love that I can easily lift the tubs out when I need to empty them and clean them (which is pretty often). Other teachers at my school love the simple one-bin water tables

. At home, we use large plastic bins if we’re inside on a rainy day or if we want to transport it easily. If the weather’s nice and we’re on the back porch, we stick with a simple water table. Engineer’s getting too tall for it, so I will likely upgrade to something that suits him better soon.

Yes, they’re meant to magnify items that children are observing. Even beyond that, the kiddos just love using them! Half the time, it’s for looking at items up close. At other times, though, they just love pretending to be scientists. There’s nothing wrong with pretend play being thrown in with science and sensory play! I’m all for science tools that make the experience even more fun for the kids, andmagnifying glasses do just that.

These items are often pilfered from my kitchen when Engineer and his buds are experimenting or playing in sensory bins. I’ve set the children up with a variety of their own measuring cups and spoons. It’s lessened the pilfering from my kitchen, although I notice they still wander off occasionally! The cups and spoons help kids transfer materials, measure items, scoop, and pour. Plus, they seem to make children feel more “grown up” because they’re using tools their parents use.

It seems that, no matter the age, kids are just fascinated by magnets. Engineer likes using magnets to make different structures, both on and off the fridge. He also likes exploring which items are magnetic and which are not. Children can also experiment with different strengths of magnets, or they can see how many items one magnetic wand can lift. The possibilities are endless!

Engineer loves building and creating new structures (thus his nickname)! He has used PVC pipes to create marble runs, water slides, and all sorts of musical instruments. When it comes to science, PVC pipes let children experiment with physics and the movement of liquids. They’re also great in sensory bins — to transfer different materials all around the water table and to test the sounds different items make. I purchased my PVC pipes at a local hardware store.

Empty plastic bottles, cardboard tubes, empty sauce jars, cleaned out snack containers, etc. etc. etc. Half the time, any recyclables we have are cleaned up and stored in the craft closet for future use! We use plastic bottles to make discovery bottles, transfer sensory items, and so much more! Jars, containers, and bottles let children measure and pour, too. Cardboard tubes let children experiment with physics and create new aspects to their science/sensory play. With a child’s imagination, this list could go on and on!

Mirrors let children explore how reflections and light works. Plus, kids just enjoy looking at themselves in mirrors, which adds a different perspective to their science/sensory experiences. I have yet to post about science/sensory with mirrors, but I recommend you check out My Nearest and Dearest’s “Water, Mirrors, and Reflections: A Physics Investigation for Preschoolers“ and Twodaloo’s “Blue Sky Sensory Play“.

Using different sized trays lets children move their experiments from one place to another. Engineer also likes using them to differentiate parts of his sensory play (for example, putting hay on one tray and dirt on another while creating a farm sensory scene). Also, trays help to contain (some of) the mess!

Transferring items is a huge part of sensory play. Little Hurricane loves shoveling materials from one place to another and back again. Engineer enjoys using them to scoop items into funnels, PVC pipes, cardboard tubes, etc. They’re also helpful for learning measurement!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cupcake Cones

I have seen these so many times and wondered how they were made and now the mystery is revealed!  Here are the directions from Making Life Delicious and also a great cake and frosting recipe!

Festive Birthday Cupcake ConesPrint-Friendly Recipe
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large pinch of kosher salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 4-5 cups powdered sugar
  • Ice Cream Cones (I used Baskin & Robbins)
  • Sprinkles
To make the Yellow Cake portion of the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a half-sheet pan (13″ X 18″) and then line it with parchment paper.  In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  In a small bowl, combine the self-rising flour, all-purpose flour and kosher salt.  In another small bowl, combine the whole milk and vanilla extract.  You will be adding the flours in four parts alternating with the milk/vanilla mixture and beating well after each addition.  Flour, milk, flour, milk, flour, milk, flour.  Got it?
Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake until the top springs back when lightly touched, about 20-22 minutes.  Set the pan on a rack to cool.
Mmmmmm.  Now its time to make frosting.  Yeah!
If you are making the Chocolate Buttercream Frosting…Beat the butter until creamy, about 2 minutes.  Add the melted chocolate and continue to beat.  Then add the powdered sugar, vanilla, a big pinch of kosher salt and about 1 tablespoon of whole milk.  Beat until spreading consistency, adding an additional tablespoon of whole milk, if necessary.
If you are making the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting…Beat the butter until creamy, about 2 minutes.  Add 3 cups of the powdered sugar, vanilla, a big pinch of kosher salt and about 2 tablespoons of whole milk.  Then add an additional 1-2 cups of the powdered sugar (depending on how sweet you like it).  Beat until spreading consistency, adding an additional tablespoon of milk, if necessary.
To assemble these cupcake cones, put a scoop of frosting and in the bottom of the cone.  Tap the bottom of the cone to pat down the frosting.  Then take a round cutter the size of the inside of your cone (for me that was a 1.5-inch diameter) and cut out a cake round.
Place in your cone.
Fill to the top with more frosting.
Cut out a slightly larger cake round for the top of the cone (2 inches in diameter).
Frost the top of the cupcake making a dome like an ice cream cone.  Top with sprinkles because everybody likes sprinkles.  :)
Transportation of these cupcake cones is a challenge.  Once filled, they are top-heavy.  So if you need to travel with them, I suggest doing so in a popover pan.