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  1. Thursday, October 11, 2012

    Fun Times in Anaheim

    We are not entirely sure how much longer we’ll be living in California, so we decided we should get a Disneyland trip under our belts just in case. We skipped school (parenting at its best!) and took three days last week to bop down to Anaheim for some fun! The trip was fast and exhausting, but I am sooooo glad we did it. With the exception of Owen (who just wanted to crawl around the hotel room instead of being dragged around amusement parks in record-breaking heat in a stroller), we all had a blast! And it was totally worth skipping school. 😉

    The Anaheim Visitor’s Bureau did a fantastic job helping to coordinate our trip. Thank you, Anaheim! I would love to share our experiences with you in case you decide to bop over to Anaheim yourselves!

    Howard Johnson at Disneyland
    The tourism board put us up at the HoJo Anaheim. It was the perfect spot for our family. Here are all the reasons we loved staying there:

    • We were in a 2 Queens Premium room and it was great for our family of five. Often when our family stays in just one hotel room, there is very little space for luggage, the pack n play, and the people…we just feel cramped. This room had plenty of space for everything, so everyone was comfortable the whole time.
    • We were spoiled with a room in the tower overlooking Disneyland Park, so we had front row seats to the nightly fireworks. Which was just plain awesome.
    • The Castaway Cove Water Playground was AWESOME. So well done, so much fun, the kids LOVED it.
    • The hotel is a very short walk to the Disneyland Park entrance, eliminating the need to park your car at the amusement park (which is a huge pain). Heaven.
    • Mimi’s Cafe is right across the street. We ate breakfast there a couple mornings and it was very family friendly. The night we arrived it was kind of late and we ordered take-out, turkey dinner for our whole family for $25! It was just what we needed.
    • The night we arrived the girls were beyond giddy. Cate exclaimed, “Mom! This hotel room is wonderful!” I replied, “So, you like it?” To which Cate replied, “No, Mom. {pause} I LOVE it.” Anna just kept repeating “Disneyland Fireworks! Disneyland Fireworks! Disneyland Fireworks!” It was all just so darn cute.

    Disneyland Park
    Of course we visited Disneyland – that was the original goal of the trip! A few quick notes on our visit this time around:

    • Cars Land at California Adventure Park is AWESOME. We didn’t even do any of the rides in Cars Land and we still loved it to pieces. It is beautiful, so well-done, you feel like you’re walking right through the movie. The Cozy Cone Motel served snacks that were all cone themed in cone-shaped containers. The whole area was created that way, with great attention to detail.

    • The World of Color show was really cool and the girls counted it as one of their favorite parts of the day. Be sure to get a fast pass early in the day for the show!
    • We ate dinner at Cafe Orleans that night. It was SOOOO nice to sit down in an air-conditioned restaurant and have someone serve us. We were really glad we took the time for a sit-down meal. The food was great, too. The pommes frites were DELISH.
    • Did you know about the parent swap option? Both Disney and Knott’s had this. If you have a baby in a stroller, when you get in line for a ride, you can request a parent swap pass. That way, one parent can wait in line with the kids, ride the ride, then when they get off, the other parent can get in the fast pass line and be able to ride as well. It was WONDERFUL and perfect for us, since Owen couldn’t go on any of the rides.

    • We were excited to discover that they are building a new princess area at Disneyland. Whenever we go to Disneyland, the girls see Sleeping Beauty’s castle and immediately ask where the princesses are. Well, the princesses are located in the back of the park, nowhere near the castle, so it’s always kind of a let down. But they are building a new princess area right next to the castle! It will be perfect and my girls can’t wait to visit Disneyland to see it when it’s done!
    • You may be wondering…was skipping school worth it? Was the park really less crowded? It was still busy. All of Australia happened to be there that day. But the lines were definitely not as long as on a high-traffic day, so it was worth it. I think going on a Tuesday would have been even better than a Monday. If anyone has tips of the best days and times of year to go with the least amount of crowds, please share!

    Knott’s Berry Farm
    We spent half a day at Knott’s Berry Farm and it was great! More relaxing than Disneyland and WAY less crowded (we didn’t have to wait in any lines and could ride some of the rides over and over again). Our family is planning to dress up as Peanuts characters for Halloween, so seeing the Peanuts characters walking around got the girls pumped for their costumes. And Owen, our dog lover, LOVED meeting Snoopy in person. I also really liked how all the kids rides were in one place, Camp Snoopy. It was fun for the kids to hit ride after ride after ride. We had lunch at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, where the chicken and biscuits were deeee-licious. The girls really enjoyed their jello appetizer…perhaps a little too much. 😉

    Medieval Times
    After Knott’s, we headed over to Medieval Times for dinner. Nate and I had never been and weren’t sure what to expect. It was a middle school dream of mine to go to Medieval Times, so the dream was finally coming alive! 😉 We really weren’t sure what the girls would think, especially since Anna is scared of the dark. Welllll…every last member of our little family loved it, even Owen! We arrived and got to meet the Princess Catalina. It was like Anna was meeting her greatest hero. She was super shy but reached out for her hand, which she held for our photo. The princess was so gracious and sweet to the girls, which Nate and I greatly appreciated. When it was finally time for the festivities to begin, we were seated and the lights went down. There was no silverware, but our loyal server snuck a few pieces so I could feed the baby. The food was great and there’s something about ripping into your food with with your hands that really gets you in the mood to cheer on dueling knights.

    Okay, seriously, our kids LOVED every minute of the dinner and show. They ate the food, they cheered wildly, Owen kept clapping and pointing. At one point when the Red Knight (our knight) was fighting, Cate was literally trembling as she cheered him on. Anna fell for the blue knight, even though he was from the other side of the kingdom. After it was all over, you could meet the knights and royalty for autographs. Anna wanted to meet the blue knight, but she got shy, wouldn’t look at him or the camera, and when Nate told him how she cheered him on and liked a winner, Anna kicked Nate in the shins. A first crush if we’ve ever seen one!

    Discovery Science Center
    On the day we drove home, we spent the morning at the Discovery Science Center. Again, the kids loved it. Owen was happy because he could finally crawl around and explore somewhere! The exhibits were really fun and well done and we could have easily spent the entire day there. They have different “adventures” for different age levels at the various exhibits and they were tailored very well for our girls. There is a dinosaur exhibit outdoors where you get these cool magic wands and go on an adventure, looking for discoveries. The girls loved it. There is also a pretend grocery store where you learn how to shop with the environment in mind. I actually really loved the grocery store. I feel like the way we shop for food really does have an environmental impact, so I loved that they were helping the kids to learn to think that way, too.

    Yes, we did a LOT. Arrived Sunday night. Monday at Disneyland. Tuesday morning at the water playground at the hotel. Lunch and afternoon at Knott’s. Dinner at Medieval Times. Wednesday morning at Discover Science, then hit the road for home. We could have easily spent a day or two at each place we visited, so we packed a lot in just a few short days. But, like I said, it was a BLAST and I am so glad we did it! I think the girls were in Fun Heaven.

    Big thanks again to the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau for helping coordinate so much of our trip. They are a fantastic resource! And I highly recommend staying in Anaheim for a Southern California family vacation. Easy access to Disneyland is a huge plus, and Anaheim is smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles and San Diego, which have so much to offer. Fun family times!

    In the interest of full disclosure, Disneyland provided us with two passes and some vouchers to go towards a meal. Anaheim provided us with our hotel accommodations, additional Disneyland passes, admission to the other venues and two meals. We paid for our own transportation costs and additional meals. All opinions are my own!

  2. America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook Giveaway Winners!

    Time to announce the two winners of the America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook giveaway! Both winners have cool websites, you should click through! Okay, here they are!

    Sarah, who said, “I saw this at Costco today and *almost* bought it. But why buy it when I can win it? :)

    Ellen Patton, who said, “I would love to win the recipe book and have a slice of that chicken pot pie!” was crazy today…it picked #2 and #223, the very beginning and very end of the entries!

    Congratulations, ladies! I know you’ll put the book to good use! If you’d like to buy the book, here is a link to it on Amazon. I recommend it for sure!


  3. Tuesday, October 9, 2012

    Chicken Fried Steak

    Growing up, one of the dishes that I would always order if it was on a restaurant menu was Chicken Fried Steak. I loved the stuff.

    picture of chicken friend steak with gravy, mashed potatoes, and vegetables

    The last time I had chicken fried steak, however, was before Cate was born. It was at a restaurant in Orange County and it was only okay. So, I must admit, I have kind of shied away from the dish since that night.

    But a few weeks ago I got a hankering and decided to try my hand at making the stuff myself.

    top view of chicken fried steak on a plate with mashed potatoes and vegetables

    I followed Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe for cooking the steak and Ree Drummond’s recipe for making the gravy. The result? Chicken fried steak in all its rich, delicious glory. For REAL…the fried breading part on this steak was to die for. I’ve never had a desire to fry chicken at home, but after this I am seriously considering it!

    side view of chicken fried steak with gravy

    Also, I used a thermometer and followed the directions precisely. I love it when Cook’s Illustrated recipes have a temperature to work with, I feel like success is much more imminent that way. Another ALSO…Nate has an infrared thermometer (science nerd alert!) that worked PERFECTLY for this. The surface of the oil reads the correct temperature and it’s a super fast way to read the temp. Speed is good when you’re frying food.

    a thermometer

    Note: this is not a difficult recipe, but it is a bit labor intensive. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya. This might be a good recipe to tackle on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

    Chicken Fried Steak
    From Cook’s Illustrated
    Recipe type: Main Dish, Chicken
    • 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
    • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 cup buttermilk
    • 6 cube steaks, pounded to ⅓ inch thickness
    • cooking oil for frying (Jane note: I used canola oil)
    1. Getting the initial oil temperature to 375 degrees is key to the success of this recipe. An instant-read thermometer with a high upper range is perfect for checking the temperature; a clip-on candy/deep-fry thermometer is also fine. If your Dutch oven measures 11 inches across (as ours does), you will need to fry the steaks in two batches.
    2. For the steaks: Measure the flour, 5 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and cayenne into a large shallow dish. In a second large shallow dish, beat the egg, baking powder, and baking soda; stir in the buttermilk (the mixture will bubble and foam).
    3. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Pat the steaks dry with paper towels and sprinkle each side with salt and pepper to taste. Dip steaks into the flour, both sides, shaking off excess. Using tongs, dip the steaks into the egg mixture, turning to coat well and allowing the excess to drip off. Coat the steaks with flour again, shake off the excess, and place them on the wire rack.
    4. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, set a second wire rack over a second rimmed baking sheet, and place the sheet on the oven rack; heat the oven to 200 degrees. (Jane note: I DID set up this wire rack in the oven, however. I wouldn’t skip this step! You will be cooking the steaks in batches and you want the ones that are already cooked to say hot and crispy throughout the process.) Line a large plate with a double layer of paper towels. Meanwhile, heat 1 inch of oil in a large (11-inch diameter) Dutch oven over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. Place three steaks in the oil and fry, turning once, until deep golden brown on each side, about 5 minutes (oil temperature will drop to around 335 degrees). Transfer the steaks to the paper towel-lined plate to drain, then transfer them to the wire rack in the oven. Bring the oil back to 375 degrees and repeat the cooking and draining process (use fresh paper towels) with the three remaining steaks.
    Jane note: I just set a small wire rack over a dinner plate. Simple and easy.

    Jane note: the steaks were pretty large, so I believe I had to cook in three batches.

    Chicken Fried Steak Gravy
    From Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman
    • ¼ cup of the grease from cooking the steaks
    • ⅓ cup flour
    • 1½ cup whole milk (or whatever milk you have in the fridge)
    • salt and pepper
    1. After all meat is fried, pour off the grease into a heatproof bowl. Without cleaning the pan, return it to the stove over medium-low heat. Add ¼ cup grease back to the pan. Allow grease to heat up.
    2. Sprinkle ⅓ cup flour evenly over the grease. Using a whisk, mix flour with grease, creating a golden-brown paste. Keep cooking until it reaches a deep golden brown color. If paste seems more oily than pasty, sprinkle in another tablespoon of flour and whisk.
    3. Whisking constantly, pour in milk. Cook to thicken the gravy. Be prepared to add more milk if it becomes overly thick. Add salt and pepper and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until gravy is smooth and thick. Be sure to taste to make sure gravy is sufficiently seasoned.

    view of breaded chicken before it is fried



  4. Sunday, October 7, 2012

    Week 298 Menu

    We had a little more time this morning than usual, so I decided to do something fun with our pancakes. I tried these cinnamon roll pancakes that I found while reading blogs for DailyBuzz Moms. The kids loved the novelty of putting frosting on their breakfast and little Owen couldn’t stop eating!

    I can’t believe another week has already passed! I mean, really, Halloween is just a few weeks away. How is that possible?

    Chicken Soup with Rice
    – Crusty bread

    – Caprese salad (it’s tomato season where we live, CSA is overflowing with tomatoes!)
    – More crusty bread

    Turkey sandwich with cranberry and cream cheese
    – Chips and fruit

    – Eat out after soccer practice
    – My truly GUILTY pleasure, The Vampire Diaries, is back on air…a sinful dessert to celebrate, perhaps?

    – Leftovers

    – Fajitas

    Green Noodles (a humble name for an amazing dish)
    – Salad

    I actually went grocery shopping yesterday, so I have all my ingredients up through Thursday ready to go. I may have to make this a weekly practice since grocery shopping during the week is proving to be too difficult lately. It feels much less stressful going into the week with food already on the shelves!

    You know the drill, folks. Please share your menus! All menus welcome, no matter how plain or fancy!

  5. Thursday, October 4, 2012

    Easiest-Ever Chicken Pot Pie

    Hello everyone! I am back from vacation and can’t wait to share the fun we had…but I still have a lot of photos to go through and some decompressing to do! So, until then, how about an awesome recipe and a giveaway? Let’s do it!

    As you know, I love America’s Test Kitchen and have a great relationship with them. When I visited the kitchens this summer, I was given an advance copy of their new cookbook The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook. Of course I love it…delicious and reliable recipes that are FAST? Yes, please. I found a real gem of a recipe in this book that has found a permanent place in our dinner rotation…the easiest-ever chicken pot pie.

    This chicken pot pie recipe is soooo yummy and it really is super easy. Everyone in our family eats everything on their plate and I’ve made the recipe several times. Boursin cheese is the secret ingredient. I love Boursin, but was a little worried it might taste too Boursin-y. It doesn’t at all, the flavor is fantastic and the gravy has perfect consistency.

    Now that the cookbook has been released, I can share the recipe with you AND give away a couple copies of the book! Yippee!

    Two of you lucky people will receive a copy of The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook. As always, simply leave a comment on this post to be entered to win! You can add extra entries by liking This Week for Dinner and/or America’s Test Kitchen on Facebook. Be sure to leave separate comments for each extra entry! All comments must be added by Midnight PT on Wednesday, October 10, 2012.


    And now for the recipe, with my modifications. To get the even easier version from America’s Test Kitchen you’ll have to win or buy the book! 😉

    Easiest-Ever Chicken Pot Pie
    Modified from The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook (their version is even easier than what I outline below”¦get the book to see the tricks!)
    Recipe type: Main Dish, Poultry, Pie
    Cuisine: American
    • 8 ounces white mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
    • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • 1 (5.2-ounce) package Boursin cheese
    • 1 cup chicken broth
    • ½ cup heavy cream
    • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
    • salt and pepper
    • 1½ cups frozen peas and carrots
    • 1 refrigerated Pillsbury pie crust
    1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
    2. Boil chicken breasts until just done. Cut/shred with a knife and fork into bite-sized pieces.
    3. Saute mushrooms until softened and liquid has released.
    4. Combine broth, cream, cornstarch, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper in large saucepan. Break up cheese and mix in. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until cheese is melted and mixture has thickened, about 5-7 minutes. (Note: I just leave the mushrooms in the pan where I sauteed them and add in the broth, etc and cook it with the mushrooms in there. Saves a pan and works great!) Stir in chicken, mushrooms, peas and carrots. Season with more salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to 9-inch deep dish pie pan. My pie pan was not deep enough, so I used a 10-inch cake pan.
    5. Carefully lay pie crust over top. Tuck overhanging dough underneath itself so crust is flush with edge of pan. Cut three 1-inch slits in top of dough. Bake until filling is bubbling and crust is browned, about 25 minutes. Rotate dish halfway through cooking. Let cool slightly when done then serve.