Wednesday, July 6, 2011

DIY Pasteurize Eggs

If you are making a recipe that uses raw eggs, you may in some circumstances wish to pasteurize them.

This can easily be done in a double boiler (or something you rig up to act as a double boiler). Simply place an egg in water in the top of the double boiler or inner bowl, and heat until the water temperature is between 135–140°F for 3–5 minutes. You may have to remove the double boiler from the heat source, and perhaps even remove the top pan or inner bowl, so the temperature doesn't rise too far above 140°F, which would cook the egg.

*Some sources seem to say that this method only pasteurizes the outside of the egg and not the inside, while others seem to say this method safely pasteurizes the whole egg. Use your best judgment. From my personal experience our mayonnaise lasted much longer in the refrigerator when made with eggs prepared in this manner, and since this method gets the eggs hot enough you have to be careful not to actually cook them, it would seem safe to be. However, if you are truly in a high risk group  you may just want to buy professionally pasteurized eggs.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Vanilla Frozen Yogurt: Making Frozen Yogurt Without an Ice Cream Machine

I made this classic frozen yogurt to accompany our All American Apple Pie for the 4th of July. The taste is refreshingly pure, and it is simple to make with only three ingredients. If you just want plain frozen yogurt, simply omit the vanilla (even simpler).

Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

3 cups yogurt* (homemade yogurt works great)
¾ cup sugar**
1 tsp vanilla

Mix ingredients, and freeze in ice cream freezer if you have one. If you don't have an ice cream freezer, simply mix all ingredients in a freezer safe bowl and place in your regular freezer. After about 30–60 minutes, check on the yogurt, and stir vigorously with a spatula or hand mixer to break up the ice crystals. Repeat this process every 30–45 minutes until the yogurt is frozen well. In general, the more you break up the ice crystals, the longer it will take for the frozen yogurt to finish, but the smoother the end result will be. There is a lot more information on making ice cream and frozen yogurt on David Lebovitz's site.

* Whole milk, strained, or Greek yogurt will yield creamier, richer results than low fat versions
** Reducing the amount of sugar or changing the type of sweetener can dramatically effect the consistency of frozen yogurt or ice cream.

Mandarin Mondays: 加油

Last Friday as we were returning home, from trying for the second time to pay our cold water bill (unsuccessfully as they told us we have to wait at least 11 more days), we walked past a gas station. Nate said that he had learned something really interesting in class about the phrase to add oil (加油, jiā yóu). It is exactly the same words you use to cheer someone one, like a cheerleader (啦啦队, lā lā duì) at a sporting event, or if you are just trying to encourage (鼓励, gǔ lì) someone. Right this minute, I can hear Chinese grandmothers encouraging their grandchildren who are playing outside by saying,"jiā yóu, jiā yóu."

Literally: Add Oil Station
Saying, "jiā yóu, jiā yóu, jiā yóu," is like saying, "go, go, go," at a sporting event, while saying, "jiā yóu" at a gas station (加油站, jiā yóu zhàn) means add gas (literally oil). I guess we have similar phrases in English like "pump it up," "turn on the gas," or "put the pedal to the metal."

Later that evening on the way to Walmart, we passed a famous "Muslim" restaurant and witnessed the staff getting some encouragement or marching orders (we're not sure which). Before the dinner hour, at almost every restaurant big or small, the staff heads out front of the building in groups divided by their position in the restaurant. Usually, you see the cooks out first, and then the waitresses. Later, the hostesses and parking attendants get their pep talk.

Usually, you see someone with a clipboard, piece of paper, or whistle (to make them more official) talking to the group first. After the pep talk, the employees will usually march around and sometimes shout or cheer like soldiers or play teamwork building games. Encouragement is interesting here.

Cookie Fireworks

I had some pie crust left over from making apple pies, so I decided to make some fun cookies in the shape of fireworks and sparklers. Sugar cookie dough would also work well. This is a fun project that even little kids can help with and older children could do all on their own.

Simply cut strips of dough with a pizza cutter and stars with a cookie cutter (or a star shape from your child's shape sorter that you have thoroughly cleaned). Arrange strips and stars to look like fireworks and/or sparklers on a cookie sheet. Press together lightly. Bake until golden brown. Let cool completely. Then frost with accents of red and blue for some very patriotic cookies. Enjoy!

All American Apple pie

What is more American than apple pie? Apple pie shaped like a flag. Strawberries and blueberries are out of season here, so I came up with a different flag-shaped dessert.

Oil Pie Crust

2 cups flour
½ cup oil (vegetable, canola, sunflower, etc.)
6 Tbsp or more ice water
(makes enough for a standard double crust pie or a thin 9x13 flag pie)

Mix together oil and flour with a pastry cutter. Add ice water, and continue mixing until firm dough forms. Let rest at least 15 minutes before rolling.

Apple Pie Filling

5 cups thinly sliced apples (peeled if you like)
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
(makes enough filling for a standard 9 in pie or a thin 9x13 flag pie)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and stir to coat apples in dry ingredients.

For a regular apple pie, just divide the dough and roll two circle large enough for your pie pan. Place the first crust in the pie pan. Bake for 5 minutes at 350°F, remove, and add apple pie filling. Place the top crust over the filling, crimp edge, and cut slits in the top to vent while baking. Bake at 350°F for 40–50 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

To make an American flag pie roll a large rectangle of dough to fit in a 9x13 pan. You can use a 9x9 pan for a thicker square-shaped pie, but unless you decrease the recipe you will have crust left over. Place the first crust in the pie pan. Bake for 5 minutes at 350°F, remove and add apple pie filling. Use a pizza cutter to cut thin strips of crust for the stripes of the flag. Use a small star cookie cutter (or a star shape from your child's shape sorter that you have thoroughly cleaned) to cut some stars for the flag. Arrange stars and stripes on top of the pie. Bake at 350°F for 40–50 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Berry Frozen Yogurt
Here are some great dessert recipes. Some are simple, some are elegant, some are fairly healthy, some are not really healthy, but all will satisfy a sweet tooth.

Chocolate chip Brownie Cheesecake

American Flag Cake

This is a simple, yet elegant dessert is a classic for 4th of July.

Flag Cake

1 9x13 yellow or white cake (from a mix or homemade)

1 small container of cool whip, can of white frosting, or homemade cream cheese frosting
1 pound of strawberries with tops removed and cut in half
1 cup of bluberries

Frost the top of the cake, arrange blueberries in a square in the top left corner, and then arrange the strawberries as horizontal stripes.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Our First Unit Study: America the Beautiful

With the boys begging for more school activities, I decided to incorporate some simple unit studies into our days. Aaron definitely needs a challenge, and Andrew is happy to be a part of any activity we can include him in. Eventually, I want our boys to have a good understanding of both America's and China's history and geography, as well as the states of Illinois and Texas. I thought that celebrating the 4th of July all month long would be a great first unit study. We're keeping it simple and doing the activities as a sort of birthday party for America. Aaron is getting really excited about celebrating America's birthday, and Andrew loves our patriotic decorations.

I found so many awesome resources online that I thought I would share them in case anyone else wants to learn more about America this month, or anytime of the year.

The blog 1+1+1=1 has an awesome calendar you can print that teaches history facts. You can also print out activity sheets that accompany the calendar to reinforce the facts in fun ways.

2 Teaching Mommies provides a free printable 4th of July activity pack. These preschool worksheets and activities teach basic skills using fun patriotic graphics.

Homeschooling in Heels has a really cool lapbook pack available to download and print for free. I think we are going to have to wait a year or two for this one, but it still looks well done.

Currclick has a free ebook about why we celebrate this holiday in the first place.

Kidzone has free coloring sheets focusing on state history and geography.

DTLK has a lot of 4th of July activity sheets and games for kids.

Apple 4 the Teacher also has a ton of coloring sheets and other activities focusing Independence Day and American history.

Family Fun has some neat craft ideas. Including printouts for a patriotic paper airplane and patriotic pinwheel that look fun.

We have also been trying to learn more songs together as a family, and I think we will try to learn some patriotic songs this month. And perhaps we will work on the pledge of allegiance with Aaron as well.

There are so many awesome resources out there to pick and choose from. It is great to be able to pull together activities that are right for each child's level and tailor what you want to focus on. I pulled bits and pieces from a lot of these resources. I may add more if time allows, and the boys are still interested. We'll see what we all end up using this year, and can always save things they aren't ready for yet for another year.

So far we have just done a few days of the calendar cards and some of the activities from 2 Teaching Mommies. Aaron has enjoyed them a lot and asked to do more. I plan on making traditional American food for tomorrow's official birthday party, and we may try to make other special treats and/or crafts throughout the month. I want to make this learning experience lots of fun for our little guys.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Family Fridays: Big Boys

The boys are getting bigger every day. It seems like they do new things every day too. Andrew is trying to talk more and more. Lately, he is asking for more and more things, particularly Winnie-the-Pooh ("Pooh, Pooh") and Thomas videos ("doodle, do, do"). If you don't come right away, he tries to pull you by the hand with all of his 18-month-old might. It is very funny.

Andrew also likes to make friends with everyone. This older grandpa on the right is one of his favorite friends around here. But Andrew knows who his real grandpas are and is starting to say, "Pa, Papa," when he sees pictures of them.

Both boys keep begging to do school lately. They would do school activities all day if I had the time. Aaron is making neater lines and coloring precisely (even when drawing on the computer). It seems like overnight he went from coloring everything on a page all one color to trying to get each detail as accurately as possible. Not that he does get everything inside of the lines, but he wants to. And if you are coloring with him, he will definitely want your drawings to match his idea of perfection. I got in trouble with him the other day for getting a couple of stripes on Percy the train the wrong color.

Since his birthday, Aaron has also been making decorations and presents for everyone. He is constantly asking to draw a picture for grandma, cut something for grandpa, or make a game for Andrew. I think his generous spirit is inspiring, even if his productions are not always Hallmark worthy yet.

DIY Tortillas

I tried making tortillas twice back when we were first married, and I wanted to try making everything from scratch. They were OK, but not great. They also take a lot of time to make. So when we were back in Illinois where there is a large Hispanic population and tortillas are cheap, I basically gave up on the idea. But Chinese people don't really eat tortillas, so there are only a couple places in town where foreigners can buy them. One place is the import stores, but everything in these stores is pretty expensive. The only other place that sells them cheaply, but those tortillas aways fall apart when you try to roll them.

So, I started looking for a good tortillas recipe. Eventually, I ended up tweaking this one and made some delicious and cheap homemade tortillas. These are the best tortillas I have had outside of a truly authentic Mexican restaurant. It would be hard to go back to store-bought tortillas because these are so much better. It still takes a while, but now I enlist helpers, and we generally make a quadruple batch. We have a fun family project and can freeze enough tortillas for several weeks.

Chewy Tortillas

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¾ cup warm water
2 Tbsp oil

In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients, and then add wet ingredients. Knead until the dough reaches an even consistency. Let the dough rest for 20–30 minutes. This makes it much easier to roll the dough thin enough to make good tortillas.

Next divide the dough into 8 to 10 balls and roll into circles that are ¼ inch or less thick. This is the part that is really helps to have helpers since they can be rolling and someone else can start the next step of fry.

Place a tortilla in a hot, dry, skillet, and fry for about 30 seconds. The tortilla will often bubble up as the first side cooks. Flip it over and cook another 30 seconds. Now place the warm tortilla in a clean kitchen towel. Fry another and place it on top of the first one until all are cooked. This helps the tortillas develop the right consistency. After they are all cooked they can be eaten right away or frozen and reheated in a microwave or toaster oven later. These are great for tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, enchiladas, Mexican lasagna, or anything else you normally use tortillas for.


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