Just Precious

Cooking up a staple: Salsa Beef Tacos

Posted in Just Precious is Cookin' by Julie Meyers Pron on November 3, 2009

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Tacos are a staple around here. I learned to make them before I was married, and for several years made them at least once a week. Because they were easy. Back then, I used a kit, which likely wasted a little money and didn’t allow for much experimentation or adjustments to make them yummy for me. Recently, I realized that if I drop the premade taco sauce or powder, I could add a little extra of what I like, and leave out what I don’t.

Making your own tacos is as simple as figuring out which salsa is your favorite. My husband likes to make salsa from scratch, so if we have some of that stocked up I can make tacos with Steve’s Salsa (I’d include a recipe, but I don’t think he’s ever written one down.) When I don’t have Steve’s stocked in my fridge, I like to use Wegman’s Food You Feel Good About in Medium or Santa Fe. (Though I’d love suggestions on other salsas. What’s your favorite?)

Here’s the very simple recipe. It takes about 15 minutes to make, not including chopping time.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 iceberg lettuce (cut to shreds)
  • 3 roma tomatoes (cut into small pieces)
  • 1 bag mexican shredded cheese
  • 1 1/4 lbs ground beef
  • 1 to 2 cups favorite salsa
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • olive oil
  • 8-12 taco shells, warmed in oven

Start cooking:

Heat olive oil with medium heat. Add ground beef; stir and cook until brown. Drain oils and fat. Put beef back into skillet. Add 1 cup salsa, cumin and salt. Cook about 2-3 minutes, until cooked evenly, stirring.

Place shredded cheese on the bottom of the taco shell (this allows the cheese to melt below the meat). Spoon beef on top, then add pieces of lettuce, tomatoes and more salsa, as needed.

Star Power Rating: Considering Big is sick with a 101 fever and hadn’t eaten anything all day, I wasn’t surprised when he told me he didn’t want dinner, just toast. What did surprise me was that as soon as he sat down, he requested a taco, and proceded to eat the entire thing. 5 out of 5 stars. Its so much better without the powder seasoning!

Notes for next time: I always have extra everything leftover when I make tacos. So, lunch today I put some meat into a bowl, added extra salsa and cheese and enjoyed lunch. Had my husband not tossed the lettuce and tomatoes I would have enjoyed a yummy mexican salad. Instead, it was like a taco-style Chili.

5 Things … not to give as a teacher gift

Posted in 5 Things..., education by Julie Meyers Pron on November 2, 2009

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I promise, a teacher doesn’t need (or want) another of these. (Though she’ll be adoring in her thank you note anyway!)

  1. Scented candles
  2. Scented lotions
  3. “#1 Teacher” mug (or #1 Teacher anything)
  4. Christmas Tree ornament (especially if she doesn’t celebrate Christmas.) This also applies to a Jesus Loves Me baby toy for a baby shower for a Jewish teacher Mom-to-Be. Very nice, but she doesn’t want it
  5. Gift Card to a store that isn’t near her home. No, she’s not going to drive over an hour for a movie she can see around the corner at a local theater. She also would rather not drive upwards of an hour to a spa, video rental shop or mall. If you’re going to gift a  gift card (and gift cards are a good thing to gift!), make sure there is a store local to the teacher, or that she can redeem it online.

So, what should you gift a teacher? Find out in next week’s 5 Things.

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I am SO keeping my Baby Einstien’s

Posted in Baby Gifts, parenting by Julie Meyers Pron on October 30, 2009

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Last night my husband came out of the office, asking if I’d purchased any Baby Einstien movies in the past 5 years. “No,” I responded. “And if I had… there’s absolutely no way I’d be sending them back for a refund.”

Sure, say what you will, Disney. Help us out by offering to take them back for not being truly educational, but I gave up on toys and entertainment being educational for my baby about 3 days into babyhood. Everything is educational. And nothing is educational. Its all what you do with it.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics  suggests actual time allowances for TV watching, I’m a mom of 3 and I need a shower. And it just so happens that my 4 year old adores watching Baby Einstien movies with his baby sister. The music is calming and familiar. The puppets are cute and entertaining. The colors are vibrant.

Baby Einstien has been an entertainment choice in our home since 2003. I used it to shower then, just as much as I do now. When the boys were young and  to calm my them and distract them enough to trim their toenails, Baby Einstien was my series of choice. On days when I was just too tired to entertain that 20 minute powerbreak to just veg and join the baby as he got excited at his favorite part, or laughed when the duck made a “face”, were lifesavers.

Our third baby will watch the same Baby Einstien DVDs. She’ll laugh at the duck and cheer for the turtle in the same way the boys did before her.

Its not for education that I’m keeping the DVDs. Its for sanity, familiarity and a little bit of nostagia. But. Mostly. Its for sanity.

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Making my own Mexicky Chicken

Posted in Just Precious is Cookin' by Julie Meyers Pron on October 29, 2009

In my first post about meal planning I shared that you’ll learn to adapt and cook on your own, with a lot of practice. And after 3 years I’m still pretty proud when I come up with my own recipe, inspired by others.

For tonight’s chicken dinner I simply took ingredients I’ve learned to love and seasoned them onto breasts of chicken, then took a few of the same seasoning and added it to the vegetables so that the meal meshed.

Ingredients:

Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil

Vegetables

1 red bell pepper
1 pkg white whole mushrooms
1 bag baby spinach
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil

Get Cooking:

1. heat oven to 350, then turn off to stay warm
2. wash chicken and pound with a meat tenderizer to thin
3. heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large skillet
4. season chicken with paprika, salt, pepper and cilantro
5. cook chicken in oil 5-7 minutes each side, or until cooked through
6. move to dish and place in oven to keep warm

In same skillet,

7.  heat 1 tablespoon oil
8. cook mushrooms and peppers 3-5 minutes to soften, stirring occasionally
9. add 1/2 cup water, pepper, salt and lime juice. Stir in spinach leaves slowly (they will wilt and allow more room)
10. Serve immediately with chicken

Star rating: there’s nothing better than hearing your husband say, “wow, this is good chicken!” even though you serve chicken about twice a week. And seeing your kids eat all the chicken on their plates is fantastic. The mushrooms, sadly, weren’t quite the hit, but the addition of lime to both parts of the meal blended it together and gave the peppers and spinach a little extra something good. Rating: 4 out of 5 (because no one but me likes mushrooms.)

Note for Next Time: You still need the mushrooms for the water and flavor as they cook, but add a 2nd red pepper. And cook more chicken. This is probably the first time I didn’t prepare enough.

5 Things… to do with your older kids while you’re breastfeeding

Posted in 5 Things... by Julie Meyers Pron on October 28, 2009

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  1. Play a card game. We’ve been playing a lot of Uno Card Game this week, which is great for kids 6 and up. For kids 4 and up, both Color Go Fish Playing Cards andRAT-A-TAT-CAThave been easy, quiet time games.
  2. Read a book. Or a few. Our almost 4 year old pulls up his little chair next to my nursing chair and we can read for hours. One of the easiest books to read is Caps for Sale – A tale of a peddler, some monkeys, and their monkey business as the layout provides for the reader to bend back the spine and look at the backside to read while the listener sees the picture on the opposite side.
  3. Tell a story. Get a story or journal prompting book for inspiration and take turns adding to the story.
  4. Have a set of crayons and some paper around so that your preschooler can illustrate your story (in #3) or play as well.
  5. When all else fails, grab a great movie like Toy Story or The Little Mermaid and enjoy!

Please, share your breastfeeding/entertainment ideas with us…. we’re in the middle of our 12th game of Uno today! And while we love playing, we may need a change.

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And the family says “yum”: Ravioli with Apples & Walnuts

Posted in Just Precious is Cookin' by Julie Meyers Pron on October 27, 2009

As we sat down to dinner tonight, the huz reminded the boys, “you at least have to try it” as he does every night. I quickly responded that, tonight, this wouldn’t be necessary. For dinner this evening we had Ravioli with Apples and Walnuts, which was direct from Real Simple (yes, I love Real Simple for their recipes and much more.)

This dinner was EASY to make, especially if you buy pre-chopped walnuts and cut the apples in the day time. Just be sure to add some lemon juice to the apples before putting them in the fridge. It’ll keep them from browning.

Star power? Seeing as how every.single.ingredient in this recipe is a family favorite (yes, we love walnuts), this one gets a 5 out of 5. A very well-loved dinner that I will definitely make again. It took me no more than 20 minutes. Probably less.

Notes for next time: Follow the recipe directions exactly and everyone will be happy.

Making dinners easier, Step 1: Sign up with a Menu Planner

Posted in Just Precious is Cookin', Uncategorized by Julie Meyers Pron on October 22, 2009

As I said before, I didn’t always know how to cook. And I’m certainly not a chef. But a few handy helpers have made a huge difference in my abilities.

One of my initial problems with cooking was always the planning. 2 pm would roll around and I would have nothing planned. So I’d go with a stand-by, usually tacos or Shake & Bake. But that would always require a trip out to the store for last minute lettuce. If not, I’d just bake a piece of chicken with dressing drizzled on top, which never works unless you marinate it and let it sit for at least 4 hours and toss any canned veggie in the microwave two minutes before we sat down. Dinner was getting later and later. Less and less original. And more and more unhealthy. I recall my husband saying, “I think when I was younger my mom always had at least a meat, a starch and a vegetable on the plate.”

On a very random search for a last minute meal plan, I came across DinnerPlanner, a resource that became my cooking guide for the next year. Yes, an entire year. I didn’t hesitate to sign up for their newsletters (there’s a nominal fee, which is totally worth it because in the end you’ll learn to plan meals, you’ll teach yourself how to cook and adapt and you can create a year long cookbook dinners if you print out each week of meals ).

Each Thursday in 2006 a newsletter landed in my mailbox with 7 suggested meals, a color-coded shopping list and a menu–for the week. I printed it out immediately. Over the weekend I would select 4 or 5 meals*, depending on the week ahead. Following selecting, I pulled out the shopping list and crossed off the items from the recipes I didn’t need. (Of course, I also added my staples). Every Monday morning (and this is key because part of meal planning is living by routine) I took my list to the grocery store, bought exactly what I needed and left. My weekly grocery shop was lower than everyone I knew. And I only went on Mondays, no more wasting an hour every other day to pick up lettuce. And each day I knew exactly what I was going to make, not just that night, but the next night, too.

The meals at most menu planning sites are simple enough to make in less than an hour, often around 20 minutes (though that doesn’t include chopping–we’ll get to that in a few weeks.) But make sure you read the instructions ahead of time. You may need to marinate overnight. Or your dinner could be a roast or to make in crockpot which will take a bit longer. It took me more than two months to remember to check for marinades and messed up my dinner plans way too often.

There are plenty of menu planning websites and cookbooks. Most important for you is to select one and stick with it. Make sure you subscribe with an active e-mail. Trust me, you won’t motivate remember to visit the site weekly.  Give it a few weeks to get used to it and make it your new routine. Then come back here and look for Step 2: Adapting your meals and picking favorites.

*Never plan for 7 days, you’re certain to waste food. Plan for at least one night of leftovers.In addition, I like to plan a pizza night and/or a night out.

5 Things… Disney movies we now have on our must-see list

Posted in 5 Things... by Julie Meyers Pron on October 17, 2009

Following our night at Disney on Ice and realizing that they don’t know the Disney Princesses, we made a new list of must-see movies:

  1. Aladdin (Disney Special Platinum Edition)
  2. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  3. Mulan (Special Edition)
  4. Beauty and the Beast
  5. The Little Mermaid

Another once-a-day shopping site: this time for kids

Posted in Uncategorized by Julie Meyers Pron on October 15, 2009

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I’m a little overloaded on the must-see-once-a-day shopping sites. You know, the ones that announce a different sale each day at amazing prices. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a huge list that I scroll through each morning over coffee.

Here’s a new one, just launching this month: Totsy. Go ahead and check out the private sales for moms and kids. You’ll get 40-70 percent off fantastic, quality lines. Today they’re featuring discounts on Kettler, My Vintage Baby, and Zigo. I even have an invitation code for you:  JustPrecious, just then fill in your contact information and get started shopping.

Just in time to finish start holiday shopping.

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My kids don’t know their Princesses (A Night at Disney on Ice)

Posted in Uncategorized by Julie Meyers Pron on October 15, 2009

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I realized this last night at Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic in Philadelaphia. About halfway through the first act, I was narrating the story of Beauty and the Beast to Middle, my four year old son. He was amazed at this enormous monster that the audience loved. “Why,” he asked, “does everyone “boo” the “normal man”?” There was total confusion, too, when the candlestick, mop and teapot started singing. Of course, it ended happily with the Beast turning into a handsome prince, but that part went way over Middle’s head. He never realized that Beast becomes Prince.

I wanted to relax and enjoy the rest of the show quietly, but following Belle’s story, several other princesses and handsome princes greeted us with a gorgeous couples skate. As I introduced each to Middle it occured to me: my boys  know every action-adventure animated feature by Disney. They can repeat Buzz and Woody’s script. They tell you what Dash will do 3 scenes ahead of the scene on the screen, and they’ll summarize Marlon’s search in the  most detailed description. But they have no idea who the princesses are, much less their stories.

Not knowing Disney’s Princesses didn’t stop them from loving the event. From the second Mickey and company skated out onto the floor to open the show to the finale when every child in the packed Wachovia Center felt a character truly waved good-bye to him personally, my boys (even my babysitter who, of course, knew all the princesses) were captive to the enchantment that is Disney. For two hours we were all lifted to that magical world where life happens around us, the stories take us in and we sit in awe unable to wipe smiles from our faces. I can’t fathom a person in the arena who wasn’t enchanted last night.

As we were leaving, my sitter asked Middle what his favorite part was?  “The cotton candy.” (Good, because it was $10 and I had to get two since someone in marketing oh-so-cleverly attached a crown with ears to each bag of cotton candy… and there was no way to get by with just one crown with ears.)

“Okay,” I asked. “What was your favorite part on the ice?”

“The Incredibles!” Big, my 6-year-old shouted.

“Ummm… Yeah, The Incredibles!” copied Middle.

About 30 minutes into our car ride home, when I thought they were all sleeping, Middle whispered, “Mommy, do you know when Mickey came out in the very beginning on ice skates with all of his friends?”

“Of course I do,” I whispered back.

“That was my real favorite part,” he said. And with a smile and his crown with ears on his head, he drifted to sleep.

We recieved tickets to see Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic from Feld Entertainment. If you don’t yet have tickets and have a 3-8 year old, you should. Buy your tickets at www.comcasttix.com with coupon code MOM for four tickets for $44 for Monday through Friday matinee shows, and  $4 off Friday night and weekend shows.  At least four tickets need to  be purchased for the code to be valid. My favorite part was the Mulan segment (which also had to be summarized), followed closely by Toy Story because my boys were so in awe of what was in front of them.