Lent 2013 Challenge Day 30-31: Kale-o-rama! And I may be turning into a pizza crust.

Not a whole pizza, mind you. Just the crust.

Yesterday our Little Flowers Girls Club, in lieu of having a meeting, celebrated the birthday of one of our original members. I helped out the hosting family by making par-baked pizza crusts. In other words, I made one double-batch of dough cut into sixteen equal pieces, baked for 10 min at 425F then stored in an empty bread bag. When it was party time, we let the kids top their crusts as they like and bake 8-10 min at 425F or until browned to your liking.

While I was with First Shift at said party, Mr. Mackerelsnapper made us a pan of kale with onions and garlic (pretty much the link there but without the sweet potatoes), served with some bread on the side. Because only three of us were eating, as First Shift had been fed at the party, we had about two servings left over. What to do, what to do…

Well, today is Saturday: Lenten Food Prep Day. So far I’ve emptied the stock bag and made a pot of rice, which is an activity that takes more than 20 minutes, thus breaking the Lent 2013 Challenge Rules. All of that work totaled up to about 45 minutes. That still gives me an hour and fifteen minutes. With any luck I’ll make either some bagels or some pita.

With the rest of my time I made ANOTHER double-batch of pizza dough, separated those into a total of four crusts, and par-baked them as above. While those were baking, I used this awesome find from the produce bargain bin…


…and made another batch of kale with onions and garlic, this time without adding beans. When the pizza crusts were finished their first bake, I set two aside to cool and be frozen for use next week. The other two I topped with last night’s kale leftovers and today’s newly cooked batch. I sprinkled some mozzarella (frozen in bulk, of course) on those and baked them the rest of the way (10 more minutes at 425F). Voila—lunch!


(Somebody took us out to dinner tonight, so dinner wasn’t our “by the rules” meal for the day.) Vegans:  skip the cheese.  Gluten-free?  Use one of those fancy cauliflower crusts, which, btw, I’ve been meaning to try.  Any reviews?

Two weeks of Lent remain. Usually Easter means ham… but this year, I could really use a big, thick steak….




Who are you calling shrimp?

Last Friday’s dinner was one of the best in recent memory, and I’m not just saying that. I was able to make all of this in our kitchen while hosting ten Little Flowers and their moms for an All Saints Day party.

First I cleaned, trimmed and halved about a pound of Brussels sprouts. I placed them in a cast iron pan and tossed them with salt, pepper and olive oil. Then, frankly, I stashed the pan in the microwave for storage, because who wants Brussels sprouts stinking up the fridge?

Next I prepped that baked shrimp recipe that’s all over Pinterest but now Pinterest is saying the link is spammy. Boo. Anyway, it wasn’t my idea, but here’s what I did: spread one stick of room temperature butter in the bottom of a 9″x13″ pan; covered the butter with the slices three lemons; spread 2lbs thawed, peeled and cleaned shrimp on top of that (there was a keee-razy sale on frozen shrimp, cleaned, easy peel at the market a few weeks ago); then sprinkle a packet of dried Italian dressing mix on top of that. This I covered with aluminum foil and stashed in the fridge.

Next I entertained the girls and their moms. Thanks to our “craft mom” for the meeting, we made “spoon saints,” so easy even Second Shift of Kid could make one.

Then I preheated the oven to 350F. I put the sprouts in for 15 minutes. I then put the shrimp in the 350F oven with the Brussels sprouts and let them all bake for an additional 15 minutes. About ten minutes from showtime, I made up a batch of cous cous; had we had more time, I would’ve made pasta; had we need for gluten-free, I would’ve used rice. Throw the starch in with the shrimp and mix to coat. Serve all. The shrimp were so tender and flavorful. I am not a Brussels sprouts fan, but these were so good that I am looking for excuses to make them again.


Vegan September Soup… and Lent? Already?

It’s never too early to start thinking about Lent 2013. Okay, maybe for you it’s too early, but when one’s blogging mission is impelled by the gravity of Lenten cuisine, it’s not too early. Your thoughts?

I have my preference, but I’m curious as to what others would want to see… or do themselves. If they were, you know, as delightfully kooky as I am.

And now, for last Friday’s dinner. It was our first Little Flowers Girls Club meeting of the year, which is our annual “Happy Birthday, Blessed Mother” party. It was also stinking hot and humid on Friday. On top of that, Mr. Mackerelsnapper had to get the lawn mowed after work, so dinner was going to have to be ready at a moment’s notice. This was a job for… SLOW COOKER! (dat da da daaaaaaa!)

It's a pot!  It's an oven!  It's...

Slow Cooker, you’re my hero!

I researched some recipes, looking for something new to do with black beans. In that process, I realized… I’ve never made a plain old, humble black bean soup! My research and this epiphany, therefore, joined hands to bring you:

September Soup

3 c vegetable stock
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 c celery, chopped
2 lb tomatoes, trimmed & pureed (I did not remove seeds or skins)
1 14.5oz can whole kernel corn
1 15 oz can black beans
1/4 c quick grits
1 T minced garlic (or more to taste)
1/2 T chili powder
1 medium green pepper, diced
1/2 T smoked paprika
1 T ground cumin
1 t salt
1/4 t black pepper

Stir everything together in your slow cooker and cook on high 2-3 hours, low 4-6 hours.

Feel free to add more chili powder or other heat if you’re not cooking for toddler tastebuds. The grits as the grain make it gluten-free but still add a bit of body. The tomatoes were from our garden, but I am sure you could use a large can of crushed tomatoes, if that’s what you have on hand. It’s as vegan as we get around here, but the Mr. and I still added some pepper cheese on top.

This week is our first week back to Wednesday Desserts. Check out the tag if you’re interested in those.


Perseverance Ice Cream

I read this idea ages in some family magazine, and I’ve been waiting for ages to try it.  The opportunity came with our Little Flowers Girls Club meeting this afternoon.  Our saint for the meeting was St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and our virtue was perseverance.

You’ll need:

2 gallon-sized zip top bags
enough ice to fill one of the bags about 2/3 full
1/3 c salt
1/2 c milk
1/4 c sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract

This might be obvious, but put the ice and the salt in one bag.  Pour the milk, sugar and vanilla into the other bag.  Place the ice cream bag inside of the ice-salt bag, removing as much air as possible from each bag.  Have a child shake, squish and roll the bag around until the ice cream solidifies inside.  Discard the ice-salt bag and either pour the ice cream into a bowl or, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous than that, eat it right out of the bag with a spoon.

This is a great lesson in hanging in when things get tough (or when your hands get numb), as long as we keep in mind that all our troubles and pain will result in something sweet and wonderful–a good lesson for the Christian walk.

“Sensational” Stuffed Shells and Seder Foods

Happy Passover to our Jewish friends & family! Today we celebrated this Good Friday with our Little Flowers Girls Club. Our virtue of the month is Wisdom, and our saint is St. Edith Stein, a convert from Judaism. What better way to get to know her (and how she felt led into the Catholic faith) than to take a look at the types of foods her family would have had on their seder plate when they celebrated the Passover?

First we had a quick refresher of what Passover means and why our big brothers & sisters in the faith celebrate it. We also reviewed that this was the meal Jesus shared with His disciples when He gave us the Eucharist. As I explained each symbolic food to the girls, I asked them to “find” how that same symbol shows up in our faith life as Catholics.


  • First we made the (hypoallergenic) charoset out of chopped apples, cinnamon, grape juice, and honey. This reminds us of how the Israelites had to mix things together to make the mortar they were enslaved to produce. As Christians, we remember that we are slaves to sin until we are born in Christ.
  • Next we talked about the maror (our romaine lettuce was wilting, so we dipped into our Easter horseradish early) and how it reminds us that the Israelites’ slavery was bitter and took up all of their senses—they could “taste” nothing but the bitterness.
  • Karpas: Some of the girls picked fresh parsley from our deck pots, and another mixed Kosher salt into a mug of water. Then we talked about how the parsley is green, the color of life, but the Israelites were sad about being slaves. That’s why the karpas (green vegetable) is dipped into the salt water. We missed the parallel with our baptism, but that’s probably because I didn’t think of it until now. Next year I’ll remember. Maybe.
  • Our zeroah was a beet. I explained how usually it’s a piece of roasted meat on the bone to remind us of how the Israelites sacrificed a lamb for the Passover. The lamb’s blood would sluice down into a fountain of water at the base of the temple, and the blood and water would just pour out the side of the temple during all the Passover sacrifices. I asked the girls if they could think of anything in our faith as Catholics where water came pouring out the side of anything, and one guess correctly: Jesus on the cross, when His side was pierced. So what does that make Jesus? The new temple! They got it. I was so proud.
    We also talked about how Jewish vegetarians use beets because of how their red juices remind us of the blood of sacrifice, and how we picked a beet over meat because as Catholics we do not shed animal blood on Lenten Fridays, in honor of the original Good Friday.
  • The roasted egg, or beytzah was given a visual aid boost by my middle child, who picked it up while it was still warm and promptly dropped it. Among other things, the beytzah is a reminder that the temple was destroyed, and just like an egg can’t be put back together, neither can that temple. However, Jesus is the new temple and the new sacrifice, and He rose again and can’t be destroyed!
  • Last came the matzoh, the unleavened bread that is eaten as a reminder of the speed with which the Israelites had to escape Egypyt. I showed the girls how three matzoh are placed together, and one of the girls immediately referenced the Trinity. Then I told them how the middle matzoh is broken in half—they immediately identified it with Jesus—and one piece is hidden, to be found at the end of the meal.

When all that was said, they each took helpings of the foods and sat down with cups of grape juice, and we talked about how wine plays a part in both the seder and our Mass. Then we talked about the ten plagues, each one taking away from the happiness of any innocent Egyptians who were hurt by them due to their pharaoh’s stubbornness. Then with our fingers we put ten drops of wine with our fingers for each of the plagues. Midway through, we had to make another batch of charoset. I’m a little weirded out that they also ate all the parsley. When it was time to find the afikoman, the hidden half of matzoh, I reflected on how these were little girls looking for missing bread, and how Mary Magdalen was a woman looking for her missing teacher in the garden that first Easter Sunday. I wonder if she needed as many hints to find Him as our club needed to find our afikoman–the mom who hid it was good is all I can say!

There was so much more that could have been said, because it’s such a rich experience. I’ve been blessed to have attended two seders in my life: one as a child and one as an adult. Each time I look at the seder, I learn something new about my Catholic faith. Jesus came not to abolish other religions but to fulfill them. Think of that next time you hear someone complain about how Catholics “hijacked” another faith’s celebration.

Okay, now for “Sensational Stuffed Shells


The “sensational” part is not self-congratulatory. It’s a reference to the reality that some kids have different sensory needs, and we can either write them off as “picky” or try to find foods that meet those needs. My kids have hyposensitivity, so they prefer strong flavors. This recipe was written to fit that bill.

½ lb of jumbo pasta shells, cooked
24 oz jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1 pint ricotta cheese
2 c mozzarella cheese, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1 T garlic powder (feel free to reduce this and all seasonings to your liking)
2 t each of dried parsley, thyme, oregano, basil
½ t salt
generous pinch of black pepper

Let shells cool enough to handle. Pour half of sauce into the crock of your slow cooker. Combine ricotta, 1 c mozzarella, eggs, and seasonings and spoon into cooled shells. Place shells seam side up into sauce. Pour remaining sauce over all and cook on low 4 hours. About ten minutes before serving, sprinkle remaining mozzarella on top.

No spiritual significance to this meal. After planning for our seder foods, I was all significanced out.



Fisheater’s Slowcooker Chowder

Another post-Eggplant Parm debacle slowcooker extravaganza, this is what our Little Flowers families frequently smell cooking if we’re hosting our Friday meeting at our house. 

1 16oz can of diced tomatoes, undrained
1 6oz can of minced clams, undrained
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 c chopped celery
1 8oz bottle of clam juice (or 1 c clam broth, if you happen to have that in the freezer)
1 1/2 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 6oz can “tiny” shrimp
2 T flour
2 T melted butter
1/3 c half-and-half

Mix together all ingredients expect the shrimp, flour, butter and half-and-half in a slow cooker and cook on low 7-8 hours or high 1-3 hours, adding a half cup of dry white wine if desired.  An hour before serving, stir in last four ingredients.  So easy, filling and comforting.

Enough Stromboli to Feed the DA

… aka, Dolan’s Army.  🙂

Last Friday, the first Friday of Lent, was our Little Flowers Girls Club Meeting.  We have a wee club by LFGC standards:  5-10 girls and their moms who meet in members’ homes, as opposed to the standard 20-40 kids who meet in the parish basement.  However, our size makes us more flexible.  We can easily carpool to a Dominican monastery or to have breakfast with the CSFN.  We can make a walk around the block in springtime a search for violets and a lesson in the virtue of humility (that’s St. Catherine Laboure in Wreath I, of course).  And we can make post-meeting dinner for all our families in one kitchen, provided that kitchen has two ovens. 

Ours does. 

Our club is in Wreath II right now, and our saint for February is St. Angela Merici, an example of the virtue of prudence. Cooking is a great way to teach kids about such an abstract virtue as prudence.  We make prudent choices when choose safety over just rushing in:  we cook with grown-ups to keep us safe, we don’t toss knives around, and we pierce the dough of the stromboli so it doesn’t burst open from the steam and splatter the inside of Mrs. Mackerelsnapper’s oven with tomato sauce and vegetable bits. 

Triple Batch of Stromboli Dough
(You will need a LARGE mixer for this.) 
4 1/2 tsp instant yeast
4 1/2 tsp sugar
3 c warm water (just a little warmer than baby bath water)
6 T olive oil
1 T salt
7 1/2-8 c flour
additional flour and oil for dough prep

Place yeast, sugar and water in the bowl of your mixer and let bloom for 5 minutes.  Attach your dough hook to the mixer and add oil, salt, and 7 1/2 c flour to the yeast-water.  Mix on low speed until the dough forms a single, solid ball that rotates around the bowl with the motion of the hook.  The dough should be slightly tacky but not sticky.  If the dough pulls away with your finger when you tap it, add the rest of the flour and mix until dough is tacky.  Remove dough from bowl and cut into three equal portions.  Form each portion into a ball, rub with oil and place in an oiled bowl.  Cover and leave in a cool (but not cold), dry place until ready to use. 

Preheat oven to 375F.  With floured hands on a lightly floured surface, stretch out each ball of dough into a rectangle.  Keeping 1 1/2″ of the edges clear, top the dough with pretty much anything you’d like (sauce, cheese, veggies–meat when you can), but don’t overfill:  think of it as a large pizza turnover.  Moisten the edges with water to help the stromboli seal, then roll up the dough loosely and slash with a sharp knife to let the steam escape, pinching seams firmly.  Bake at 375F for 35-40 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped.  Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before serving (especially if you have kids eating it and you don’t want them to burn their little mouths). 

  • I made this twice for a total of 6 dough blobs and left it in a covered Tupperware thatsasupermegabowl thing in a cool, but not cold, place shortly before the meeting.  Then we let the kids do the stretching, topping, and rolling.  With ours, we had no leftovers, and another family (the mom is a friend of mine who won’t even eat red sauce on spaghetti) said even she loved the ‘boli they took home. 
  • Catechesis note: as the girls stretched out the dough, we talked about how Jesus is the bread of life who has come to feed us, but He also came to take our sins upon himself.  Then, just as He was pierced for our sins, we pierced our strombolis five times, once for each of the crucifixion wounds.  Then he suffered death and was placed in a tomb, just like we place our strombolis in an oven.  Then  we wait for his rising, just like the dough rises in the oven.  To this day, Jesus gives us Himself in the Eucharist, real food for eternal life.