Crock pot lasagna

 - by Sarah Lipoff

While hanging out on Pinterest the other day, I got a bit of inspiration. Everyone seems to be using their crock pots to make these amazing things – even lasagna.

Yeah, lasagna.

So I had to try it. I love lasagna and make it often. I like to mix up the ingredients to keep it fun, like using cubed and roasted chicken with a cream sauce or ground turkey with thin strips of butternut squash. I figured for my crock pot lasagna experiment I’d keep things pretty basic – you know, the good stuff. Italian sausage, a big jar of sauce, and lots and lots of cheese.

This is really easy, and you can’t mess it up.

Really.

All you need is a box of no-need-to-boil lasagna noodles, a large jar of your favorite pasta sauce, about 1/2 lbs of italian sausage browned, and 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese. Go ahead and gather whatever else you like in your lasagna. I always toss in some fresh spinach – and I happened to have some of my fresh homemade ricotta in the fridge.

Now get your crock pot cranking on high heat and coat the bottom with a good layer of sauce. I added about 1/4 cup of water to the crock pot, too. This way the bottom of your lasagna won’t get burnt. Cover that sauce with a few of your lasagna noodles. You can break them up to fit in the crock pot.

Sprinkle on a bit of the sausage, and any other ingredients you like, such as chopped mushrooms, olives, spinach, along with a sprinkling of shredded mozzarella. Pour on a bit more sauce and then repeat. Yup, that’s right. Repeat and then repeat, and repeat again. Leave about 1/2 cup of that shredded mozzarella for later.

It’s that simple.

I kept layering until my sauce and sausage were gone and then called it quits. I gave the top a final coating of sauce, along with 1/2 cup of water, and then put the lid on the crock pot and left it to do its thing for about 4 hours.

About a half hour before eating, I dotted the top of the lasagna with 1/2 cup of my fresh ricotta and that leftover 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella. I put the lid on tight and within minutes, my crock pot lasagna was ready to serve.

And it was good.

 

 

 

Foam sticker letter and number prints

 - by Sarah Lipoff

foam letter print

We’re really working on thinking about numbers and letters at our house. And it’s been exciting to see our tot starting to pick up on it. The other day we had a great time reading a book and checking out the letters that form the words and all that kind of stuff. I love this age and how the brain starts making sense of things. Along with all that development, honing fine-motor skills ensures she’ll be able to write those letters once she figures them out.

So I got out a container of foam letters and numbers and dug out a piece of tagboard. Then I dumped the foam stickers out on our work table and invited my daughter to peel the backs from the stickers, guess the letter or number, and then position on the board. Along with building those small muscles in her hands, and encouraging her creativity, this fun art activity also builds letter recognition skills. Sure, she didn’t get half of the letters or numbers correct on the first guess, but did the second or third time around.

letter prints

Once our tagboard was covered with foam stickers, we spent a few minutes going over the numbers and letters one more time and then selected a color of paint for the next step (which of course was red). Offer your child her favorite color and a foam brush and then coat each and every number and letter with paint.

painting foam letters

Place a sheet of white paper over the painted letters and press, making sure that all areas of the tagboard have been covered. Then lift the paper to reveal the print of the letters and numbers.

letterprints

My daughter was in awe of the results, checking first the tagboard and then the paper to see the resemblance.

letter printmaking

It was pretty darn cute.

Healthy baked chicken tenders

 - by Sarah Lipoff

There’s nothing like a go-to chicken dinner recipe and this is totally my favorite.  Along with being delicious, this chicken recipe takes hardly any time to make — and is also healthy.

Cut the fuss and muss, along with an oil-spattered kitchen, by baking these chicken tenders in a hot oven. Easily tossed together in less than 30-minutes of cooking time, these tenders are perfect for a family friendly weeknight dinner. I serve with a crisp, green salad for the adults, along with some tasty yogurt Alfredo noodles for the tot (and, yeah, for us adults too). And just a quick tip — using a really good plain yogurt (Mountain High)  ensures you get seriously tender crispy chicken along with great tangy flavor. Go with a Greek-style or thick plain yogurt for best results.

Ingredients

1 lb chicken tenders

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon mustard

Dash salt and pepper

1/2 cup corn starch

1 cup Panko crumbs (or plain bread crumbs)

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

2 tablespoons sunflower oil (or vegetable or coconut…)

What you do

Toss the chicken tenders in a plastic bag along with the yogurt and mustard. Give things a dash of salt and pepper and toss in the fridge for at least 20-minutes or up to an hour. If you like things spicy, add a few drops of your favorite hot sauce.

Mix together the corn starch and panko crumbs in another big zip-top baggie. Sprinkle in the Italian seasoning and you are ready to shake. Corn starch has less calories than white flower and crisps up wonderfully. You could also use whole-wheat  or almond flour instead.

Preheat your oven to 425˚F and drizzle the oil around a sheet pan. Take the happily marinated chicken from the fridge, toss a few at a time in the corn starch/flour and panko mixture, and then place on the sheet pan. Keep going until all are coated and ready to go.

Once coated, place on the sheet pan. Try not to cluster, which causes the tenders to steam and kind of turn out like mush. For extra crispiness, place the oil-coated sheet pan in the oven for a couple of minutes before adding the tenders. They’ll hit the pan with a sizzle, which is awesome.

Pop the chicken tenders in the oven and toast for 7 to 10-minutes and then flip. If your pan seems a bit dry, drizzle a bit more oil to help your chicken crisp. Cook for another 7 to 10-minutes, or until the other side is nicely browned.

This recipe makes enough to serve a happy family of four. 

*And I just made them again (1/20/14) and these tenders are still so good. A couple tips — use a non-stick baking pan, go ahead and crank the oven to 450˚F for a really crispy crust, and trust your oven! Don’t fuss and muss. Let them bake for seven to 10-minutes before flipping to ensure the crust doesn’t fall off and the coating is super crispy.

*Oh, and I wasn’t compensated by Mountain High in any way. I just absolutely love their product.

 

 

 

Salted chocolate peanut toffee

 - by Sarah Lipoff

toffee
Years and years ago I decided I would make something tasty as holiday gifts for the teachers I worked with. I knew everyone loved chocolate and wanted to experiment with something different. When I came across a recipe for chocolate peanut toffee in Gourmet, I was smitten. The combination of salty nuts, crunchy toffee, and melted chocolate sounded divine. And the recipe boasted making a big batch, meaning I’d have enough for treating my fellow teachers and still have some leftover to send with the husband for holiday giving at his work.

And the ingredients needed for making this delicious toffee cost around $5 — especially if you hit up the dollar store.

Over time I’ve adjusted the recipe and found the perfect combination that makes one of the best crunchy chocolaty and nutty toffee around. I look forward to making it every year (and know people look forward to receiving it too). This is a recipe that will make your friends and family thankful for this toffee treat. I definitely splurge for organic ingredients, which does add a few dollars to the final deliciousness, but it’s totally worth it.

(Adapted from Gourmet)

Ingredients

3 cups butter (salted or not – but I actually like using salted for this yummy treat)

2 cups sugar

4 cups low salt (or no salt) peanuts plus 1 cup chopped

¼ teaspoon vanilla

Dash cinnamon

1 cup dark chocolate chips

1 cup milk chocolate chips

Sea salt

Directions

Place the butter and sugar in a large stockpot over medium heat and wait for the butter to melt.  You want the butter and sugar to turn a rich honey brown and register around 300 ˚F on the candy thermometer (which you need!) before the next step, which can take around 15 minutes of babysitting. Candy making takes patience — and just the right temperature. Even though I’ve been busting this toffee out for the last five years, last year I attempted one batch without a thermometer, and it was a sad disaster.

While you’re waiting for the butter and sugar to boil, line a 11 by 17-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Once it starts simmering, whisk the mixture to incorporate the butter and sugar.

Chop one cup of nuts for topping your toffee and measure the chocolate chips so everything is ready when the toffee is. I’ve found using a low-salt peanut creates a seriously sweet and savory toffee, instead of one that’s bombarded with over-salted nuts. I pick mine up at Trader Joe’s.

Once your toffee hits 300 F, turn off the heat, remove the candy thermometer and add the three cups of nuts. Give the mixture a stir and then add the vanilla and dash of cinnamon.

Spread the peanut toffee in the parchment covered sheet pan creating a nice and even layer of goodness. Now sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top and let sit for a few minutes until the chocolate melts.

Use a knife to spread the chocolate over the toffee and then sprinkle with the chopped nuts and a light dusting of sea salt.

Pop in the fridge for an hour and then use a large serrated knife to cut the brick of toffee into pieces. Place in decorative bags and you’re ready for holiday gift giving.

 

Happy holidays!

Celebrate Thanksgivikkah with a gingerbread menorah

 - by Sarah Lipoff

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop Gingerbread Menorah

Well, if you haven’t heard, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah have melded together into Thanksgivikkah. And there’s no better way to celebrate than with a gingerbread menorah. I discovered this wonderful melding of deliciousness through Sweet Thrills Bakeshop, a collaboration of two Bay Area moms who believe the kitchen is the heart of the home and that sweet treats make everyone smile.

These smart ladies are packaging chocolate gingerbread menorah kits that are perfect for families to build and decorate together. The unique idea sparked from spinning the dreidel with a traditional gingerbread house in the background. The result? A sweet twist on celebrating Hanukkah — and a great way to create special memories with your kids.

I was so excited to get my hands on a box and make one with my tot. Yes, probably even more than she was. Included in the kit was everything needed to assemble the menorah, including a wonderfully detailed set of directions, helpful tips, and educational information about Hannukkah, making this kit fitting for any family.

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop

My daughter jumped right in and loved assembling the menorah. In fact, she was pretty much able to follow the drawn directions on her own (while I snuck a few candies that were included in the kit). What’s great about the kit is that along with being creative, your child is learning about construction and design.

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop gingerbread

As it states in the directions, it’s important to let the the frosting set between steps, but we found ways to entertain ourselves while waiting. We enjoyed reading the included information about Hanukkah, counted the candy candles, and, of course, had to sample the frosting.

My daughter really took her time working on her special menorah and we have it proudly displayed on our mantel. She loves telling us how she made it all by herself.

sweet thrills bakeshop menorah

Which she really did.

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop has two different sized unassembled menorahs as well as a mini pre-assembled menorah available this season. Order now to ensure your kit arrives on time. We’re looking forward to enjoying our menorah during our Thanksgivikkah celebration!

And, did I mention? They’re delicious.

*Just so you know, I am actually friends with one of the co-owners of Sweet Thrills Bakeshop and volunteered to do this review simply because I think this chocolate gingerbread menorah kit is seriously awesome. And delicious. And a fantastic idea.

When life happens

 - by Sarah Lipoff

deanlipoff

I started this blog as a spot for sharing recipes, random thoughts, awesome kid-freindly art activities, and general musings about motherhood. I love how it’s grown and turned into something more than I ever imagined, but things have been a bit busy lately and keeping up So says Sarah… has definitely been pushed to the back burner. I’m lucky if I get a moment to stop by and brush off the cobwebs — much less hang out on Twitter or Facebook.

Eh.

Honestly? I’m not feeling that bad about it.

I’m really happy where I’m at in life and don’t feel like I have to constantly update everyone about it. I don’t need to tweet that I’m making homemade mac-n-cheese for lunch or all the other random stuff that happens during the day. I don’t feel like posting every cute picture of my tot doing something new on Facebook.

I’m trying to be more present.

But.

I am busy.

A company that I totally love has offered me permanent work (YAY) so you can find me over there. I get to share my love of animals and all things DIY while having the flexibility to spend quality time with my family. Life happens and you just have to go with it.

Take a break.

Do something new.

It feels really good.

Homemade Yogurt

 - by Sarah Lipoff

easyhomemadeyogurt

I love yogurt. My daughter loves yogurt. I put yogurt in just about everything (see here, here, and here), so when we were at the bottom of the container the other day, and I was not feeling motivated to head to the store, I figured it was time to try making my own. I’ve seen the simple crock pot yogurt idea all over Pinterest, but also didn’t feel motivated to dig out the beastly thing from under the cabinet.

Making your own yogurt is so easy. In fact after you do it the first time you’re going to wonder why you haven’t been making it years. And you only need two ingredients.

Ingredients

4 cups whole milk

1/4 cup yogurt

Directions

Here’s the deal. Making yogurt is basically heating up and cooling down milk and cultures to create the tangy goodness. You want things to be just right, otherwise you’ll have unhappy bacteria — which isn’t tasty for anyone. Start by heating the milk slowly in a large pot until it’s 180˚ F. We’re not talking a rolling boil, so give the milk a whisk every few minutes while it’s heating. Once your thermometer registers temp, turn off the heat.

homemadeyogurt

No let the milk cool down to 110˚ F and then stir in the yogurt. Any kind of plain yogurt works wonderfully, and you can continue using your homemade yogurt for making many, many fresh batches.

making yogurt

Once the yogurt is incorporated carefully pour into a large container with a sealable lid. A big glass jar works wonderfully, just make sure to get it nice and sanitary before pouring the yogurt mix by filling with boiling water and then carefully pouring it out (it’s hot!). Cover the yogurt with a dish towel and let hang out in a warm spot for eight to nine hours.

homemade yogurt

Seriously, waiting is the hardest part.

I found a warm corner in my kitchen and had a difficult time being patient. I couldn’t believe the yogurt would come together just sitting there in a warm jar, but it did. And, wow. Was it good. I gave it a taste before popping in the fridge for several hours to really set up.

The next morning the tot and I just about gobbled the entire container of homemade yogurt. Thick, creamy, and just a bit tangy, mix in a spoonful of jam, drizzle over some honey, or eat plain.

plainhomemadeyogurt

Yum.

 

 

 

 

The Italian Street Painting Festival

 - by Sarah Lipoff

ItalianStreetPaintingFestival

Last weekend one of the hottest (in more ways than one) events in the Bay Area made its way back to the streets of San Rafael after a two year hiatus. We’ve been connected with the Italian Street Painting Festival for awhile and it’s an event that really draws people from all over the globe. Downtown San Rafael is taken over with artists transforming busy streets into sections of fine art that are eventually washed away  — which seems so sad (but traffic accidents would ensue if they weren’t).

We joke every time the Italian Street Painting Festival rolls around it is the real beginning of summer in Marin because the temps are usually the hottest after the change of  season. And this Street Painting Festival delivered in all ways. The temps were way up there (we’re talking upper 90s and over 100) and the street paintings were some of the best we’ve seen. Here’s a collection of favorites (thanks to Dean Lipoff) of the wonderful event.

Want more information? Please learn more about how to get involved.

Italian Street Painting - kids

Italian Street Painting Festival

Italian Street Painting Fest

Italian Street Painting

Italian Steet

San Rafael

Street Painting Fest

San R. Street Painting

L’Appart Resto

 - by Sarah Lipoff

l-appart-resto-sananselmo

I decided to treat the husband last weekend to a tasty Sunday brunch (it was Father’s Day) so booked a reservation at a restaurant right in our downtown that we’d walked by many times but hadn’t tried. For some reason we thought it was too fancy or too expensive or too this or that.

We were wrong.

L’Appart Resto is welcoming, reasonably priced, and seriously kid-friendly. From the team that opened Le Garage in Sausalito, L’Appart Resto is a comfortable bistro-style restaurant that offers small plates, fresh salads, and substantial entrées that focus on showcasing simple French classics, big flavors, and seasonal and local ingredients. And the service is amazing. We enjoyed our brunch so much we decided to head there for dinner later in the week.

Along with having a well-rounded menu for brunch/lunch and dinner, L’Appart Resto also has a tasty kid’s menu that had our mouths drooling. Our daughter enjoyed her flaky ham and cheese pastry (we did too)…

l-appart-resto-kidbreakfast

The husband and I split the fresh melon soup studded with mint and other bright and fresh flavors…

l-appart-resto-melon-soup

My husband ordered the seasonal omelette, which was filled with goat cheese and savory fresh tomato basil concassé.

l-appart-resto-omelet
And I had soft-boiled eggs with toast points coated with decadent truffle cream.

It was amazing.

l-appart-resto-softeggs

Later in the week there was a fun function downtown that I insisted the entire family attend, so we figured we’d head to L’Appart Resto for an early dinner. And once again we had an awesome dinning experience. We ordered the child-sized Kobe burger for our daughter, which was topped with ooey-gooey French cheese.

l-appart-restoInstead of ordering entrées, the hubs and I decided to taste test with a few small plates, including a bowl of luscious asparagus cream soup, along with a delicious beet salad that was studded with pistachios and French feta cheese.

l-appart-resto-beetsaladWe followed that with soft shell crab over a melon salad with smokey dressing…

l-appart-resto-softshellcrabAnd THE BEST Kobe beef tartar topped with a fresh quail egg.

l-appart-resto-kobetartarHere’s the deal — this is a kid-friendly restaurant that has phenomenal service, but that doesn’t mean the place is running with babes if you’re considering eating there for a romantic or kid-free meal. With indoor and outdoor seating, the restaurant is comfortable and welcoming. We didn’t feel rushed or pushed to try the specials or concerned our child was bothering others around us. The menu isn’t huge, but there are options for all tastes. From burgers to lobster, the prices run from $7 to $25 brunch/lunch and dinner.

Check out the menus before heading to L’Appart Resto, but both days we ate there, the specials sounded amazing — and were different (even in the same week). The most important thing? MAKE A RESERVATION.

Bon appétit!

*By the way, I wasn’t paid or bribed or enticed in any way to write this post by L’Appart Resto. I simply wanted to share my wonderful dining experience(s) at this restaurant with you. 

Summer eats: Grilled eggplant Parmesan

 - by Sarah Lipoff

grilled eggplant parmesan

While embracing the warmer weather, I’m also excited to dust off the grill and get outdoors for making seriously flavorful dinners (without sweating in the kitchen). But my grill had other plans, and became infested with bees and spiders over the rainy season. After bombing the interior with bug sprays, several loud screams after discovering big lurking spiders, I decided an indoor grill pan would have to do for now.

I use the grill for just about everything in warmer weather. One of our family favorites is eggplant Parmesan (here, and here), and when made on the grill, it’s a healthier and tastier meal. Make this vegetarian dinner over a gas or charcoal grill, or make anytime of year on a stove-top grill pan (like I did). Serve with crusty bread and a fresh salad for a delicious summer dinner.

Ingredients

1 large eggplant, sliced

1/4 cup salt

3 cups warm water

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup tomato sauce

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (fresh is best)

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup bread crumbs

Fresh basil or spinach leaves

Directions

Slice the eggplant in rounds, cutting away the skin if desired. Fill a mixing bowl with the warm water and add the salt. Place the eggplant slices in the water and let soak for at least 20-minutes, which will remove any bitterness from the eggplant and give it a slight salty flavor.

eggplant

Rinse the eggplant and pat dry. Toss the rounds in olive oil and set aside.

If using a charcoal grill, crank those coals until they are nice and hot, or set your gas grill to medium-high heat. For an indoor grill pan, heat over medium-high heat, turning on both back and front burners.

Place the slices on the grill and let sear over the heat for around three minutes. Use a tongs to carefully lift the eggplant rounds and rotate 90 degrees. Let cook for another three minutes.

Flip the rounds and let grill for three minutes. Now flip again and rotate 90 degrees. Let the eggplant hang out for a few minutes until the it is fork tender.

grilled eggplant

Gather your favorite tomato sauce, sliced fresh mozzarella, and fresh spinach or basil leaves. Top each eggplant round with a spinach or basil leaf, a hearty spoonful of tomato sauce, and a slice of cheese. Grill until the cheese is bubbly.

grilled eggplant with sauce

Sprinkle the tops with freshly shredded Parmesan cheese and the breadcrumbs, and grill for another few minutes.

Yum.