Monday, April 30, 2012

Get the Scoop on Reading

As mentioned in an earlier post, I decided to hold a reading challenge for my students during the month of April. I called the challenge "Get the Scoop on Reading". For each chapter book a student read during the month of April, he could earn a paper ice cream scoop to be displayed on our May bulletin board.
Here's the giant sundae of books they read:

I decided to make this challenge a little more difficult than the one I held in November, in which my students could read any book and then fill out a book die-cut to place on our turkey's tail. This being the end of the school year, I decided that the books needed to be chapter books. I also added a requirement, which was that the students had to fill out a summary sheet about the book and turn it in to earn their ice cream scoop. This enabled me to see that they really did read the book, and gave them some practice summarizing.

Here's the poster I put up to introduce the challenge:

I included some basic rules, as well as a sample of the summary sheet. This sheet was very basic--I just typed it up in Word one afternoon. All it asked for was the student's name, the title of the book, what happened in the beginning, middle, and end (which is how we've been learning to summarize), and the student's favorite part of the book.

One chapter book earned the student one scoop of ice cream on the display, but I decided to up the ante a little and give a prize to every student who read two or more chapter books during the month of April.

These stricter requirements meant that my students ended up reading fewer books than they had in the November challenge, but they were reading more difficult texts and were required to remember them better. All in all, I am happier with my stricter challenge rules. I love seeing my students rise to the occasion.

The finished display is pretty cute. I like having displays that also showcase student work. The summary sheets they turned in were so good that I decided to keep them and turn them into a little book.

I taped a clip up on the display so the book of summaries can be taken down and admired. (Probably only by me, but it will be nice on those days when I feel like my students aren't "getting it").
I plan to leave this display up for the rest of the school year, so there will be no new bulletin board posts for a while. I think this reminder of the hard work of my students (and myself) is an appropriate display to finish out the year with.

Sweet & Smoky Barbecue Meatballs

This is another favorite meal around our house: barbecue meatballs. These are not at all your typical Italian meatballs thrown in a dish of spaghetti. They are a stand-alone entree, smothered in a mouth-watering, made-from-scratch, sweet and smoky barbecue sauce.

Although this recipe is not super time-consuming, it's not the quickest meal, either, but it's worth it! It takes roughly 30ish minutes to prepare, and then about an hour to bake. It keeps really well in the fridge if you need to make it ahead of time. When I do this, I prepare the meatballs and smother them with sauce as instructed below, but I put them in the fridge without cooking. Then, when I'm ready to bake them, I take them straight from the fridge and slide them in the oven, increasing the cooking time by about 10 minutes.

*Scroll to the bottom of the post for a printable version of the recipe*

Here's what you need to get started:

1 13-oz can evaporated milk
2 C dry oatmeal
1 C chopped onion (I use frozen because it's so much faster!)
2 eggs
2-2.5 lbs ground beef
2 t salt
2 t chili powder
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t pepper

2 C ketchup
2 T liquid smok
2 C brown sugar
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 C chopped onion

Folks, do not skip the liquid smoke in this recipe! It is the secret ingredient that makes these meatballs amazing! It can be a little difficult to find in some grocery stores; it's usually with things like worcestershire sauce, but it is worth the hunt! If you don't feel like combing the aisles at your local grocery store, or think they might not have it, you can order it here:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all of the meatball ingredients. Shape mixture into balls about 1 1/2" in diameter--this is the time-consuming part. I suppose you could make this like a meatloaf and it would be really quick, but I think using meatballs helps get the sauce into every bite. Place the meatballs in a single layer in a 9 x 13 baking dish.

As you can see in the picture, mine aren't actually all in a single layer. I could have put the extras in a smaller baking dish by themselves, but I didn't feel like dirtying up another pan, so I just stacked a few. It works out fine, you just have to increase your cooking time.

In a separate bowl, combine all of the sauce ingredients.

Mmmm. This stuff smells so good!
Pour the sauce over the meatballs, making sure to cover them all completely.

Bake for about 1 hour. They'll come out of the oven all bubbly and delicious looking.

I like to serve them with potatoes and a salad for a hearty and delicious meal.

Perfect for cool evenings! Enjoy!

Right-click the image below to download a printable copy of the recipe.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Homemade Hummus

I think I have finally perfected my hummus recipe. At least, my husband and friends seem to think so. I would love to hear other people's thoughts on it. I'm not going to say that my hummus is as good as the stuff they make at my favorite Mediterranean restaurant, because it's not, but it's pretty darn good. And it's a hundred times better than the store-bought stuff. Try it out, and let me know if you agree.

*Scroll to the bottom to see my variation for spinach hummus*

Here's what you need:

2 cans of chick peas
1/2 C Tahini
1/2 C lemon juice
3-4 cloves fresh garlic

I drain one can of chick peas completely and drain the other one about halfway. (I know, I know, they don't used canned chick peas for authentic hummus. But it's so much faster and I'm happy enough with the results. If you want, you can cook the chick peas yourself for a more authentic hummus).

Throw everything in the food processor.

Turn it on for a couple of minutes, and in no time you will have something that looks like this:

And that's it! Homemade hummus in about 5 minutes.
Serve with olive oil and paprika.

(Don't you just love this serving dish? It's one of my favorites.)

Variation: Spinach Hummus
This is my hubby's favorite way to eat hummus. The fresh spinach adds a very refreshing flavor to the hummus and contrasts pleasantly with the garlic.
I prepare the hummus exactly as shown above. After pureeing the mixture, I add a couple handfuls of fresh spinach leaves.

I usually let the processor run for 30 seconds or so, and then use a spatula to help mix the leaves in, and then turn it on again. I repeat this a few times, sometimes adding more spinach as I go.

When finished, the hummus looks something like this:

And here it is, served up in a pretty dish. I don't typically garnish my spinach hummus with olive oil and paprika, but you may enjoy it more that way.

Crater Cake: The One-Minute Dessert

You read right. This dessert can be made in one minute. Okay, technically it cooks for one minute, and it takes about 30 seconds to prepare, but "The minute-and-a-half dessert" just doesn't have the same ring to it. This dessert is the cutest, easiest thing ever. Unfortunately, I was not brilliant enough to come up with it myself; it was a Pinterest find that I decided to try. The name, however, is totally mine. :) The Pinterest post I saw just gave the directions, which are simple enough, but did not give any pictures or descriptions, so I was a little surprised at how it looked when I made it the first time. Therefore, I thought other people might appreciate a more detailed post on this, like I would have.

Here's what you need: 1 box of Angel Food cake mix and 1 additional box of cake mix of any flavor you'd like. Apparently one of the boxes has to be Angel Food for this to work; I haven't made it without Angel Food to test this claim. I assumed they knew what they were talking about. I chose to use a triple chocolate fudge cake mix with mine, but I'm anxious to try it with other flavors.

Dump both cake mixes into a gallon Ziploc bag and shake until well mixed. Then, get yourself a coffee mug.

I wrote the directions on the Ziploc bag so that anyone can just grab the mix out of the pantry and fix themselves a little treat.

Measure 3 T of the dry mix into the mug.

Add in 2 T of water and stir. The mixture will be about the consistency of a milkshake.

Next, microwave on high for 1 minute. When it's done, it will look something like this:

This pocketed look is what inspired me to call it Crater Cake, which is a much better name than "those little individual mug cake things". To be honest, I was a little dubious the first time I made this and it came out looking so spongy. This was part of the reason I decided to write this post, even though this was not my original idea, because the post I saw did not prepare me for this. I was expecting, you know, a cake, not a sponge.
Do not despair. It actually tastes delicious; it's light and airy, but still satisfyingly chocolate. (Yours might be satisfyingly strawberry, or vanilla, or whatever).

While it's delicious just like this, I like to serve it with a dollop of ice cream on top.

Mmm. Perfect individual portions, ready to eat. I think this would be adorable for a kid's party. Or how about for a sleepover? Just leave the mixed cake mixes in a bag with the directions on the counter, and let the kids fix it for themselves when they get hungry at 2:00 a.m.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ice Cream Main Idea

Sometimes the best ideas for lessons come straight from my students. I started a reading challenge this month called "Get the Scoop on Reading"--basically, for every chapter book my students read, they will get to add one paper ice cream scoop to an ice cream sundae display in the classroom. (More to follow on that when the challenge is finished and I can post a picture of the final display.) I was telling some of my students about the challenge and pointed out the poster I had made giving the details of the challenge. On the poster I had included a paper ice cream cone, and one of my students asked me if they could make ice cream cones that day for fun. In about the time it took me to tell him "Not today" I suddenly formulated this entire lesson in my mind.

I started thinking about how an ice cream cone could be like the main idea, while the toppings are like the details. We've covered the concept of main idea and details before, but we're due for a review, especially with testing coming up in a few weeks.
Next week, I'm going to set up a "sundae" bar for my students.

We will review the concept of main idea and details, and then read a book or article together. After reading, I will give each student a graphic organizer with a box in the middle for the main idea, and some smaller boxes for details. Students will independently fill in the graphic organizer; as they fill in each box, they will earn pieces for their ice cream cones. When they have correctly filled in the main idea, they earn their cone and can pick a scoop of ice cream to add to it. Then, for each detail they add, they can earn a topping. I made whipped cream, sprinkles, and cherries.

The prep time on this was actually pretty quick. I used die-cuts for nearly everything. The ice cream scoops are just circle die-cuts. I used the same circle die-cut for the whipped cream, and just cut them in half with a wavy line. The sprinkles are hole-punches. I raided the workroom hole-punch for those; it was a win-win because I got my "sprinkles" and they got their hole-punch cleaned out. :) The cherries were also a die-cut, meaning that the only thing I really had to cut out were the cones, which was very quick.

They look pretty cute when they're done, and I know the students will have a great time putting them together. I'm looking forward to telling my one student that I based this lesson on his idea.

I can't wait to teach this lesson next week! :)