Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Homemade Eggplant Lasagna

Eggplant lasagna
I adore eggplant and I have lots of eggplant coming in from my garden right now. I also adore lasagna. I decided that instead of using lasagna noodles to layer a lasagna recipe I would replace the noodle layer with sautéed eggplant slices. I threw this idea together and didn’t measure much or follow any recipe.  It came out so well that I’ve been asked to write it down by friends and family. Please note the recipe and portions below fill two casserole dishes with these amounts. You could cut the amounts in half for just one casserole. The other option is to share or freeze the second casserole dish.

1 lb lean chicken Italian sausage (or turkey Italian sausage) *Be sure to get a high end quality sausage.
1 – 1.5 lbs lean ground beef
2 cans Fire Roasted diced tomatoes (the Fire Roasted flavor makes a big difference)
1 glass jar of high end marinara sauce in a jar (Not Ragu or Prego)
2 medium onions (diced)
2 bell peppers (diced)
Garlic powder
Italian seasonings
Basil (About a 1/4 tsp of dried or use some fresh basil. If you use fresh add it later when you are about to make the layers)
Salt to taste
1/8 th teaspoon red pepper flakes (more if you like it spicy!)
¾ cup red wine
2 round tubs ricotta cheese
1 container Parmesan cheese (about 1.5 cups)
2-4 cups of mozzarella or a mixture of mozzarella and cheddar (basically whatever shredded cheese you have on hand)
6 Fresh Roma tomatoes sliced lengthwise so they are long slices (this layer is optional and I threw it in because all my tomatoes are also coming in from the garden)
5-7 large fat purple eggplants, peeled and sliced into circle shapes
2 eggs

*This step is strictly optional because it takes longer but helps get the moisture out of the eggplants. One hour to 1.5 hours before you are ready to cook - Peel and slice the Eggplant in ¾ inch pieces. If you have a baking cooling rack you can set it up and place paper towels beneath it. Another option is to put the eggplant slices in a large colander above the sink to drain. Lightly salt the eggplant slices on both sides and spread the slices over the baking rack. This helps drain some of the moisture because the eggplant will make your lasagna very juicy. The eggplant may look a little shriveled after this but that is fine.

Pour some olive oil in a pot (about 1 Tbs) and brown meats together along with onions and bell peppers. Drain some of the fat. Add red wine and cook another minute then add marinara and season with garlic salt, red pepper, and Italian seasonings, also dried basil unless you are using fresh, (if using fresh basil add it later)

. Simmer on low heat  while you prepare the other layers.

While this is cooking, in a separate bowl mix together both tubs of ricotta cheese, 2 eggs beaten, the 1.5 cup of parmesan, mozzarella and or cheddar and a little milk if the mixture is too dry. Just remember, even if the lasagna seems dry, a lot of moisture will cook out of the eggplant.

In a large skillet, coat the bottom with a thin layer of olive oil, place one side of the eggplant down in the olive oil to coat one side then flip it over and put the other side in the skillet. Saute' until the eggplant is thoroughly cooked and soft and grey in color, repeat with all the eggplant, replacing the oil with each new batch. Prepare a plate covered with a paper towel  and place the cooked eggplant on the plate as it is done. I used several plates.

In another skillet add some olive oil and lightly sauté the Roma tomato slices with olive oil. Set aside.
Once all of these are cooked and ready, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In your prepared casserole dishes layer each ingredient in the following order:
Eggplant layer
Meat sauce layer
Ricotta layer
Roma tomato layer

Cover the top of the dish with any remaining cheddar or mozzarella.  I baked it for about 50 minutes. I did not cover the dish. If the cheese on top is getting too dark you can use aluminum foil sprayed with Pam on one side to cover the dish. The side with the Pam will face the top of the casserole and will prevent the cheese from sticking to the foil.

This is some of it in a lunch plate for work.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Fun Family Summer Bucket List with small children

Fun Family Summer Bucket List with small children
This summer my little girls are three and five. This summer we decided to stay close to home and focus on quality family time together. Below is my brainstormed list of fun ideas to choose from. This list includes a variety of activities, some you will need to drive and pay for but others are basically free. I realize this is a long list but we will have fun seeing what we can do this summer. I have this list taped to my refrigerator and I look at it for inspiration from time to time. No stress.       
  My girlies making Mud Pies

Our Fun Family Summer Bucket List
* Visit the local Planetarium and Children’s Museum (In our case it’s the and admission is free the first Sunday of the month)
* Visit the local zoo
*Visit the most famous zoo in your state (In our case it is the New Orleans Audubon Zoo)
*Go Skating
*Go to the Aquarium of the Americas, Butterfly Walk and Insectarium in New Orleans (Check out what aquariums and butterfly gardens you have in your state)
*Enroll the kids in Swim Lessons
*Family trip to local water park (in our case it is Blue *Bayou Water Park
*Go family Blueberry Picking (See what seasonal fruit is available in your area)
*Visit the Global Wildlife Center   (See if there is a wildlife refuge in your area)
*Go to the movies together
*Go the Chick-Fil-A family night to let the kids play and make crafts (It is on Tuesday nights in our area)
*Family Bowling night
*Go see a local play for children (In our area one option is
*Go to Chunk E. Cheese

Free or Virtually Free Summer Bucket List Ideas:
*Join the Library Summer Reading Club, visit the library and check out books
*Go to some of the fun free Library programs
*Grab a tent and camp out in the backyard one night (Borrow one if you need to)
*Go to Lowes for their Build and Grow free make and take craft workshops for kids, (Just type in your zip code and see what is being offered in your area)
*Go to Vacation Bible School, VBS (See who is offering it near you)
*Go visit Bass Pro Shop, if there is one in your area, (They have free crafts and family activities. You can check the schedule to see what is being offered. There are also many animals, fish and cool things for the kids to look at and do in the store.)
*Go on a family picnic and fly kites
*Go on a family scavenger hunt (I plan to do a nature themed scavenger hunt at a local park and invite another family to join us)
*Plant something together and watch it grow (I like sunflowers but any plant will work)
*Invite friends for play dates with our family to the park
*Make homemade bubble juice together and blow regular and giant size bubbles (There are lots of recipes online, my favorite has Karo syrup in it)
*Make homemade bubble wands and try blowing bubbles out of different things, like socks
*Make a dessert together (If you have girls they could dress up with aprons)
*Family bike riding trip
*Go to the mall to ride the carousel, ride the train and play on the playground
*Board Game/Family Game Night
*Invite another family with children over for dinner and a movie or game night at your house
*Wash the car together (Don't forget the water guns)
*Go get snowballs or make your own
*Slip and Slide in the backyard and play with the sprinkler
*Make mud pies after a rainstorm
*Make fun Science things in the kitchen with the kids (I plan to make slime or play with cornstarch and water but there are lots of ideas on Pinterest)
*Find some hills and let the kids slide down them in box lids or roll downhill (In our case we use the LSU Indian Mounds)
*Go to a beach, if not a beach then a calm local river beach to play in the sand (Be sure to bring sand toys)
*Make sidewalk chalk art, Hop Scotch challenges and draw a maze
*Play some new educational games on the computer and iPad together (There are so many...)
*Get out pillows, sheets, blankets and flashlights to build tents/forts in the living room (Once the tent is built you can read a story with the flashlights)

Have FUN and Don't forget to stay hydrated!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Teacher Appreciation Gift Idea

Here is a cute Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Teacher Appreciation Week craft idea for about $20. I'm going to call it a Summer Fun Kit.
In May 2012 I saw a picture for something like this on Pinterest but there was no link to a tutorial or any explanation. I loved this concept! Using the picture as my guide I puzzled it out and made these teacher goodie kits with my daughter. They came out great and the teachers loved them! 

Here is my tutorial breaking down all the steps for this year's Teacher Appreciation Week.


Assorted Ribbons (hopefully you already have some on hand)
Spray Sunscreen ($5)
1 Towel ($5)
1 Insulated Plastic Cup ($5)
1 Magazine ($5) 
Jolly Ranchers and/or Starburst (Optional candy to put inside the plastic cups)
Hot Glue Gun
Rubber Bands
File Bands (the really long rubber bands)

The Jolly Ranchers, Starburst, Ribbon, Towels and Sunscreen

Insulated Plastic Cups, File Bands, Magazines, Glue Gun and rubber bands

 Step 1: Fill the cups with candy

Step 2: Tightly roll the towel as shown with the patterned part on the outside

Step 3: Use two rubber bands to secure the bottom of the towel. If the towel has a pattern, the pattern should be on the top.

Step 4: Position everything like it will look once assembled. Notice that the rubber band end of the towel is on the bottom.

Step 5: Use two  large File Bands to secure all the items together. The file bands should be doubled. In other words, each file band will wrap around the items two times. You want to be sure the file bands cover and overlap the two rubber bands on the towel. This is done so all the rubber bands are hidden under the ribbons. 
* Note: I find it easier to wrap the file bands around all the items without the sunscreen. I lay all the items horizontally by the edge of the table to wrap the file bands. Once I have the file bands positioned properly I add the sunscreen to the bundle last. 

Step 6: Cover the rubber bands with ribbon. I start with hot glue on the rubber band on the sunscreen and place the ribbon on top. Use small dots of hot glue on the rubber bands and attach the ribbon all around the bundle.   

 Step 7: Make a name tag. In our case my children have multiple teachers so just put "From" and my child's name. This way the teachers can decide among themselves who gets what magazine and which color cup and towel. I used a variety of different colors this year.

Friday, April 12, 2013

My Library Story

My Library Story

I decided I should make some kind of library related post, being that I am a librarian. I decided my first library post should include one of my favorite library stories, not a favorite book, but something that really happened which I was a part of. The second library system I worked for opened a small satellite library in the local Juvenile Detention facility. Teens between the ages of 12-18 would stay there anywhere from 3 days to 3 months as they waited for their trial dates. Teen librarians from our library would visit them every other week and stay for a few hours in order to see all the youth imprisoned there. This was a huge eye-opener for me. Just to get to the small detention center library, I had to be buzzed through about 5 locked doors. We had a strict protocol to follow on what types of clothes to wear and what we could and could not bring inside the facility with us. The teens could only come to the library in small groups, about 5-10 at a time, and the guards were always present. Occasionally teens would be shackled by the hands or feet, sometimes both. I visited regularly for two years. I would promote the books we had in the collection there, fiction and non-fiction titles. I would encourage them to plan ahead, think about their future and shared college, trade school and job information resources with them. I tried to be encouraging but always left wondering…did I make any difference? Did I get through to a single one of them? A year and a half after visiting regularly I got my answer. A young man and his grandmother came to the library. He recognized me, “Hey! You came to see me in prison! I remember you.” I found out that while in detention he had read the GED materials along with all the culinary career information he could find there. He remembered that I had talked about the other career resources we offered and came to visit and get started. He said he wanted to be a chef one day. His grandmother told me that he got out that morning and made her drive straight to the library. He told me he wanted to start studying immediately because he wasn’t going to go back to detention and was going to do something with his life. All of this is true and happened. This is a little insight into why I love my job. This is one of my favorite library stories. I know for a fact that libraries change lives.