So I have this friend. For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call her “Mrs. Cool J.” Mrs. Cool J is one of those friends that you truly feel blessed to know. I met her through my local Mothers of Multiples club and found out that she happens to live just a stone’s throw away from me in our little community. Mrs. CJ reached out to me back when the babies were really young, when I was struggling with the logistics of caring for two tiny and very needy creatures at the same time, getting little-to-no sleep, and feeling very alone. As I got to know her, I discovered that she is the quintessential mother type, always caring for everyone else and rarely thinking of herself. In addition to being incredibly kind, generous, and thoughtful, she is also smart, fiesty, frikkin’ hilarious, and loves 90’s rap. In short, she’s all that and a bag of chips! So when I heard that she was going to have outpatient surgery on Valentine’s Day, naturally I wanted to do something to help out. A volunteer sheet for meals was created for her via Food Tidings, and I signed up to bring Valentine’s dinner for my friend and her family. Oh yeah, and did I mention that Mrs. CJ comes complete with a husband and three adorable children (two five-year-olds and a two-year-old)? Wowza!
When trying to decide what to cook for Mrs. CJ and her family, I had several factors to consider. Our patient would probably still be pretty groggy and uncomfortable from her procedure, so I didn’t want to make anything super heavy or spicy, but it needed to be substantial enough to feed her whole entourage. I also needed to make sure the meal was kid-friendly and that leftovers would be yummy and easy to store. And ideally it would be something relatively quick for me to whip up, since I seem to have limited time to spend in the kitchen these days. Fortunately, there are tons of great posts out there in the blogosphere with ideas and suggestions for bringing meals to families. I’ll include a few below, but you can find tons more with a simple search.
- Check out some ideas for meals for new parents at Annie’s Eats.
- DivineCaroline reviews the etiquette of bringing meals for friends.
- This post at $5 dinners has suggestions for frugal, freezer-friendly meals for sharing and links to tons more.
After checking out some of these, here is what I put together:
Mrs. Cool J’s Valentine Dinner
For the main course, I decided to prepare a creamy chicken soup with giant, chunky homestyle noodles. I could have made them myself, but instead I used Reames brand egg noodles that I (joyfully) found at a local grocery store. Seriously. I did a little dance in the frozen food section when I saw them. My mom made these noodles all the time when I was growing up, so they are one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. For the chicken soup, I loosely followed the recipe on the back of the package, since I hardly bother with measuring things any more. I mean, it takes way too much effort to actually open the drawer and pull out a measuring cup. And then you have to wash it after. Lazy much?
Anyway, the soup was delicious and I highly recommend you try it. I ended up with tons of it so I packaged it in a large container that they could eat immediately and a smaller one (pictured) that they could freeze for later if they so desired. The best part is that no one has to know that the noodles weren’t home made, unless you happen to post it on a blog for the entire universe to read. Don’t judge me, people! I have twins!!
Unfortunately, I cannot find a link to the exact recipe that is on the back of the Reames package these days. The one on the Reames website by the same name is a slightly different version than the one I (more-or-less) followed. However, Pioneer Woman also has a yummy chicken soup recipe using these noodles here, which I may be forced to test soon!
Just to be on the safe side, I made a quick batch of oven-baked chicken nuggets to include just in case any of the kids (or adults) weren’t crazy about the soup. I used this recipe from Skinnytaste which is easy, tasty, and very adaptable. I like to have a baggie of these in the fridge for quick meals or snacks for the twins, and I feel better about them than I do about the over-processed frozen chicken lumps you can buy at the store.
Now let’s move on to shortcut number two. Since it was Valentine’s Day, I really wanted to throw in some heart-shaped food. I am officially obsessed with heart-shaped food. Gets me every time. So I did a little Googlin’ and viola! There you have it. Heart-shaped dinner rolls. I’m in love.
Aren’t those adorable? And don’t they look über home made? Well guess what folks- they’re not! These are Rhodes dinner rolls (again from the freezer section of our grocery store) that I modified into heart shapes using simple instructions provided on the Rhodes website. Basically, you let the rolls (which are just perfectly frozen little balls of dough) thaw a bit, roll them into “drumsticks,” snip the fat end of the drumstick with kitchen scissors, and arrange on your baking sheet. After you let them rise, bake away and in just minutes you have beautiful rolls to express your love and devotion. If that wasn’t precise enough for you, there is actually a video tutorial on the website that you can view for clarification. There are also instructions on how to make the frozen rolls into several other fun shapes. I promise I am not a secret Rhodes spokesperson. I just love dough. And rolls. And hearts. Okay, I’ll stop now.
Shortcut number three was easy…a bagged “just add lettuce” Caesar salad kit from the grocery store and a big ole’ bag of fresh Romaine that I actually cut up myself. I’m not going to bore you with a picture of naked lettuce. That’s a little risqué for this blog, anyway. Man, I’m on a roll tonight, aren’t I??
Okay, now for the fun part. No Valentine meal is complete without my favorite part…the dessert! After flexing my cake-making muscles several times this month, I was itching to do some more decorating. Throw in some chocolate hearts (no surprise there) and viola! Valentine Swirl Cupcakes were born.
For the icing, I used my new go-to recipe for buttercream frosting from Savory Sweet Life. Trust me, it’s yummy. I tend to eat half of it while I’m making it. No wonder my teeth hurt today. I also made a few fancy cupcake liners from scrapbook paper I had stashed away from previous projects. They were super easy to make using this pattern from Snow and Graham and some decorative scissors.
I created this fun swirly icing by using the old paintbrush technique…prepare your icing bag as you would normally, but before you add your icing, take a small paintbrush and paint streaks of gel food coloring up the inside of the bag. The icing picks up the coloring on the way out. Awesome and easy!
To get the two-toned cake effect, I colored half of my batter with food coloring and left the other half white. I layered the colors on top of each other and then baked as usual. I can’t take credit for this idea since it has been all over Pinterest for awhile now. I could have made a more “marbled” look by swirling the layers together with a toothpick, but I was a little tired by this point and ready to get to the decorating. Still turned out pretty cute, I must say!
Along with the food, I also wanted to throw in some activities for the little Cool Js.
I included some cute coloring puzzles with “mess free” markers- always a plus with three busy kids. And then the pièce de résistance…my first-ever sewing project on my new sewing machine! Drum roll, please…
It’s a discovery bag! Again, not an original idea…do a search for “eye-spy bag” or “discovery bag” on Google or Pinterest and you will come up with tons of variations on the concept. I used a combination of several methods that I saw along with a hefty dash of improvisation to create my masterpiece. I will do a post soon with all the details…I have a few ideas for modifying this toy for different ages/purposes, and I want to try them all out before I share them with you!
Well, Mrs. Cool J and family, I hope you enjoyed eating your box o’ yummies as much as I did making it. And I hope you are feeling better. Call me when you feel up to practicing those 90’s dance moves! I’ll be waiting anxiously by the phone.
Until next time,
Linking up to these fabulous parties: