Valentine’s Day (non-candy) Treats

As you know, I’m in school these days, so I need to think about Valentine’s Day. My class will be having a party and I wanted to make sure I had Valentines for everyone in my class. Mommy figured there would be lots of candy and other sweet treats, so wanted me to do something that wouldn’t involve an early trip to the dentist. Also, you may remember from this post that some of my classmates have allergies that would make candy-giving more complicated than it needs to be. So, we went with an option that Mommy thinks my teachers, my classmates, and their parents will all like: crayons. Not just plain, old crayons though. Heart-shaped crayons.

Options

Don’t they look great? Okay, some are prettier than others. But I think they’re still pretty cool. And I get to keep some of them because there are more than enough for my classmates. In fact, each of my classmates will get three of them and I still have lots to keep (I’m lucky to be in class with fewer than 20 students.)

So, you know I wouldn’t show these to you and not tell you how Mommy and I made them, right? So, here it is.

Mommy bought two big boxes of crayons at the dollar store. We took the paper off of them and broke them into small pieces.

Crayons

Mommy also bought an ice “cube” mold that is hearts instead of rectangles. It’s silicon, so it can go in the oven.

Heart Mold

Preheat the oven to about 250 degrees (Mommy says our oven is on the cool side, so we played with a little before we got these to melt, but if your oven is more accurate, 250 should do the trick.)

Fill the molds with small pieces of crayon. You can use all of the same color, different shades of the same color, or mix a few colors together. Just avoid black and dark browns because they tend to turn the whole thing into a dark blah.

First Batch

Put the mold on a cookie sheet (to catch any overflowing wax) and put in the oven. Now how long it takes will depend on how hot your oven is, how big your mold is (how many crayon pieces are in there,) how small your pieces of crayon are and (I think) the quality of the crayons (ours were cheap and took forever to melt!) I say keep your eye on them (at least the first batch, until you get the hang of it.) Like I said, ours took awhile – about 20 minutes. But once they start to melt, they turn to liquid quickly, so watch them.

Out of the Oven

Let them cool completely so they solidify again. Using a silicon mold makes them easy to pop out once they are solid. This is the first batch:

First Batch Done

While we waited for the crayons to melt and re-solidify Mommy and I prepared the envelopes that we’d put the hearts in.Envelopes Ready

Then I got to pick which hearts I wanted to give each of my friends, we put them into the envelopes and sealed them with a sticker.

Stuffed and Sealed

Do you think my friends will like them? I sure hope so.

 

Oh, and since I’m a foodie, Mommy made one of my favorite meals after spending the day working hard melting wax!

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Will you be my Valentine?

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Oatmeal Cookies with a Twist

It’s February and all the Christmas cookies are gone. Mommy has been packing one in my lunch each school day but now that they’re gone we needed more cookies in the house!

Mommy has told me when she was little there was always something for dessert in the house for her to take to school for lunch. And when she was old enough she was the one in charge of making it. She made lots of different things: cakes, cookies, brownies. Generally Mommy had a handful of recipes she used for these desserts – a brownie recipe from her first cookbook, boxed cake mix or the cookie recipe on the back of the yellow bag of chocolate chips.

Mommy has grown a bit braver in her baking ability since those days. She still makes the same brownie recipe and has promised me she will share the recipe when I am old enough to make them. But she has moved beyond boxed caked mixes and has tweaked the cookie recipe in a number of different ways. Today’s post is one of those new tweaks.

This recipe is inspired by a number of different sources: Alton Brown’s “The Chewy,” a good friends oatmeal-chocolate chip, and a cookie Mommy used have a local coffee shop called “The Everything” that has all sorts of ingredients thrown in. These ended up being oatmeal, chocolate chip, craisin cookies.

Cooling

Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter

1 1/2 cup flour

1 t salt

1 t baking soda

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

1 1/2 t vanilla extract

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/4 cup milk

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup craisins

Start by mixing the oatmeal and milk in a small bowl and allowing it to soak. Melt the butter in the microwave and set aside to cool slightly. Sift together the flour, salt and soda. We do this onto a paper towel so it easy to pour it into the mixer when the time comes.

Sifted Dry Ingredients

Pour the melted butter into a mixing bowl, add the sugars and beat together until well combined, about 2 minutes.

Butter and Sugar

Meanwhile, whisk the whole egg, egg yolk and vanilla together.

Beaten Egg

Pour the egg mixture into the butter and sugar mixture and mix thoroughly. Add the oatmeal and milk combination.

Oatmeal

Gradually mix in the dry ingredients. Stop a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Dry Ingredients Added

Add the chips and craisins.

Chocolate Chips and Cranberries

Mix thoroughly to combine. Chill the batter for about an hour.

All Mixed

We use an ice cream scoop to make the cookies. Six to a parchment or silpat lined cookie sheet.

Ready for Oven

Bake at 375 degrees for 7 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake another 7-8 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes before cramming into your mouth so you don’t burn yourself!

Cooling

Coconut Lime Chicken

Mommy really likes quick and easy meals. She also likes to use her slow-cooker. It makes life easy when Mommy can throw some ingredients in the pot, plug it in, turn it on, rush us off to school and have dinner waiting when we get home in the evening. This semester Mommy is teaching a late afternoon class, so she picks me up at school at about 5pm. Having dinner waiting for us when we get home is wonderful – especially when it’s cold outside.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know we like all sorts of different foods in this house. And Mommy and I like to experiment with different types of cuisine. Not too long ago Mommy found what looked like a yummy dish on Pinterest.  It combined some of our favorite flavors – coconut, lime, curry, spicy, sweet, citrus, yum! The recipe wasn’t for the slow-cooker, but Mommy thought it was worth a try. It worked out quite well. It was so tasty Daddy ate the leftovers in less than 24 hours after dinner!

Serve it with some steamed rice, cous cous, or our new favorite, quinoa, and it makes a perfect meal.

So here’s what we tried:

Ingredients

Into you slow cooker goes about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. You could go without this probably, but the original recipe called for some oil, so we used a little here. Add the zest of one lime and then the juice too.

Oil and Zest

To this add the rest of the spices, adjust the amounts depending on your taste, these are amounts are approximate: 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons of curry powder, pinch of cayenne, salt and pepper to taste.

Spices

Then add the liquid: 2 Tablespoons soy sauce, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 2 Tablespoons Agave syrup (the original recipe called for sugar, you could substitute the sweetener of your choice.)
Then add the 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Sauces and Chicken

Turn you slow cooker on low and walk away. Leave it for 6-8 hours. About 15 minutes before you’ll serve it, add a bag of frozen peas and allow them to heat through.

Mommy made some cous cous the first time we had this. She made it with V-8 instead of water and that made it delicious and nutritious!

with Cous Cous

We owe special thanks to Grandma for asking for this recipe and getting me motivated to post it!

Clam Chowder (New England Style)

We’ve had some very cold weather here in Baltimore the last few weeks. Well, very cold by Baltimore standards. We’ve even had some snow! Mommy says it’s not really worth mentioning because it hasn’t lasted more than a few hours, but for those of us who have only ever lived in Baltimore it still counts. The snow and cold yesterday put us all in the mood for soup and Mommy must have been reminded of growing up in New England because she decided to make chowder (or chow-dah, as I understand they call it…)

Finished Bowl

Mommy says there has long been some debate in her family about clam chowder. Nonno and Nonna (her parents) prefer Manhattan clam chowder. Perhaps because Nonno is from the NY-metropolitan area. However, although Manhattan is Mommy’s favorite city, she prefers the creaminess of New England clam chowder. Perhaps because she grew up in New England – though she doesn’t readily admit to this, so maybe it’s just the creaminess.

Whichever style you make, it’s a pretty simple process. In general, soups are fairly simple and don’t even have to take a long time. So, gather up some ingredients – many of which you may have in your pantry – and make yourself some warmth in a bowl.

Ingredients

Ingredients:

2 strips thick-cut bacon, diced

6-8 medium potatoes, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

3 stalks celery, diced

1 medium onion, diced

1 jar clam juice

1 (10 oz) can of clams

1 quart half & half (or a combination of milk and half & half)

salt & pepper

Instructions:

Render bacon over medium heat (this is just a fancy way of saying cook the bacon until all the fat has cooked away from the meat and you have crispy bacon and melted bacon fat.) Remove the bacon bits and drain them on a paper towel for garnish later. Add vegetables to the pot and toss them with the bacon fat.

Potatoes and Carrots

Open the can(s) of clams and drain the liquid into the pot of vegetables. Also add the jar of clam juice. Add water to the pot to just cover the vegetables.

Celery and Broth

Bring to a boil and then turn down heat to simmer until the potatoes and carrots are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Add clams and warm through (clams will get rubbery if they are over-cooked.)

Clams added

Add the half & half (we used fat-free, though Mommy doesn’t understand how half & half can be fat-free… and it was still creamy) and salt and pepper to taste. We use lots of pepper because Mommy likes pepper. You will probably also use more salt than you think you want or need, but add a little and taste – you can always add more, but can’t take it away. The salt is a funny one to judge in this recipe because the clam juice is salty, but potatoes can absorb a lot of salt without tasting salty. You decide what you like.

Cream Added

It’s ready to eat. We topped ours with the bacon bits (which you could also stir in at the end) and some oyster crackers, which may be my new favorite. A little parsley or some chives would be good too, especially for a little color.

If you really wanted to make this Manhattan style, just omit the half & half and add an equivalent amount of tomatoes and their juice and Voila!

Now wasn’t that easy?!?!

Finished Bowl

Split Pea Soup

It’s been pretty chilly here in Baltimore lately (or course today, when I finally get around to posting this, it’s supposed to over 60 degrees.) I even wear a jacket to school in the morning these days.

When it starts to get cool, Mommy likes to make soup. She has a few favorites – sweet potato & leek, mushroom, roasted tomato… But this week she wanted something hardy so she decided to give split pea a try. We had a packet of soup mix that just needed water and ham added to it, but it only made two servings, so Mommy made it from scratch. It was really pretty easy. And, other than being a little salty, it was really tasty.

Mommy also made some delicious rye bread to go with our soup. She cheated a little on this one and used Bob’s Red Mill rye bread mix. It was delicious though – maybe even my favorite part, but I’m partial to carbohydrates!

Soup is really pretty easy to make and I bet you have the ingredients for some kind of soup right in your pantry right now. For this one, we started by sweating one onion, diced.

Then we added two carrots, diced.

To that we added lots of freshly ground black pepper, salt (to taste – we probably added too much not thinking about the amount of salt the ham hocks would add,) and a couple of bay leaves – be sure to fish these out at the end, they make soup yummy but aren’t good to eat.

Then we added two cans of chicken stock (about 28 oz total) and one cup of split peas (rinsed.) We added the peas after the stock and they sank to bottom, so you can’t see them in the picture, but they’re in there (you can see the green just under the surface of the stock.) Finally, we had two ham hocks in the freezer and we put them in the pot. Split pea soup usually has some ham in it. If you don’t have hocks, you can chop up a ham steak or a piece of thick cut deli ham. If you’re a vegetarian, you can omit the ham and use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. You can also make your own stock, but that’s another posting.

Here’s the best part… now you just turn the stove down to medium-low, cover the pot and let it cook. It should simmer for at least an hour, but letting it go all day won’t do any harm. Just before serving,i f you used ham hocks, like we did, take them out and cut any meat off them and return it to the pot. Serve piping hot with some yummy bread – something whole wheat or rye or pumpernickel would be best with this soup.

Enjoy! And stay warm.

Split Pea Soup

1 cup dried split peas, rinsed and drained

1 medium onion, diced

2 carrots, diced

salt and pepper, to taste

2 bay leaves

28-32 oz of chicken stock (or vegetable stock, or even water) – less stock means a thicker soup

2 ham hocks (or 1/2 cup diced ham)

Frankenstorm Cookies

Sorry this post is delayed in arriving to you. We were having some technical difficulties (funny enough, they weren’t related to the storm mentioned herein.)

So, last week it was known as Frankenstorm. Now it is being called “Super Storm Sandy.” Either way, Mommy and I had to make cookies for my Halloween party at school, so we took advantage of being stuck at home and baked. We were very lucky here in Baltimore. The storm was not as bad as it could have been. Mommy lived in Baltimore when Hurricane Isabel came right up the Chesapeake Bay in 2003. She says Sandy didn’t impact us as much as Isabel did. We are counting our blessings and are very sad about NYC and the Jersey Shore though. Those are both places we visit at least once every year. We go to NYC the weekend before Christmas every year to celebrate with my Uncle David and Aunt Lindsey who come down from New Hampshire. And we spend a week at the Jersey Shore every summer. We have lots of friends and family that are still without power and some who are homebound because of the damage caused by the super storm. Hopefully the thought of these cookies will bring a small smile to your face, no matter the damage in your area.

Mommy had a great plan. In preschool we are learning to recognize our written names, so she was going to make big cookies, one for each of my classmates, with each student’s name on it. Best laid plans, as she often says… One of my classmates has a wheat allergy. That means baked items need to be gluten-free. Unfortunately, sugar cookies need gluten to be rolled out, so she was concerned her idea wasn’t going to work after all. But she did a little research and learned there are some companies that make gluten-free sugar cookie mix. This would save needing to buy a variety of different flours and xantham gum. It didn’t solve the problem of rolling them out though. Mommy decided to buy a mix anyway and give it a try. She was going to make regular sugar cookies too and just be sure to keep the two recipes completely separate.

While mixing up the gluten-free dough, Mommy came up with an idea that she wanted to be sure I shared with you because it is a way of getting cut out cookies from gluten-free dough. She spread the dough in one, thin layer on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper (we used tin foil, but parchment would probably be better.) After baking as directed (they took a little longer than the package said because it was one big cookie) she let them cool slightly before using the cookie cutters to cut the already baked cookies. Then she pulled away the excess cookie and was left with the shapes she wanted. Just beware: gluten-free cookies are more likely to break because the texture is more crumbly than regular sugar cookies.

The regular cookies were easy after the glutton free ones. Here’s our recipe:

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp powder

1/2 tsp salt

Using an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl and then add the slowly (otherwise flour will go flying everywhere!)

Scrape together all the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and create a disc.

Refrigerate the dough for at leat two hours. And wait…

Once the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Using about 1/6 of the dough, roll it out on a well-floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick

Using the cookie cutters of your choice, cut cookies and place on a cookie sheet (ours were lined with silpat, but parchment paper would work well too.)

Bake 6-8 minutes until they just begin to turn golden around the edges. Watch them carefully at the end because they will go from golden to burnt very quickly.

Move cookies to a cooling rack. Allow them to cool completely and then decorate however you like. I had lots of fun decorating mine.

Enjoy!

Sunday Dinner – Roast Chicken

It has begun to cool off here in Baltimore and while we still have a few 70-degree days ahead of us there is also a nip in the air some days, especially in the morning. Mommy took advantage of this and made a real Sunday dinner this weekend. She also took advantage of some of the yummy items we can still find at our local farmer’s market.

Like so many of the other things Mommy makes, there’s no real recipe here – add what you like.

Mommy started with cutting some fall veggies into chunks and putting them into the bottom of a large baking dish. You could also use a roasting pan for this. We had gone to the farmer’s market earlier in the week and found some patty pan squash and Japanese eggplant as well as some fingerling potatoes. She cut the first two into chunks, but left the potatoes whole because they were already small. I also like roasted carrots and beets, so Mommy added some of those too. She peeled both and cut them into chunks as well. Then, for some flavor, she added about 5 cloves of garlic, just smashed and peeled and two onions cut into wedges. Then she added about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper (to taste) and tossed it all together.

It looked so pretty.

Mommy used those pretty veggies as a bed for a roasting chicken. Make sure your chicken is fully thawed. And then she ducked outside and picked a few sprigs of fresh herbs – we still have some thyme and rosemary. Mommy just scattered them over and around the chicken. She also added some salt and pepper to the chicken and about a tablespoon of butter, broken up with her fingers, to the chicken.

Place in a 425-degree oven for about an hour. It is done when a thermometer placed in the thickest part of the thigh (careful not to hit bone) registers 165 degrees and/or the juices run clear. Don’t rely on the plastic pop-up thing that comes in the chicken, they’re not always reliable.

Mommy doesn’t really slice the chicken into thin slices. Carving a bird is really not a pretty thing. She pulls off the drumsticks and the wings and cuts the breast meat off and slices it into chucks. Doesn’t make any difference to me; it still tastes yummy.

“Orzotto” con Funghi e Spinaci

Mommy has a new addiction: Pinterest. I’ve even added a button at the bottom of each post so you can “Pin” these recipes. As you might imagine, Mommy likes looking at pictures of food and stumbling upon new recipes. A friend of ours recently pinned a picture of orzo with basil and cheese. Mommy thought she’d give it a try, but, as usual, put her own spin on it.

Orzo is pasta that is shaped to look like grains of rice. It cooks quickly because it’s small. Mommy likes to make risotto and decided to do a little take on risotto. The great thing about using orzo instead of short-grained rice (like arborio) for this dish is that Mommy didn’t have to stand over the stove stirring and adding liquid to the pot – she had time to chase after me!

Mommy’s favorite risotto is probably a tie between seafood and mushroom. We added some mushrooms to this orzo dish. Mommy usually adds peas to her risotto but she’s on a bit of a spinach kick these days, so we added spinach too. We didn’t even cook the spinach – just put it into the bottom of the serving bowl and poured the cooked orzo on top. The heat of the orzo was enough to wilt the spinach.

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 Tablespoon Butter

1 Onion, thinly sliced

1 Pint Mushrooms (your choice, we used Cremini/Baby Portabellos,) sliced

1 box Orzo (this will be about 2 1/4 cups)

5 cups chicken stock (you could also use vegetable stock)

1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

2 handfuls (or cups) Fresh Spinach

2 Tablespoons Basil, chopped

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan. When hot, add the onions and saute.

While the onions are sauteing, heat a skillet over high heat and add the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms in a dry pan – do not add oil. As they begin to cook they will squeak as you move them around the pan. That’s what is supposed to happen. They will brown nicely without anything else in the pan.

Add the orzo to the onions and cook/toast until it begins to turn golden brown.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Stir to keep orzo from sticking to the bottom of your pot. Add mushrooms, turn down to a simmer,cover and cook about 15 minutes.

After about 15 minutes of simmering the liquid should be absorbed. If there’s still some liquid left, remove the lid and let it simmer another minute or two.

Place the spinach into a serving bowl and pout the cooked orzo over it. Add the cheese and half the basil and stir to combine. Garnish with the remaining basil.

It was hot, so it took me a few minutes to try it, but it was tasty.

Sun-dried Tomato and Black Olive Dip/Spread/Sauce 

Mommy and I went with Granma and Granpa to visit Uncle David and Aunt Lindsey in New Hampshire this past weekend. It was so great to see them; since they’re so far away I don’t get to see them as much as I would like.

Of course, there was lots of food involved. On Saturday we had hamburgers and hot dogs that we bought from a little food market in Dover. While we were there shopping they had free samples of some tasty products from Terra Cotta Pasta Company. Mommy decided she could probably make her favorite one – Sun-dried Tomato and Black Olive – at home. It’s probably not exactly the same, but she gave it a try today and it was pretty tasty.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup Oil-cured Black Olives (like Kalamata)

1/2 cup Sun-dried Tomatoes in oil

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1 clove Garlic

1 tsp. Dried Oregano

1 tsp. Dried Basil

Olive Oil

Mommy made the whole thing in the food processor. She started by cutting the cheese into chunks and pulsing them in the food processor.

It saves time grating it. It leaves small chunks of cheese in the mix, so if you’d prefer it to be smoother grate the cheese instead.

Then add the garlic clove – the processor will mince it for you. *Mommy ran out of garlic (gasp) and used garlic powder instead. Also add the herbs (if using fresh, double the amount) and add the olives. Be sure the olives are pitted. Mommy bought olives with pits and had to pit them. It’s not that difficult, but takes some time. If you have a cherry-pitter, it will work for olives too.

Also add the tomatoes. Mommy had half a jar left, so she just dumped the whole thing in, including the oil in the jar.

Pulse food processor to chop and combine everything. Then slowly add olive oil (make sure it’s good olive oil since it won’t be cooked) while the food processor is running until it reaches the consistency you like.

It works well as a dip.

I thought it was pretty yummy. When I think things are tasty I put my finger to my cheek and rotate it. It’s an Italian gesture meaning Tutto Buono (very good!)

Mommy used it tonight as a spread on sandwiches.

I thought that was yummy too.

Mommy says she’s also going to toss it with hot pasta one night for dinner. I love pasta and this sauce was pretty tasty so I think I will like that. I’m looking forward to it.

All in all, I think this recipe is incredibly versatile and you can adjust amounts of the ingredients to your tastes. I hope you give it a try.

Banana Berry Smoothie

Okay, people, it’s really hot here in Baltimore and Mommy has the blender out.

She says that should mean margaritas, but I’m too young, so she made smoothies instead. When I told her I wanted to do a blog entry on smoothies, she thought it was a little silly because smoothies are so easy. But I told her we should include it anyway, even if it’s just to show the pictures of me with a bright pink moustache. So, like so many “recipes” here, this is more like a method than a recipe. Add fruit that you like or have. Mommy also makes a Green Monster smoothie. I’ll post that one next time.

Ingredients: one well-ripened banana, about 1 cup frozen berries, 1/4 cup plain yogurt, 1/4 cup peanut butter (use another nut butter if you’re allergic to peanuts,) 1-2 Tablespoons chocolate syrup

Everybody into the pool, er, blender. And go! Blend until smooth. Easy, right? The amounts are estimates.

Sometimes, when the bananas start to get a little too ripe, she peels them and puts them into a zip bag and in the freezer. If you do this, use about the equivalent of one banana because they will probably be a big frozen blob. Bananas, fresh or frozen, give smoothies that “fluffiness” that makes them so yummy. Of course, if you don’t like bananas, you don’t have to use them.

Mommy usually has a bag of frozen berries on hand. Sometimes they’re ones we picked and didn’t make into jam, sometimes she buys them at the store. If we have fresh berries and frozen bananas than she uses that combination instead. She likes to have at least one item frozen so she doesn’t have to add ice cubes – that just waters down the smoothie.

Mommy uses whatever yogurt we have in the house, which these days has been plain Greek yogurt. But she said flavored yogurt would be just fine too and if you don’t have a lot of fresh fruit and want to use a whole, single-serving container of fruit yogurt that would work just fine. We buy yogurt in large containers and so some liquid usually is sitting on top when we use it. Mommy pours that into the blender too – for some added moisture (and lots of nutrients.)

We just started adding peanut butter to our smoothies. I love peanut butter and it’s a good source of protein. I think that’s why Mommy does it – she often just drinks a smoothie for breakfast and the peanut butter gives it “staying power” as she says.

Now the chocolate syrup is optional. Since we use plain yogurt, we like to add a little sweetener. Sometimes we add honey, but since chocolate goes so well with bananas, berries and peanut butter, why not?!?! Add more or less to your taste – just remember that even though chocolate syrup is fat-free it is not calorie free.

Once it begins to blend, it looks something like this:

You made need to scrape down the sides a little. You might also need to add a little more liquid to get it to blend. If so, this is entirely up to you. Some options we have used: milk (of any variety – vanilla soy makes this yummy!) water, fruit juice. Just add a little bit at a time and smash stuff down in the blender (don’t put any utensil or your hands in the blender while it’s running – unless you want bits of it in your smoothie!) The less liquid you add, the thicker your smoothie – the more, the thinner.

These amounts make enough smoothie for me to have about 4 oz and Mommy to have about 12 oz. Enjoy.