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Halloween 2014

Halloween 2014

Minions! A few weeks before Halloween I was talking with some of my mom friends and they were sharing what their kids wanted to be for Halloween. It made me feel a little bummed since my kids just stared at me blankly when I asked, “What do you want to be for Halloween?”  (Ellen didn’t really have a concept of Halloween and Cooper struggles with open-ended questions.) As I was mulling over this “problem” it occurred to me that I just wasn’t asking the question in the right way. I showed Cooper pictures from last year and then showed him a Pinterest board I’d put together of costume ideas. It didn’t take Cooper anytime at all to decide that he wanted to be a minion. Whenever we’d go shopping and I’d tell him we were looking for stuff for his minion costume he’d get really excited.

PA310078I was going to make the kids hats, but then I found some and Target. At first I wasn’t sure about spending $20 on hats for a Halloween costumes and some part of me felt sad that the costumes wouldn’t be very homemade, but when I tried to put them back to contemplate the purchase Cooper almost had a breakdown and the decision was made. Based on how attached the kids are to them, I think the hats will be worn way beyond Halloween.

Despicable Me

We all dressed up for our church Halloween party. Noel was Gru and I was Lucy from Despicable Me 2. When we were all together, people caught on quick, but when we were apart people just thought I was a lady in a bathrobe. (The changes I’d made to make it look like a trench coat just couldn’t compensate for the bathrobe fabric I guess 😉

Corn Muffins

 

We also made an insane amount of corn muffins for the party. Just had to throw that in there.

School Parade On Halloween day, we went to a costume parade at Cooper’s preschool (all the kids were thrilled as you can tell.)

Party! Then a party followed. Ellen jumped right in as if she were an actual member of the class which kind of annoyed Cooper.

LeopardI’d thought about putting on my Lucy getup, but didn’t want to wear high heels and a bathrobe while chasing kids (again) so I opted to be a leopard.

CarvingIt had been a crazy week so we didn’t carve our pumpkin until Halloween. Noel had to help someone move (yeah, you read that right) so he missed out on the carving, but we still did something nerdy without his influence.

Pumpkin PiWhile we waited for Noel to come home and take the kids trick-or-treating, I fed the kids posole so they’d at least have something nutritious in their bellies. (The recipe will be up on the food blog in the next couple of days, so stay tuned! can be found here.)

PosoleCooper also told me that he was a funny minion and Ellen was a bad minion which cracked me up.

Minions! The kids were SO excited when Noel came home since a few trick-or-treaters had already been by our place. They went out and hit up a few neighbors houses while I stayed home and handed out bouncy balls. (You can read more about my crabby Halloween opinions on our food blog.)

Bouncy BallsThe kids of course thought trick-or-treating was the best thing ever.

Candy!

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy brother Spencer’s birthday was this week. He’s on a mission for our church at the moment, so we just sent him a care package in the mail. I had Cooper and Ellen draw pictures as part of Uncle Spencer’s gift and I explained to them that we were sending Uncle Spencer a special package for his birthday. Cooper’s eyes lit up as he said, “Uncle Spencer! Birthday . . . cake!” I could see the gears working in his head and I like the way the kid thinks. We’ll jump on just about any reason to try a delicious new recipe around our house, so we of course made a cake in Spencer’s honor. We tried out Smitten Kitchen’s Bee Sting Cake and like most of her recipes, it didn’t disappoint.

Cooper insisting he be fed like a baby.
Cooper insisting he be fed like a baby.
The "baby" insisting she feed herself. What are we to do with these people?
The “baby” insisting she feed herself. What are we to do with these people?

 

Bake in Case of Emergency

Bake in Case of Emergency

You know that scene from A Christmas Story where the father descends into the basement to battle the furnace and a cloud of gray smoke mingled with garbled obscenities seeps through the floor vent? Things have been a little like that at our house lately, but with the plumbing. We’ve plunged, snaked, and even resorted to calling in an “expert” (who showed up with the exact same equipment we had and scratched his head about what to do). Every time we thought we’d fixed the problem things would go smoothly for a week or so, but then everything would back up again. Noel was halfway to having enough hours to be a certified plumber by the time things went really wrong. (He really has no intentions of ever being a plumber, but if he did he says his company would be called The Poopsmith.)

We had last minute guests over that had been stranded at the Denver airport and were so excited to have a place to rest their heads, wash laundry, and take a hot shower before heading on their way. Unfortunately, we were only able to provide two out of three of those services. Katherine called me into the laundry room after her last load saying there seemed to be something leaking. As I ran downstairs I prayed, “Please let it be the washing machine, please let it be the washing machine,” but was dishearteningly met with sewage pouring out of the pipes’ joints and all over the the unfinished (phew) part of the basement. Fortunately, most everyone had already used the bathroom and I was the only one who had to make a trip over to the park. We sent Katherine and Sam off in clean clothes, but without showers, and wished them better luck than we were having. We called a different plumber and spent a good chunk of cash running a 115 foot bladed auger from our house to the main sewage line.  (I should note that we did save $300+ by having Noel assist the plumber so it could have been worse if Noel wasn’t so handy.) Noel finally went off to work and stayed late while I kept the kids at bay and played HazMat team of one.  It had literally been a pretty crappy day and I really wanted to just take a nap, but there was one thing that kept me motivated to finish all the things I needed to do: a slice of White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cheesecake drizzled with caramel as my reward.

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cheesecake ~ The Tall and the Short of It

Tuesday (the day before the plumbing apocalypse) was National Cheesecake Day and we of course couldn’t let such a day go uncelebrated. I decided to tackle making my Cheesecake Factory Favorite and we invited a few friends over to join us in the gluttony. All of the copycat recipes didn’t seem quite right to me, so I combined a few recipes and crossed my fingers that it would pull through. Other than a bundt pan denting the top of the cake (I still don’t know which monkey is to blame), it was pretty near perfection. I recommend that everyone make one and after eating some generous slices, freeze the rest to be used in case of emergency.

Check out our food blog for the recipe and more enticing photos.

Brownies cannot be healthy

Brownies cannot be healthy

I really wanted it to be true.

Let me back up a bit: A while ago I was reading an article in Runner’s World by Scott Jurek, world famous ultra-marathoner of Born to Run fame. The gist of the article is that he has become vegan and it has revolutionized his running and athleticism. It’s an interesting article and the purpose of it was to plug for his new book Eat and Run, which is an interesting read as well.

In the article (and book) he has a recipe for Chocolate Adzuki Bars. (It’s towards the bottom of the page in the article linked above.) In his book he introduces these “brownies” like so:

If you’re going to eat a moist, dense dessert on the run, this one is ideal. Made from the most digestible of beans [that’s the adzuki part], along with banana, rice flour, and vanilla, these lightly sweetened bars taste even better than their ingredients suggest. Plus, they are an excellent source of carbohydrates and protein.

This was intriguing to me. I really love brownies, but like most people feel sick and disgusting when I eat half a pan of them. For me it’s the rich chocolate that makes it, super sweet brownies aren’t my thing, so reading that these were lightly sweetened didn’t scare me off. I began to think, what if I could have it all? Brownies that would satisfy my chocolate craving and that I could still feel smug about eating.

 

So, I raided the bulk bins at Whole Foods to get all the strange ingredients required. I made rice milk from scratch and cooked the adzuki beans. Audrey actually made the bars as a surprise for me earlier this week when I got home from work.

It was too good to be true. Those chocolate bars tasted exactly like their ingredients suggest: like bananas, mashed beans, and cocoa powder. We tried to pawn them off on the kids. Ellen liked them pretty well (she doesn’t know any better) and Cooper took a bite or two and then started eating the chocolate chips off the top. After sitting on top of the microwave for a few days they ended up in the garbage.

Ever since then, I have been craving real brownies. So naturally I turned to our favorite brownie-obsessed food blogger to crank out some of her favorites. (A version of these brownies with a white chocolate-mint ganache has earned Audrey a reputation among the women at church.) As the author of that blog states:

There are no bad from-scratch brownies, unless you’re adding pureed carrots or flax seed and if you are, seriously, shame on you. Also: why? Why would you ruin a brownie like that? I demand an answer!

Point taken, Deb. I’m going to go eat brownies now.

brownie

———

Note: In Scott Jurek’s defense, not all his recipes are terrible. His salsa verde is outstanding. We also tried a bulgar chili recipe that is similar to his that was also very good. Oh yeah, and his suggestion of putting nutritional yeast (a.k.a. “hippie dust”, the vegan way to get a cheesy flavor without cheese) on popcorn blew my socks off it was so good. We now buy nutritional yeast just to put on popcorn.

March = Party Month

March = Party Month

Silly GirlThere is a lot that goes on in March. I feel like every time we turn around we’re celebrating something new. It keeps life exciting, but also means my house is in need of some serious post-celebratory-cleaning. Here’s a brief recap of what we’ve celebrated so far. A million birthdays, including our favorite little lady’s.

Trains! Free day at the train museum. Cooper was actually a little overwhelmed by the huge trains, but really liked the model train display.

Spring InsideOur anniversary. Six years and counting. This year it fell on a Sunday so we were going to go on a date the day before, but then there was a big blizzard. Luckily, I’d picked up some tulips the day before that made being trapped at home seem less dreary. (I rarely buy fresh cut flowers, but there was a one day sale at Whole Foods and I had a feeling we might need something special to brighten the weekend.)

BuckeyesI’d also read that the sixth anniversary was the “candy anniversary” so the day of we made some Buckeyes. Ours were ugly, but terribly delicious. Fortunately, we know we lack willpower around confections of this sort and had the sense to make a half batch. It was pretty low-key, but that’s okay because we have a really fun belated anniversary trip planned for next month.

Pie

Pi Day! I think this was actually the first year that I realized it was pi day and had enough time to do something about it. We made chocolate pudding pie that didn’t disappoint.

ConstructionSt. Patrick’s Day. I was contemplating buying Ellen a St. Patrick’s Day tee from Carter’s and even dropped by the store when we walked the mall with playgroup one week. I was a little miffed to discover the shirt cost more in store than it did online and then when the line to checkout was really long I just put it back and left. (I have pretty low tolerance for lines. I have to really want/need what’s at the front to wait in them.) Still, that little red-haired girl needed something festive to wear so I gathered one of Cooper’s old t-shirts, fabric paint, glitter, and some painter’s tape.

L-Clover-V-EIf I could do it over, I would do the letters closer together, but for something she’ll only wear a handful of times I think it turned out great.

Leprechaun With the exception of Cooper getting Roseola and having his third ear infection this year, it’s been a fabulous March so far. Now, I better go clean my house before I have to get ready for Easter.

Best Breadsticks

Best Breadsticks

The other day I was at my friend’s house. She was telling me about how excited she was to try a recipe for Olive Garden breadsticks when I made a confession. “I don’t get why everybody loves Olive Garden breadsticks so much.” This was of course met by a look of surprise and horror that I’m sure you just matched as you stare at your computer screen. It’s true, I am not a huge fan of those Olive Garden breadsticks. They taste fine and if I happen to find myself at an Olive Garden I will likely eat my share of several basketfuls (I am a carb-addict after all), but if I’m going to be making breadsticks in my own home they certainly will not be patterned after them. My go to breadsticks recipe is the one my mom made when I was growing up. They’re titled “Best Breadsticks” and can be found in my mom’s kitchen in a three-ring binder stuffed to the brim with delicious recipes. I have no idea where the original recipe came from, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are mouthwatering good. They always disappear at potlucks and off our own table. The best part is that they aren’t even that difficult (for bread anyway) and are adaptable to many variations.

Best Breadsticks

1 Tbsp yeast
1 Tbsp honey or sugar
1 ½ C warm water
1 Tbsp milk
1 tsp salt
4-4 ½ C flour
Toppings: 4 TBSP butter and any of the following: Garlic powder (or fresh minced and sautéed if you’re feeling fancy), shredded parmesan cheese (During the college years I used the stuff in the shakers with great success), salt, Italian seasoning, Rosemary, etc. 
 
  1. Mix yeast and honey/sugar in water. Let sit until foamy. (Tip: When measuring honey spritz the measuring cup/spoon with cooking spray or swirl a tiny bit of oil into it prior to measuring. This will make it so the honey slides right out.) 

  2. Add milk and salt.

  3. Gradually add flour until the dough forms a ball. (I do this old school with a wooden spoon which I abandon towards the end to mash and knead it all together with my bare hands.) 

  4. For fluffy breadsticks: Rip off pieces of dough and roll out into snake shapes (can make two skinnier snakes and roll them together if you want to be fancy). Cover with a tea towel and let rise for 30 minutes in a nice warm place. (I’ll often put them on top of my oven while it’s preheating or on the counter above the dishwasher if the dishwasher is running. Allowing the breadsticks to rise a little longer will make them even more fluffy, but the 30 minute rise will still produce delicious results.) Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cheese and/or desired spices. At a minimum I always use garlic, salt, and parmesan. It probably goes without saying, but the more butter and toppings the worse they are for you better they taste. 

     

    For crispy breadsticks (Noel says they’re more like pretzels, but this was how I cut corners as a college student and since I have a love for all things crispy, I cannot resist them.): Roll out dough on lightly floured surface. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cheese and/or desired spices. Cut into strips and transfer to cookie sheets.

  5. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. 

    Pairs well with any kind of soup or pasta. Shown here with Pioneer Woman’s Skillet Bowtie Chicken Alfredo. I should also mention that I generally half the recipe as I prefer fresh breadsticks and half a recipe is pretty much perfect for our little family. Enjoy! 

The Holy Grail of Sourdough

The Holy Grail of Sourdough

The Atkins diet never stood a chance around these parts; we are carbivores through and through. Bread is quite literally our staff of life. We are picky about our bread though, which can be an expensive habit. Unless of course you are fortunate to be married to a man who lists bread making in his hobbies. Luckily for me, I am that fortunate. Noel makes a delicious crusty artisan bread and a hearty whole wheat for sandwiches and toast. We rarely buy bread from the store, but the one bread we consistently find ourselves purchasing is sourdough. Making a decent loaf at home has just seemed beyond our reach, until now.

I made my own sourdough starter several weeks ago and have tried my hand at a few different recipes. Most of the recipes were insanely time consuming and labor intensive (there was one loaf that I literally spent two and a half days babying), which was extremely frustrating when the results were only average at best.  I was about ready to give up on my dream of homemade sourdough when Noel suggested I borrow some of the techniques from our favorite bread recipe. I baked my first trial loaves today.  My approach was less labor intensive than previous attempts and the results were undeniably delicious. We practically consumed an entire loaf paired with a hearty stew all in one sitting.

Check out the updated recipe on Dirty Dish Club.

Use the Heat

Use the Heat

We’ve already had some record highs here in CO and the forecast isn’t making us feel much better about things. It’s unpleasant and kind of scary with all the fires we already have, but I’m doing my best to find at least something good in this whole situation. Not only do my clothes dry faster than they would in the dryer, but I’ve found some awesome ideas for channeling the sun’s power to cook. I’ve pinned a few DIY solar cookers I think could be fun to try, some of them look really easy requiring simple things like cardboard and aluminum foil. Then there’s a method for baking cookies in your car, which I would totally try if our car sat somewhere besides our garage. The one thing I actually have tried though is making fruit roll-ups in the sun.

I used this recipe for 100% real fruit snacks, spread the stuff on a pan, covered it with some netting so things wouldn’t get stuck in it, and sat it in the sun for most of the day. Delicious and my house didn’t get heated up. Perfect. My only advice is don’t put two different flavors on the same pan because they don’t cook at the same speed, so my berry side was a lot tougher than my mango apricot side. I’m definitely going to be making more.

I’m starting to think

I’m starting to think

  • we don’t eat like most people.  I just finished a bowl of  leftover Vidalia Onion Soup with Wild Rice topped with Blue Cheese Croutons for lunch.
  • I’ve unintentionally turned my daughter into a social experiment. It seems like every time I take her out in public I dress her in blue or green. People get excited when they see the car seat and exclaim, “Oh, such a cute little . . . ” Their eyes flit back and forth from the safari print car seat to the flower blanket to her supposedly male colored clothes. (Ruffles and accessories apparently doesn’t make the gender detection easier.) Don’t worry everyone, I’m just messing with you.

  • about racing again. It’s crazy what your first trail run in 2 1/2 years  will get you thinking.
  • I traumatized my son by brutally murdering two moths that he was happily chasing around the house.

  • about opening an Etsy shop, but worry it will be a flop.
  • I may never get “What Doesn’t Kill You” out of my head. (Oh Kelly, you’ll always have a special place in my heart. Remember when Since U Been Gone was the theme song for my sophomore year of college? Oh those were . . .  Well, they were times anyway. )
  • my kids have me exactly where they want me. Every time they’re about to push me over the edge, they pull one of these stunts and all is forgiven.

Brownie Bottom Cheesecake

Brownie Bottom Cheesecake

Well this post definitely isn’t about healthy food. With Cooper’s birthday coming up I’ve been thinking a lot about cake and the associations they create. Growing up I always chose the same cake for my birthday: cheesecake.

My parents make a mean cheesecake. They’ve become quite skilled at this dish since they make at least twenty different kinds every year for the running camp they put on. (They coach the cross-country team at my old high school.) For over four years I attended this camp and on the last day after completing the Mega Woman Run (longest run of the season) I’d binge eat cheesecake with my sweaty, exhausted comrades.  We’d laugh, talk, and eat to our hearts’ content. Calories meant nothing.

When I got married I wanted cheesecake at my reception, so in the months leading up to my marriage my father made enough cheesecakes to fill their deep freeze. He researched techniques on freezing and bought special bakery boxes so that when the cakes were sliced and served to guests they would have thought they were fresh baked. After our Spring Break honeymoon, Noel and I came back to a fridge full of cheesecake that kept us going as we got back to the drudgery of school.

Monday, I whipped up cheesecake for some dinner guests and I thought back on all these memories. To me, cheesecake is a symbol of hard work and love. It is something that is NEVER made from a box and a reminder that it’s okay to indulge once in awhile.  I wish I could serve you up a slice today and make your day a little more special, but at the least I can share a recipe.

I put a border of raspberries and chocolate chips on this one.

Brownie Bottom Cheesecake

Brownie Bottom:
1 stick butter
4 squares chocolate
1 ½ C sugar
2 eggs
¼ C mik
1 tsp vanilla
1 C flour
½ tsp salt
Cheesecake:
3 8oz packages cream cheese
¾ C sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
½ C sour cream
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees
2. Melt butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring slowly. Once fully melted remove from heat and allow to cool then add the sugar and eggs. Blend in milk and vanilla.
3. Stir in the rest of the brownie ingredients, spread into the bottom of a greased and floured spring form pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time. Blend in sour cream.
5. Pour over brownie bottom and bake an additional 55-60 minutes or until center is almost set.
6. Run knife or metal spatula around rim of pan to loosen cake; cool before removing rim of pan. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Let stand at room temperature 30 min. before serving. Store leftover cheesecake in refrigerator.