Thursday, December 27, 2012

Whirlwind Holiday

Blink ... and, now it's over.

I don't know how it happens. We spend so much time preparing for holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, and in the blink of an eye, they're over. 

For months, we did a countdown in our house. First for our darling daughter's second birthday, then a few weeks later, for Christmas. The babies' anticipation grew and grew, especially once we pulled out the Advent Calendar and then the Christmas decorations. 

And, in a blink, it's over. 

It was a fabulous celebration, one that lasted three full days in our house. And, although,  my goal is to keep the Christmas spirit going for as long as possible, it's sad to see it go so quickly. In our house, we're still listening to Christmas music. (If I had my way, we'd be listening to the cheerful and heart-warming tunes through the summer, but hubby would never let that happen.)

But, I digress ... 

Our little gingerbread house.
This Christmas, we started pulling together our own family traditions. With a 3 year old and just-turned 2 year old, we haven't had time to really create our own little family traditions. But, we're working on it. 

Two weeks before Christmas, we built our annual gingerbread house. Mommy took over ... just a little bit (the babies were too busy licking the icing off their fingers and eating as much candy they could sneak out of the bowls). 
Grandma's sugar cookies. Iced
in good Christmas spirit by our
little darlings.

So, when Christmas arrived, I made sure the girlies led the sugar cookie decorating efforts. We started baking my grandma's sugar cookie recipe on the first Christmas Eve after we had our first daughter. We've followed through that tradition. The girls were really into the decorating this year, and enjoyed it almost as much as they enjoyed eating the icing.

Since we are hundreds of miles away from our folks (both sides), we try our best to incorporate the traditions that meant the most to us into our newfound family traditions. 

For Christmas Eve dinner this year, we were blessed to have my brother, sister-in-law and nephew join us (they live locally and spent the holiday here this year). I made homemade sauerkraut pierogies (courtesy of my husband's grandmother, Gram), crab cakes, french onion soup and roasted carrots. It was incredibly important for us to have a meatless dinner, a tradition my husband and I both grew up with. I couldn't remember the pinch and flatten method for the pierogies that Gram taught me several years ago. So, instead, I pulled out my rolling pin -- gasp! -- and cut out little rounds that I molded into perfect little sauerkraut-stuffed pillows. My husband kindly told me how tasty the pierogies were, but I know they didn't hold a candle to Gram's. We'll just have to keep working on it, and next year, I'll remember the pinch and flatten method.

Rainbow cookies from the top.
And, below, here's a look
at the tasty layers.
My husband also requested a special treat for Christmas Eve dinner: Italian Rainbow cookies. Now, until he made the request, I knew very little about these colorful treats. In fact, I don't think I'd ever tried one. But, he's been making the request for months. So, we agreed that I'd make them for Christmas Eve dessert. And, so I began the LONG and grueling task of making these little brutal, albeit super delicious, beasts. 

Had I known the work that goes into these cookies, I probably would have put up my hands and walked away before even starting, but my husband insisted, even after the cookies turned into an hours-long project. He kept saying, "Don't you remember last week you were complaining you were in a cooking rut? I'm just trying to help you out." (Remember this, as he repeated this on Christmas Day when I was making the hours-long beef bourguignon.) 

If you've ever had these almond petit cakes, you'll know they're delicate in texture, moist and hit many complex notes on the palette. They're quite tasty, but so much work. I've sworn I will never again make these little treats, so my hubby better savor all 96 little sweet cakes. (I've included a copy of the recipe I adapted below.)

After the girls ripped open their packages on Christmas morning and savored all the goodies that Santa brought them, we headed over to my brother's and enjoyed sharing pecan rolls, something we had every Christmas when we were growing up. In my humble opinion, nothing says Christmas morning more than the scent of  warm cinnamon filling the air, and it was something we missed in our own house this year. But, my hubby and I were incredibly touched that my brother took the time to make these yummy pastries for us to enjoy on Christmas morning.

Searing the meat.
So, with nothing cooking in the kitchen on Christmas morning, I was due for a little challenge in the afternoon: beef bourguignon. In the Washington area, one of my favorite restaurants is L'Auberge Chez Francois. We try to get there once a year -- for our anniversary -- and I always order the beef bourguignon. I don't know what they do, but the dinner transports me to a different time and place. So, with that delicious meal in my mind, I had my work cut out for me. 

Sauteing the veggies.
I started marinating the meat two days before Christmas, but the real work didn't set in until Christmas afternoon. After an hour sauteing vegetables, searing the meat, and preparing the "sauce," the beef braised for three hours. The intoxicating smell filled the house, and my hubby kept asking, "How much longer?"

Although Elizabeth's beef bourguignon wasn't as "magnifique" as that at Chez Francois, it was tender, complex in flavor and, in a word, delicious. We paired the beef with roasted red potatoes and a roasted pear salad. My 2 year old loved the beef, "More chicken Mommy!" (She's 2 and calls every protein "chicken.") 

Christmas dinner.
My husband declared that the beef is our family's new Christmas tradition, and even suggested we have a "round 2" for New Year's.

We definitely are guilty of eating our way through the holidays -- and our belts need to be loosened a bit. But, we built off some of our childhood traditions (sauerkraut pierogies and cinnamon rolls) and created some of our own new ones (beef bourguignon and Italian rainbow cookies (ahem, can you tell my hubby "edited" my post?)). 

It was a tremendous holiday, and I'm so incredibly grateful for the precious time with family and the yummy foods that will help frame our memories in the years to come. 

... and, in a blink, it's now a memory.

* * *

Rainbow Cookies (adapted from Bon Appetit) 


Prep Time: 5 hrs | Cook Time: 2 hrs | Makes: 96 | 
Difficulty: Hard

Ingredients:
  • 2 Tbsp. plus 2 cups unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
  • 12 oz. almond paste (not marzipan), chopped
  • 2 3/4 cups plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. red food coloring
  • 1 tsp. green food coloring
  • 3/4 cup orange marmalade, heated, strained
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped, melted
Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°. Line three 13x9x2" metal baking pans with foil, leaving overhang; grease with 2 Tbsp. butter; set aside. Put egg whites in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk; beat until soft peaks form. Slowly add 1/3 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a large bowl; cover; chill.

Using the paddle attachment, beat almond paste and remaining sugar on medium-low until incorporated, 4-5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high; gradually add remaining butter. Beat until fluffy. Beat in yolks, then flour and salt. Fold in whites in 2 additions.

Divide batter evenly among 3 bowls. Mix red coloring into 1 bowl and green coloring into second bowl; leave third bowl plain. Spread 1 bowl of batter into each prepared pan; smooth tops. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until just set, 9-11 minutes. Let cool in pans.

With a pastry brush, spread half of marmalade over green cake. Using foil overhang, lift plain layer out of pan. Invert onto green layer; discard foil. Brush remaining marmalade over plain layer. Lift red layer out of pan; invert onto plain layer and cover cake with foil.

Top with a 13x9x2" pan. Weigh down pan with several heavy canned goods to compress cake layers. Refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.

Remove cans, top pan, and foil. Transfer cake to a waxed paper-lined baking sheet.

Spread half of chocolate over cake in a thin layer. Freeze for 10 minutes. Cover with waxed paper, invert the baking sheet on top, and flip cake. Uncover and glaze with remaining chocolate. Freeze 10 additional minutes.

Trim cake to 12x8". Cut crosswise into six 2"-wide strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 96 1/2"-wide cookies. Store in an airtight container.








Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Virginia, We Have a Problem: Dinnertime Rut

"If I could muster the strength, I might try a '365 homemade dinners expedition,' making a different homemade gem every night for a year. But, with a crazy work schedule -- that isn't showing mercy -- to weekly migraine attacks (how much fun is that? *noted sarcasm*), I'll just do these little friendly bets with the hubby. Who knows? Maybe in January, I'll kick off a 90-day bet of 90 different, unique homemade dinners for 90 days. Anyone can do anything for 90 days, right? Right?"
Spinach and feta quiche.
Yummy, but it's turning into a rut!
So that's what I wrote in November. At the time, my husband started buying secret ingredients at the store. For some reason, he thought we had entered the world of Iron Chef. We were in a groove. Each week, I'd scour the Internet, finding several new recipes each week. I'd find ways to use his crazy secret ingredients. Some weeks I didn't cook everything on my menu; on bad days, we'd have leftovers or I'd make a go-to easy backup. But, I was trying!

Well, in the four weeks since that post, we've hit the "wall." Or, I've hit the wall, and I'm dragging my family along for the ride.

We're doing great on the homemade, don't get me wrong. But, I find myself cooking the same thing week after week. I'll mix it up with a new recipe every now and then, but the creativity and exploration are few and far between. I've had one new recipe on my "menu" for three weeks: spicy dijon chicken. It sounds delicious. So, what did I do with the chicken? Ummm ... see the picture to the right: Mexican rice bowl.

Last night's Mexican
rice bowl with rice, chicken,
fresh pico de gallo and
and homemade guacamole.
Who's complaining? No one ...
Not really, but it's turning into
the "same ole, same ole."
Honestly, I can't fathom even 10 days of unique dinners at this point. What was I thinking? 90?!

In the past two weeks alone, I've made roasted pear salad three times, Mexican three times, quiche (or frittata) twice. Whoa! Virginia, we have a problem.

How do I reignite things? How do I get my mojo back?

With Christmas a week away, I feel tired and overwhelmed. I'm super excited about baking cookies with my girls and I do have some really fun ideas for creating a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day feast. But, between now and then? Ugh. 

I'm thinking roasted pear salad, quiche and Mexican. Repeat.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Birthday Party Success!

My little darling blowing out the candle on her
princess castle cake.
My Darling Daughter recently turned 2. I think she and her sister were counting down her birthday for months! When it came time to pick out the invitations, DD really wanted Barney. You know, the singing purple dinosaur who terrorizes parents' dreams... lucky for us (er, I mean sadly for her), they just don't sell Barney stuff anymore.

So, she settled on a princess party. Her sister loves everything princess. In fact, earlier this summer, we had a perfectly pink princess party for her 3rd birthday. I was a little sad my now 2 year old wanted a princess party, too, for no other reason than the hubby and I feel she hasn't had time to figure out what she likes because she likes everything her sister likes.

Anyway, we picked out some darling invitations for a purple princess party. DD's favorite color has been purple ... from the moment she popped out of the womb.

Then a few weeks before the party, DD no longer wanted a purple princess party. She wanted a pink princess party. Say, what??! Pink?

Distraught, I asked her over and over. "What kind of party do you want?"
"Pink princess," she'd say very sing songy.

I had to figure out a way to make her party unique from her sister's. I scoured online to find cake ideas, and came across the perfect one: a princess castle.

A few days before the party, DD emphatically declared she wanted a pink AND purple princess party. She wanted crowns, and dresses, and princesses, and shoes and a purple and pink cake. Yay! Individuality! (Well, kind of...)

On the morning of her birthday, she got just that. She was so excited when she saw her purple and pink cake for the first time, and the second and every time after that. At one point, she and her sister declared that they wanted to live in the cake. 

I take that as a birthday success!

~ ~ ~

Assembly of my DD's perfectly delightful purple and pink princess cake:


Every princess cake needs turrets. And what's more suitablethan purple and pink ... with sparkles? (Love thepurple and pink sugar crystals!)


Nothing better than hot pink and bright purple buttercream! 
Starting the assembly. 
Since DD's birthday is in December, I did the trim in "snowy" white.
Thank goodness for candied pearls. Added a nice
touch for the windows and doors.
Adding the final turret and the last bit of "snow."

The final product. Happy birthday baby girl!


The bottom tier was "manilla" for my birthday girl. I added a
berry compote in between layers. The top tier was a
dark chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Birthday Cake Fever!!

My youngest daughter turns 2 in the coming weeks (Mommy is trying to hold it together **sob.**) and I'm already preparing. 

My sweet princess has asked for a purple princess party. I've been researching online, and I think I've found the perfect cake to make.


Safari cupcakes and cake
for my older daughter's
first birthday. Her first
birthday is when I
learned the art of fondant.
I've always made my children's cakes: safari, teddy bear, Dora, princess cake #1. (Yes, it seems my girls are growing to believe that they're royalty.) Each birthday, the cakes get more complex and the decorations a little more extravagant. Those who know me well know I dream of opening my own bake shop someday. These cakes are my way of practicing my craft, getting a little more adept each time.

And for each celebration, I have a tendency to go overboard. (Who? Me?) One cake just isn't enough. I make a cake ... and cupcakes. Basically, I want everyone to be happy. My dad is allergic to chocolate, so I always make something non-chocolate and then something for those chocolate lovers (ahem, me, my hubby and children). I'm going to try to nip that this year, and just make a single cake.


For my older daughter's first birthday, I played with fondant. I made a perfectly delightful lion for her safari cake. The next few cakes, I practiced piping. With this cake, I'll practice architecture.

For each, I've tried a new recipe, trying to find a moist, light flavorful cake. 

My baby wants "manilla," even though her sister is pushing heavily for chocolate. I always get a little frustrated with white cake, but I'll see what I can dig up. (I might always resort to an apple spice cake, a way to celebrate the upcoming Christmas season, too.)

I hope to start the project soon. I'm very excited and can't wait to see her eyes light up on her birthday!

I'll post pictures after the big day. Wish me luck!


~ ~ ~

Photos from birthdays' past:


For my older daughter's third birthday, we went
pink princess! Arial is her absolute favorite.
To mix things up, I decided to add some
personality to her princess cake and
surprised her with a rainbow cake:



For our youngest's first birthday, we went with butterfly cupcakes
and a teddy bear cake. She didn't smash either.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Going Around the Table

When I was a little kid, whenever Thanksgiving rolled around, my parents insisted that we go around the table and share what we were thankful for. Those moments have long since passed, but it's one of my warmest memories from this special holiday, Thanksgiving.

Looking back on those memories around our rarely used dining room table, tears well in my eyes. They are beautiful memories, and I wish I had been a little more thoughtful on a few of my turns (especially during those, ahem, teenage years). As a mother of two young children now, I want to make sure they have beautiful and fond memories of their Thanksgivings past.

This year, we're spending Thanksgiving with my husband's family. They don't go around the table and talk about what they're thankful for, but it's a celebration of thanks nonetheless. Since we won't be sharing our thoughts tomorrow, I thought I'd share them now.

As asked by my daddy for so many Thanksgivings, "Elizabeth, what are you thankful for this year?"

I am thankful for my beloved daughters. They are my light and my reason for being. I love them with my whole heart.

I am thankful for my husband, my rock, my best friend. I thank him for the gift of our two darlings. I thank him for loving me with all my flaws.

I am thankful for my family--my parents, siblings, my niece and nephew, my in-laws and extended family. I really am a lucky lady.

I am thankful for my friends.

I am thankful for finding a craft (cooking!) that fulfills me, and I thank my husband for supporting me in all the homemade craziness.

I am thankful for the recipes passed to me by family and friends. Thank you for helping warm our hearts and fill our tummies.

I am thankful for a job that's challenging and keeps me on my toes. (Though, I'd be even more thankful if my schedule calmed down a bit.)

I am thankful and grateful for all that we have, and will try harder to give more to those who have less.

So, now, in my family's tradition and as I wipe tears from my eyes, it's my turn to ask, "What are you thankful for this year?"

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Game On

So, last week, the dearly devoted hubby bought a two-pound bag of cranberries. He bet me a margarita if I could use the entire bag. Since then, he's agreed that for each cranberry-laced goodie I make, I get a margarita. Yum! As of tonight, I've baked my way through half the bag, and plan on using the other half this weekend when we host our annual Fauxgiving with some friends.

This week, the hubby raised the stakes by buying a three-pound bag of pecans. (Can you tell that we've recently become Costco members?) I plan to blow his mind this week by using both "secret" ingredients later this week. Maybe that'll earn me a Mai Thai ... on the beach ... in Hawaii. (A girl can dream!)

In all reality, I wish I was a little more creative with these secret ingredients. As my husband told me this week, out of all the recipes we can make, we only cook a fraction of 1 percent of what's out there. 

Is that another challenge? If I could muster the strength, I might try a "365 homemade dinners expedition," making a different homemade gem every night for a year. But, with a crazy work schedule -- that isn't showing mercy -- to weekly migraine attacks (how much fun is that? *noted sarcasm*), I'll just do these little friendly bets with the hubby. Who knows? Maybe in January, I'll kick off a 90-day bet of 90 different, unique homemade dinners for 90 days. Anyone can do anything for 90 days, right? Right?


A perfect way to celebrate a summer-like
November evening
Well, between now and then, I took my beloved's statement as a challenge. Last night, I kicked off a new recipe voyage with pulled pork, chow chow and potato salad. I think that choice was a winner. Afterall, I stumbled across this posted on his Facebook page last night:
"99 percent of the time, my mouth, esophagus, stomach and brain are pleased and more than satisfied by Elizabeth's cooking. But tonight? Holy Moses. Another stratosphere of cooking and pure deliciousness!"
I'll take that as a "win!" And the girls agreed. They loved the "chicken." Let's face it, when you're 2 and 3, everything is chicken. And, they loved the chow chow and baked beans. We need to work on the potato salad, though.

Tonight, I tried for a second win.  If last night's dinner was a homerun, then tonight's was only a double. (Hey hubby, look, a sports metaphor!) I didn't get any rousing kudos and I certainly didn't get any public accolades on Facebook. (*sniffle*) I thought dinner was delicious: rouladen and spaetzel. Maybe he was bitter that I had him helping skim the spaetzel or whisk the gravy. But, the kiddos agreed. Our oldest wouldn't touch the stuff, even though she's a bacon fanatic. The littlest one liked the spaetzel and loved the soup (er, gravy). But, she wouldn't even try the "chicken" tonight. 

Rouladen and spaetzel
For dessert, I made fresh cranberry and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. (If I had only thought of adding some pecans to the batter.) So, maybe with the cookies, it was a triple, when all is said and done. 

But after this weekend, and after my lovely husband's little seemingly innocent comment, I'm on a new mission: not only to come up with homemade meals as often as we can (we're averaging six days a week), but now, to find unique meals to expand our portfolio. We want to expose our children to all sorts of yummy things. And on a good night, when they're not intent on eating a bowl of Cheerios, perhaps they'll taste something unique that they love ... like chow chow. 


* * *
Fresh Cranberry and Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies (Courtesy of Coconut and Lime)

 Ingredients:

Fresh from the oven:
A unique cookie recipe
that uses FRESH
cranberries, not craisins!
1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries3/4 cup dark brown sugar3/4 cup flour1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats1/4 cup semisweet mini chips4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature1/4 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon vanilla paste1 teaspoon baking powder1/4 teaspoon ground ginger1 egg

Directions:Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper*. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, vanilla and sugar. Add the egg, beat until fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, and oatmeal. Mix until well combined. Fold in cranberries** and chips. Place 1 tablespoon sized blobs of dough on the cookie sheet (about 1/2 inch apart) and bake for 12-14 minutes or until they look "set" and the bottoms are just brown. Carefully, remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Yield: about 2 dozen cookies



Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Bet ...

So, yesterday, my husband and youngest daughter decided to do Mommy a favor and do the grocery shopping. Without a list. Without telling me. As a surprise. (I was with our other daughter at gymnastics.)

Yes, I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Although he had the best of intentions, we'll have to go back to the store today for some staples he overlooked -- like, um, milk -- but he had the best of intentions. But, my husband also likes to be clever. He thinks it's cute. (Eh, it's somewhat endearing ,*smile*.)

Anyway, when he walked in the door, he was so proud of himself.

"I have a bet for you," he said with a smile on his face. "And if you can do it, you get a margarita."

Well, anyone who knows me knows I love a good margarita. And a good bet.

So, he pulls out a three-pound bag of cranberries. 

"You have to find something to do with all of these cranberries," he said. "And then you get a margarita."

Really? How is that fair?

Pumpkin cranberry bread.
Every time I make a recipe, I should get a margarita. 

Right??

So, I started the bet yesterday by making pumpkin cranberry bread. Well, that only takes care of 1.5 cups of the berries. And, slap forehead, he likes the bread so much, he declared last night that he'll start buying a "surprise ingredient" each week from here on out. (Since when did I wake up on the set of Iron Chef?)

I still have well over two pounds to work with. So, I do not see a margarita in my future any time soon. According to the bag, the cranberries will stay good for four weeks, so I have some time. I do plan on making some hearty cranberry sauce for our annual Fauxgiving we host with some friends the week before Thanksgiving. But, I need some other ideas. 

Anyone have any good cranberry recipes out there? I really would like a margarita.

* * *

Pumpkin Cranberry bread (Courtesy of Ocean Spray)


Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups Ocean Spray® Fresh or Frozen Cranberries, coarsely chopped

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Grease and flour an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Combine remaining ingredients, except cranberries, in a separate mixing bowl. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until dry ingredients are moist. Stir in cranberries.

Spread evenly in a loaf pan. Bake 1 1/2 hours or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Remove from pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes one loaf.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Oh, Sandy, How You're Going to Crimp My Style

Living outside of Washington, D.C., we're used to the craziness that ensues before, during and after all kinds of weather. 

Snow? Earthquake? Heavy rainstorm (Derecho, for instance)?

They cripple the area. 

In fact, these days, the slightest inkling of inclement weather leads schools to close and activities to stop. Last winter, when meteorologists predicted a few inches of snow, the local school districts preemptively closed schools. Well, the kids stayed home on a nice, sunny day. (The snowstorm completely missed us.) And, as of a few hours ago, our local county closed schools on Monday and Tuesday in anticipation of #Sandy, who is looming in the Atlantic.

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies:
Fresh from the oven, made for
the men and women at our local
Emergency Operations Center ...
but, don't worry babies,
mommy kept some for
our little household, too.
Being married to an emergency manager, I've learned to have a heightened state of awareness, to be prepared. (Well, really, I learned that in the Girl Scouts, but we'll give him a little credit.) 

On Friday, my dearly devoted had me run all over town to stock our pantry with enough shelf stable food to kill a cow ... err, well, to keep us sustained for a week without power. While I was unloading the groceries, I became sad. Besides a few goods from the freezer, it dawned on me that, should we lose power, we'll be resorting to all the pre-packaged, shelf stable  foods we've been working so hard to avoid. 

I spent the day making a few homemade goodies that we'll be able to munch on, even if we lose power. And, we do intend on sharing the peanut butter swirl brownies with the fantastic men and women who are manning the local emergency operations center. Afterall, something homemade may help them amidst the chaos and the 12-hour shifts.

So, here's hoping Sandy's impact on the immediate D.C. area is not too great. And, if it is, we'll break into those pre-packaged foods, just as soon as we finish eating some homemade storm preparedness goodies (peanut butter swirl brownies anyone?) and wholesome fruits, veggies and nuts.

* * *
Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies (Courtesy Food Network's Ina Garten)

**Warning, these are ridiculous!!**


Ingredients

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 6 extra-large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 12 by 18 by 1 1/2-inch sheet pan.
Melt together the butter, 1 pound of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the remaining 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour into the prepared sheet pan. Spoon the peanut butter over the top of the chocolate mixture and using a knife, swirl it through the chocolate mixture.
Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes more or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into large squares.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

To Stock or Not to Stock?

That is the question -- at least the one we're debating in my house this week. 

As we've been working toward homemade happiness, I'm trying to find the balance of what's possible and what's realistic. What's clear: the two aren't always the same.

During our shopping trip on Sunday, I put three boxes of stock in the cart.  It was not something I planned to do; it just kind of happened. And I can honestly say that my hubby was not too happy with my spontaneity.  It seems he really likes homemade stock (who doesn't?) and he also likes the succulent fall-off-the-bone meat that you get when you patiently make homemade stock.
Tuesday's dinner: Mulligatawny.
The soup that became famous
on Seinfeld headlined in
our house tonight. Delish,
even if it was made from
stock in a box.

But I find I use so much stock that it's just unrealistic (and impossible) to keep up. Now, if my work weeks (including commute) didn't top 60 hours a week, and if it wasn't my favorite time of year, and if I didn't have two rambunctious children, I might be willing to sacrifice time each weekend to make stock. But, right now, it's time I'm not willing to devote *every* weekend. 

I promised my deflated hubby that I will make stock once a month -- that's a no brainier. And maybe when it's cold and we're housebound, I'll make stock more often. But for now, we'll just do it once a month.

So does that make our dinners any less homemade? Am I wrong?

My husband says yes, emphatically.

My tummy says yes.

My heart says no.


* * *

Mulligatawny (adapted from http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/chicken_mulligatawny.html)

Oh, and it's delicious even with stock from a box!
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons hot Madras curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup white basmati rice
  • 12 ounces chicken breast tenders, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup “lite” coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted, optional

Method
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery and garlic; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add apples, curry powder, cumin, coriander and ginger and cook, stirring often, until the apples begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add broth and rice; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 12 minutes.

Add chicken, return to a simmer and cook until the chicken is cooked through and the rice is tender, 8 to 10 minutes more. Stir in coconut milk and return to a simmer. Remove from the heat; stir in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds (if using).

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ooooh, Grandma, My Tummy is Full!

We have returned from a week at Grandma's house -- a week of all kinds of food we wouldn't typically indulge in. I mean, we're talking rich, slathered ribs; decadent desserts; honey baked ham; and the list goes on. (Just ask my waistline!)  After three days back home, I'm still full. Seriously. Full.

I was chatting with a colleague this morning over breakfast, and at that time, even the yogurt I was eating was too much. So for dinner tonight, I decided to go light. Mexican! 

I know, I know....how can I seriously use Mexican and light in the same sentence? I mean, when we think of many of our favorites from our local Mexican eatery, we're talking smothered enchiladas; crispy, salty chips; and a lot of cheese.

Well, my favorite Mexican foods -- especially those from La Cena de Moi -- are chock full of fresh veggies, from guacamole and sautéed onions and peppers to lip-smacking pico de gallo. Yes, the guacamole is a little rich, but it's so good for you, and even a little of that was just perfect. Tonight's dinner, paired with a crisp wine and **lightly** filled cheese quesadilla, was just what this tummy needed.

Now, I just need to spend the next five weeks cooking light to prepare for a repeat visit to grandmas for Thanksgiving. 


* * *


One of my all-time favorites:
Pico de Gallo. Ole!
Pico de Gallo
  • 4 tomatoes, seeded and diced

  • 1/4 red onion, chopped

  • Jalepeno (to taste)

  • Cilantro (a few tablespoons, chopped)

  • Minced garlic, up to 1 tablespoon

  • Juice from 1 lime

  • Salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate 20 minutes to let flavors marry.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Candies and Flowers? Not For This Girly

Most women swoon when their husbands/boyfriends/lovers get them candies, jewelry or flowers. Now, don't get me wrong, I love a beautiful bouquet of tulips or something blingy. But, just as much as either of those things ... I love new kitchen goodies.
My new marble pastry board.
**Swoon**

Late last month, when I took a business trip to Texas, my husband surprised me with a "welcome home present" of all kinds of little kitchen gadgets. None of the gifts were over the top, but they really showed me how supportive he is about this little homemade happiness experiment. An experiment that is turning into a new way of living in our little household. From new measuring cups to individual pizza stones, each little present I unwrapped made my mind buzz with all kinds of new ideas.

But, that's not all he had up his sleeves ...

Earlier this week, my adoring husband brought me home a present -- a thank you for doing something special for him that day. When he presented me with the gift, tears sprung into my eyes: a marble pastry board! 


Something so simple, but something so wonderful. This was the only thing on my Christmas list this year, so to have him surprise me with this now melted my heart.


I'm so excited thinking of all the things I'll get to make on the board, especially with Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner. Now, I just need to think of something new to add to my Christmas list.

Oh the possibilities! (If only I'd had this last week when I rolled six pounds of gnocchi and made three batches of pie dough!)

... hmmmm ... and as I write this blog post, I'm wondering ...

How much of the gift was "Oh, Elizabeth would love this" and how much of the gift was driven by his grumbling tummy? 

Regardless of the motivation, the gifts (and the hubby) are pretty awesome.
Sunday's dinner:
Pumpkin gnocchi with sage butter

* * *
Pumpkin Gnocchi (recipe adapted from Simply Recipes)

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
2 tsp salt
1/4 cup parmesan or romano cheese
3-4 cups all purpose flour

Mix the pumpkin puree, ricotta, parmesan, eggs and salt together in a large bowl. Add 2 cups of the flour and mix well with your hands. The dough should be very sticky, impossible to work. Add another half cup of flour and mix that in — you want the dough to still be pretty sticky, but pliable enough to shape into a large log. If it's not, keep adding a little flour at a time until you can get a soft dough that will be rollable. It should never require more than 4 cups of flour. 

To make the gnocchi, spread some flour on a large work surface and have more flour ready. Cut the dough log into four equal pieces. Take one piece and cut it in half. Roll the piece of dough into a snake about 1/2 inch thick, then cut it into pieces about the thickness of a fork.

Once the gnocchi are made, you can add them to boiling water or freeze. If you cook them, add to boiling water and remove once they float to the top. 

To freeze ahead -- as you shape the gnocchi, lay them (single layer) on a cookie sheet. Add parchment paper in between layers. Once you complete, freeze overnight. Move the gnocchi to an air tight container and freeze up to four months. To cook, add to boiling water. The gnocchi are cooked once they float to the top.

For the sage/butter -- Melt 1/4 cup butter, add 2-3 tsp fresh sliced sage. Add gnocchi. Cook through 1-2 minutes. Add salt/pepper to taste. Top with additional fresh grated cheese.

Friday, September 28, 2012

What a Day!

Ahhhhh! That's the sound of a tired lady, who is ready to put her feet up. But, it's been such a productive day, and it's a happy sigh.

Pumpkin cupcakes fresh from the oven.
Tomorrow, I'll top them with a
cream cheese maple syrup frosting.
When I started this post this morning, the title was, "Mmmmm ... Pumpkin." That inspiration was from the delightful pumpkin cupcakes baking in the oven at the time. The smell was intoxicating. So much so, that pumpkin inspired my planning menu for the week, and I am so incredibly excited!

Topping the list is pumpkin gnocchi with a sage butter sauce (that will be dinner Sunday!). The gnocchi are in the freezer, along with a batch of ricotta gnocchi. I figured, if I was rolling gnocchi, why not do them all and have them ready? The freezer is full. We probably have enough for six dinners worth -- maybe more. Yay!

To get the week(end) started, I also made stock, pie crust, and apple sauce and tonight's dinner (the last meal listed below). 

We're having company for brunch and dinner tomorrow, and the crust and stock will be the foundation for quiche and chicken pot pie. It'll be a day of comfort fall eating. 

I hope to use Sunday to get a few other things prepped for the week ahead -- maybe a casserole. I made two of those this past week. And, besides chicken pot pie, I was a bonafide casserole virgin. But after the two I made this week, I'm turning into a believer. Now, after having them for lunches a few days this week, I certainly will not return to those two recipes for a while, but I have a few others picked out in the future.

The week was quite chaotic, but the planning ahead worked out great. The menu included:

Pot roast made in the crock pot with
oven roasted potatoes, carrots and onions.

  • Broccoli, Beef and Potato Hotdish (I followed the tip for the homemade shredded potato instead of freezer hashbrowns
  • Pot Roast (Made in the crock pot!) 
  • Spaghetti squash casserole (This was the one I was most excited about, and it did NOT disappoint. So easy to make and tasty, too!)
  • BBQ Pulled Pork (made from the left over pot roast)
  • Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce with Roasted Pear Salad

With all the prep of the day, grocery shopping, absentee voting and even sneaking in a workout, it's definitely time to push away from the computer, grab my glass of wine and snuggle with the babies and enjoy Friday family movie night.