Monday, August 1, 2011

Tropical Chopped Salad with Pineapple Vinaigrette

I made this a few nights ago to go with my all-time favorite summertime dinner.  You can find the recipe for the chicken and cilantro lime rice here.   I've since started adding freshly grated ginger to the marinade for the chicken also.

I usually make the ginger salad dressing, but wanted to try something else this time.  I put this one together and it came out delicious.  It has bacon in it, and really, anything with bacon is just awesome.  This recipe makes enough salad for 8 adults with leftovers.  The salad saves well so long as you don't toss the dressing in before storage...and it tastes even better the next day.
Shown here with the chicken
Tropical Chopped Salad
- 3 heads romaine lettuce, chopped
- 1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
- 4 green onions, thinly sliced
- 2 cups diced pineapple, juice reserved for dressing
- 1 cup toasted macadamia nuts
- 1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
- 1 lb bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled

Toss all salad ingredients together in a large bowl.  I don't toss the dressing with it all in case there are leftovers.

Pineapple Vinaigrette
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste

Combine dressing ingredients in a container with a sealing lid, shake to mix.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Grilled Romaine Salad

I saw something like this on one of the foodie shows a few weeks back and decided that we had to try it.  O.M.G.

Yes, it's that good.

Grilled Romaine Salad
- 2 heads romaine, split in half lengthwise
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup vidalia onion, minced
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tbsp parsley

Combine all dressing ingredients, then add to large zip top bag with the lettuce.  Shake to coat, and let sit in the fridge for at least half an hour before cooking.

To grill, turn heat to high.  Lay halves on the grill and cook one minute.  Turn and cook two more minutes, just until you can see the grill marks.

Remove from grill, slice into serving sizes.  Yum.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Faux Sangria

Have a hankering for sangria, but too impatient to wait for the flavors to blend to perfection?  Maybe the thought of cutting up all that fruit holds no appeal.  Maybe you're just trying to use up red wine you don't love.

Who cares what the reason is? 

This is awesome.

Born of necessity one afternoon, I had to get a little creative.  The results, surprisingly good.

Faux Sangria
- red wine
- flavored sugar free carbonated water
- ice cubes

I used the peach flavored water, and the ratio was about 1:1 with the wine and water. 

Quick, easy, cheap and good. 

No one needs to know our little secret.  Shhhhh

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Quick Tip: Cupcakes

Dear Blog,

I'm sorry.  I've neglected you again.  Really, it's because I have been busy with a bunch of other stuff.

Not that I've made cupcakes in a while, since I haven't.  I did make banana chocolate chip muffins this week, and used this tip.  You can find a recipe I use here.  One of these days I will type it up separately as a muffin recipe.  It deserves that at least. 

Here's my tip.  One that I came upon one day out of necessity and desperation.  I thought I had everything to make cupcakes, but I quickly realized I was out of liners.  After I'd made the batter, of course.  I learned something fantastic though!

Do not use cupcake liners!  Don't!  The little paper things you put in the muffin tins before baking cupcakes and muffins....you totally don't need them.

Save the money. 

Instead, spray each well of the pan with a quick squirt of nonstick spray.  The cupcakes or muffins slide out easily.  As an added bonus, they are a whole lot less messy without the liners. 

As any mom or teacher knows all too well, cupcakes are horribly messy.  Crumbs everywhere.  When you don't use the liners, you cut down on the crumbs dramatically.  It is pretty awesome.

So glad I ran out of them that day!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Grandma Helen's Meatballs

Post number 200!  I knew this one had to be a good one, so here you go!

This is one of the many things that my grandmother was famous for.  This was almost always her contribution to the potlucks she went to.  Which was good....because people would get all bent out of shape if the crock pot of meatballs was missing.

She had a bit of a reputation to uphold, you see.  People expected meatballs.

My grandmother was almost as famous for these as she was for her chocolate chip cookies.  Almost.

As us girls got older, we'd eventually be let in the kitchen more and more.  First we could help with the cookies.  That would have to hold you over for a few years. 

Then one day, you'd be granted access to the super secret family recipe for the meatballs.  And it is super secret, so don't tell anyone.  Okay?

My mom likes to tell the story about the first time she made them after being granted access to the recipe.  How she spent all this time seasoning and rolling meatballs, pan frying and oven baking them.  Carefully adding the glaze ingredients to the crock pot.  Only to find out that Grandma bought frozen meatballs.  Ha!

I have said before that I'm pretty sure my father was a genius.  Clearly, he got it from her.

She was so good that she fooled an entire community (and every one I've lived in since then that has had the luxury of tasting these meatballs) into thinking she was a gourmet cook.

And she was, but this is no fancy recipe.  It's so simple that you won't believe how good it is.  And it sounds all kinds of funky, but you are just going to have to trust me on it. 

Seriously.

Grandma Helen's Meatballs
- 1 family sized bag frozen meatballs
- 1 small jar grape jelly (preferably Welch's....don't ask why, it's just the "right" one)
- 1-2 bottles plain old run of the mill BBQ sauce (again, Hunts is the best, just because it is)

Throw meatballs in slow cooker.  Mix grape jelly and BBQ sauce, pour over meatballs.  Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours or high for 2-3. 

Pretend you slaved away in the kitchen all day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fresh Strawberry Jello Shots

I made and brought some of these to a BBQ this week. 

Big hit.  Huge.

They really are that good.   They are actually pretty easy to make, just require a little bit of patience and attention to detail.

Fresh Strawberry Jello Shots
- 24-30 large strawberries
- 1 6 oz. package of strawberry Jello
- 2/3 cup boiling water, plus 1/2 cup ice
- 1 cup vodka
- whipped cream if desired

Start by selecting large strawberries.  Carefully remove tops and hollow out the hull a bit inside.  Trim just the tip of the bottom so that the berry can stand up, making sure that you don't cut off too much (you don't want there to be a hole at the bottom).  Arrange them in a shallow dish so they are standing upright.

Add boiling water to Jello, ensuring it is fully dissolved.  Add vodka, then ice and stir until it starts to set.  To speed the process, put the Jello in the freezer for about 5 minutes.

Once Jello has begun to set, spoon into hulled berries.  Chill in fridge until set.  Top with whipped cream if desired. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spicy Lime Grilled Shrimp

I love limes.  LOVE them.

They just scream summer!
I bought shrimp and had all kinds of visions of grilled perfection with them.  Then the weather decided not to cooperate at all for the last week.  Oh well.  Glad we got the indoor grill.  :)

I ended up not putting them on skewers since I made them inside, but would if I grilled them for real.

Spicy Lime Grilled Shrimp
- 2 lbs shelled raw shrimp
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 5 limes
- 1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper

Place shrimp in shallow bowl or dish.  Roll limes firmly on counter before slicing and squeezing to get the most juice out you can.  Add salt and pepper, chili powder and cayenne to lime juice in small bowl.  Stir in olive oil.  Pour over shrimp.  Cover and refrigerate for an hour.

Grill until opaque, turning once.  Yum!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stained Glass Butterflies

This is a beautiful, but easy craft...and came in handy for my daughter's butterfly project at school.  She is the one that found the idea online, since she's doing all her own research these days.  You know, cuz she is 8 now.


Stained Glass Butterflies
- wax paper
- crayons
- grater
- towel
- iron
- paint

Start by deciding what shape and size butterfly you are making (and you can make plenty of other things this way too if inclined!).  Draw out you design on one sheet of wax paper.

Lay the wax paper with the design flat on a towel (on a sturdy surface that won't be ruined by using an iron a few minutes). 

Grate crayons in the colors desired over the design, trying to keep the shavings in the lines.  You do not have to cover the whole surface as the wax will melt and spread..

Cover with a second piece of wax paper, then the another towel.

Press with iron on highest setting for a minute or so at each area until all wax is melted and the papers are fused together.

Let cool. 

Trim edges off so the shape you desire is reached.  If desired, paint edges for more definition.  Ashley was making a monarch butterfly, so she drew out the design with a sharpie, then painted it. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sloppy Joes

I've been working on this one a while now, with a few so-so results.  This time, I nailed it.

I made homemade french fries to go along with it, so I had a bunch of happy kids. 

Sloppy Joes
- 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
- 1 small (or 1/2 medium) onion, diced
- 1 small green pepper, diced
- 1 tsp garlic
- 1/2 tbsp yellow mustard
- 1 cup ketchup
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- salt and pepper

Brown meat in large skillet with the onion, green pepper and garlic.  Cook until done, then drain off any excess fat.

Add mustard, ketchup and brown sugar.  Stir to combine, then reduce heat and simmer on low for 30 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Makes about 8 Sloppy Joes.

Daisy Cupcakes

I've got Daisies on the mind today....in the midst of getting the stuff ready for the last meeting of the year.  I am making them cupcakes again, but I just realized that I never posted this one back at the beginning of the school year when I made them. 

These come out super cute, and are easy to make.   I cheated, of course, and just used a box mix and canned frosting.  If you feel compelled to make them from scratch, more power to ya.

Daisy Cupcakes
- 1 box white cake mix and ingredients per instructions
- 1 can white frosting
- bag of large marshmallows
- yellow candy melts (round discs, available at specialty craft and candy stores)
- kitchen shears

Bake the cupcakes according to the instructions and cool completely.  Wait to frost them until you are ready to start decorating, since you need the frosting to act as the glue for the flowers.

Snip each marshmallow into discs with shears.  I cut them in half, but you may be able to squeeze three slices from each marshmallow.   Pinch the sides so they start to be shaped more like an oval.  Cut enough so that you have 5 or 6 for each cupcake, setting aside in one layer (do not try to stack them or they will stick together).

Frost cupcakes, then place a yellow candy melt in the center.  Arrange cut and pinched marshmallows around the center, pressing down to make sure they stick to the frosting.   Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour so the frosting can set before moving them. 

Happy Spring!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Chicken Piccata

I found a few recipes for this last week, and combined them into what you see here.  This is a meal that was brought over in those first few blurry days after my father passed.  It was exactly what it was intended to be: comfort food.


Chicken Piccata
- 4 boneless chicken breasts
- salt
- pepper
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, divided
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 jar capers, rinsed of brine
- 1 lb pasta, cooked

Butterfly and separate chicken breasts.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then coat in flour.  Melt half the butter in large sauce pan with olive oil.

Brown the chicken in batches, setting aside when done. 

Once all chicken is cooked, add the lemon juice, chicken stock and capers to the pan.  Bring to a boil, scraping browned bits from bottom.  Boil five minutes. 

Put chicken back in pan, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. 

Remove the chicken one more time.  Add the rest of the butter to the pan, stirring completely.  Pour warm sauce over chicken and pasta. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Miss Araya's Marinara Sauce

When you're taking care of someone who's very sick, or when someone passes away, people feel compelled to feed you.  I don't know how or why that tradition started, but I was ever grateful for it a few months back.  When you're in that place, just trying to get through each day, the last thing you are thinking about is cooking.

We were blessed with friends and family and neighbors who brought us the gift of their love, time and effort in casserole dishes and crock pots.

I cannot thank them enough. 

This is a recipe from one of those wonderful people.  She brought this over the night that my father's family all came to see him for the last time, and was kind enough to share the recipe.

Thank you, Araya.

Miss Araya's Marinara Sauce
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, cut up
- 2 large cans of whole tomatoes, peeled with basil
- 3/4 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp basil
- 1 tsp salt
- sprinkle of pepper
- sprinkle of parsley
- sugar, start with 2 tsp and add more if needed after tasting

Saute garlic in the oil on medium heat until brown, then remove just the garlic from pan.  Add tomatoes and crush.  Add all seasonings, bringing to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer down until it reduces, or about 45 minutes.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rainbow Cake

Are you all noticing a theme around here lately? 

Ally wanted a rainbow cake for her Wizard of Oz party, and I knew right away how I'd make it.

A few years ago, I decided to start making the kids cakes for a few reasons.  One, it's cheaper to buy the specialty cake pan and most of the stuff to make the cake than it is to just order one from a bakery...plus then you have the pan forever.  Two, my children are friends with more and more kids who have food allergies, and it's just easier to make it at home since I know exactly what goes in to everything that way.  And third, I have a friend who is crazier than me with the birthday parties and makes beautiful elaborate cakes and served as my inspiration. 

When Ashley was 3,we had a pony birthday.  Complete with, wait for it, an actual pony that came to the house for her to ride.  Ahhh, to be a spoiled kid again. 

Anyway, for that party, I found a horseshoe shaped pan by Wilton, and figured I could repurpose it for a rainbow with a little tweaking. 

Rainbow Cake
- Wilton Horseshoe cake pan
- 1 box cake mix, any flavor desired
- 3 cans white frosting
- food coloring
- icing set
- cake board or large cutting board

This particular pan is a one box pan, which is nice. Most of the Wilton pans are two or more.

Bake cake according to instructions on the box, checking a little early for doneness.  Since the pan is narrow, but deeper, it took a few minutes longer to bake.

Let cool completely.

Slice off the rounded top of the cake.  I find it's easier to do that when it's still in the pan.  Run a plastic knife around all edges and carefully remove cake from pan, placing on cake board.  Since this pan is a horseshoe, you will have to wiggle the edges out a little to make it rainbow shaped.  Before frosting, wedge small pieces of wax paper under the edges of the cake, then carefully slide out after you are done so there aren't stray crumbs or icing on the board.

Frost entire cake with a thin even layer of white icing.  Let sit about an hour.

You need approximately 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of tinted frosting for each color for the rainbow, then 1 to 1 1/2 cups for the sides.  Place icing in bowls and tint accordingly.  I've found that while it takes a LOT of red food coloring to get the red to be the right shade, it only takes a little red to make orange and purple. 

Using the flower tip (6 pointed), fill icing bag and pipe one row at a time, beginning with the red and working your way down the colors of the rainbow.  Be sure to get the colors close to each other so the white underneath doesn't show through, and so that you have enough room to squeeze all the colors on there.  After you get the rainbow done, pipe the sides of the cake.  I chose to do a lighter blue for the sides. 

Clear out a shelf in the fridge big enough and place cake in there to let all frosting firm up.  Remove an hour before serving.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Rainbow Jello

I made the mistake of showing Ally a picture of something like this months ago and she stored it away in the back of her brain.  She's that way. 

When we were planning her birthday party, a Wizard of Oz one, she decided that she must have a rainbow cake and rainbow jello. 

This is the part when I kick myself for showing her in the first place.

It is time consuming to do this, but sooooooo cool that it's totally worth the effort. 

HOW COOL IS THIS?!?!
Rainbow Jello
- 6 oz packages (or two 3oz if you can't find the 6oz size) of 6 flavors of jello, in the colors desired
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- non stick cooking spray

Set aside a good two hours for this project.  And clear out of shelf in your freezer that will fit a 9x9 baking dish flat.  It has to be flat, like completely.  You will see even the slightest angle in this.

Using a 9x9 dish that ideally has squared corners, spray it on all surfaces with nonstick spray.  Set aside.

Make the purple jello with 1 cup of boiling water.  (Do not follow the regular recipe or the jigglers recipe, this is different).  Add an ice cube to speed the setting process up a little.  Pour 2/3 of the purple jello in the baking dish and place in the freezer for about 5 minutes. 

Meanwhile, add about a teaspoon of the sweetened condensed milk to remaining purple jello and stir thoroughly. 

Carefully remove pan from freezer, making sure the first layer has begun to set.  If it is still a liquid, put it back in for a few more minutes.  If it has firmed a bit, carefully spoon the purple jello mixed with the condensed milk over the top in a thin even layer.  Put back in the freezer while you start preparing the blue jello.

Repeat for all the colors. 

When you have all 12 layers complete, the 9x9 dish will be full just to the top.  Put it in the fridge to chill for at least 3 hours (overnight is ideal).

To cut, you are best to remove the entire thing from the pan at once.  Run a sharp knife around the edge and carefully wiggle it out.  If you've sufficiently coated the pan with nonstick spray, this should be fairly easy.  Spray your knife with nonstick spray and cut into cubes. 

Share and smile.  :)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ham & Broccoli Quiche

This is the second quiche I made for Easter brunch.  Quiches are so yummy and easy to make that I think we might be having them a little more often.

Ham & Broccoli Quiche
- 1 pie crust
- 1 cup broccoli, chopped into small pieces and blanched
- 1 cup diced ham
- 1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
- 1 tbsp finely minced onion
- 5 eggs
- 1 cup half and half
- dash salt and pepper
- 1/2 tsp dry mustard

Place crust in pan.  Layer broccoli, ham, cheese and onion in pan.  Beat eggs with half and half, stirring in salt, pepper and mustard.  Pour over layers.  Bake in preheated 350 oven for one hour.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bacon Cheddar Quiche

This is one of the quiches I made for Easter, I will share the other one tomorrow.  :) 

With bacon and cheese, you know it's going to be good.

Bacon Cheddar Quiche
- pie crust
- 12 oz bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 tbsp finely minced onion
- 5 eggs
- 1 1/2 cup half and half
- dash pepper

Place pie crust in dish, roll and crimp edges.  Layer bacon, cheese and onions in dish.  Beat eggs with half and half, adding pepper.  Pour egg mixture over layers.  Bake in preheated 350 oven for one hour.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Deviled Eggs

This is a super simple recipe for delicious deviled eggs.  Don't get all excited, though.  There's nothing fancy in it.  No gourmet anything.  But there's also no chopping and mincing required. 

They all get eaten, every time.

Deviled Eggs
- 12 hard boiled eggs
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp yellow mustard
- 1 tsp salt
- dash pepper
- paprika

Peel deviled eggs, then slice in half lengthwise.  Scoop yolks into a bowl, arrange egg halves on a platter. 

Crumble yolks with a folk, then stir in mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper.  Whip with a whisk for a minute or so until fully combined, light and fluffy.  Carefully spoon yolk mixture back into egg halves, distributing evenly.

Sprinkle eggs with paprika.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls

After he pushed himself away from the brunch table yesterday and sighed audibly, I asked my husband if they were worth it, these rolls. 

They take a while.  A long while.  About three hours start to finish.

His answer was a resounding yes.

Be prepared to be patient with these.  He was right though, they were totally worth it.  The kids even got up early this morning to grab the leftovers.

Cinnamon Rolls
Rolls
- 1 cup warm milk
- 2 1/2 tsp yeast
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 1/2 cup sugar
- dash salt
- 4 1/4 cups flour

Filling
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp cinnamon

Frosting
- 4 oz cream cheese (1/2 8oz. package), room temperature
- 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups powdered sugar

To make rolls:
Dissolve yeast in milk for about 5 minutes.  Add eggs, butter, sugar and salt and mix thoroughly.  Add flour a cup at a time.  Ideally, you can use a dough setting on a bread maker or a dough hook in a stand mixer for this process.  It takes a while and the dough gets hard to mix at the end.  Mix until dough forms into a ball.  Cover and let rise one hour.

Roll dough out into jelly roll pan.  If you don't have one, you want a large rectangle (16x21).  Spread softened butter on entire surface of dough.  Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl, then sprinkle mixture evenly over buttered dough.

Tightly roll dough lengthwise, sealing the end by pinching the dough together.  Cut into 12 equal width rolls.  Place in greased 9x13 baking dish.  Cover with a towel and let rise an hour.  Take butter and cream cheese for frosting out to bring to room temperature.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. 

To make frosting:
While rolls are baking, beat butter and cream cheese together, then add vanilla.  Add powdered sugar half a cup at a time.  Frost rolls after they have cooled a bit, but are still warm.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Strawberry Mimosas

I somehow managed to forget to take a picture of these, maybe because I was too busy drinking them today.  ;)

I personally do not love champagne.  I drink it for toasts, the required sip is plenty.  If you put a strawberry in it, I can generally finish a glass, though.

The only acceptable form for champagne in my opinion that involves actual drinking is as a mimosa.  Brunches are a perfectly legitimate place for mimosas, and I can totally get behind drinking in the morning. 

Since I love mimosas in general, I figured why not add a ripe strawberry too?  Just that much more awesome. 

Enjoy!

Strawberry Mimosas
- champagne
- orange juice
- ripe, hulled strawberries

Drop a strawberry, slightly crushed into champagne flute. Slowly fill the glass about 1/2 - 2/3 of the way full with champagne.  This part takes patience, you have to wait for the bubbles to dissipate.  Fill the glass the rest of the way with orange juice. 

The more refills you need, the softer the strawberry gets and the more alcohol it absorbs.

Happy brunching!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bunny Cakes

This is an easy cake project, perfect for this time of year.  I baked the cakes the night before so they were completely cooled and ready to decorate.

Total decoration time is about an hour, start to finish.

Bunny Cakes
- 1 box cake mix
- 2 cans white frosting
- large bag of sweetened flake coconut
- food coloring
- large marshmallows
- toothpicks
- candy for decoration (I used chocolate chips, Junior Mints and Airhead extremes)

Bake the cakes according to box instructions, using 8 or 9 inch round pans.  Cool completely.

Remove the cakes from the pans carefully and cut each round into two half-circles.  Stack two half-circles next to each other, gluing them together with frosting.  Frost the cakes.

In large plastic bags, place half the coconut in each with a few drops of desired food coloring.  Shake bag until evenly mixed.  Spread coconut carefully over the frosting before it sets, covering the entire cake.

Using construction paper (that ideally matches the color of the coconut), cut the ears.  I cut the paper in half lengthwise, then curved one side.  I trimmed the point that would be inserted into the cake a little, and notched it with a butter knife.  Fold the bottom of the ear in half, then push paper ear into cake.

Put a little of the frosting into a decorating bottle (if you don't have one, use a small plastic bag and cut off just the tip.  Pipe frosting for eyes, place candy over it and hold a few seconds until it stays.  To make the whiskers, I cut the airhead extremes with a pizza cutter to just get the color I wanted.  Glue those on with frosting too.  I made the nose out of a chocolate chip.  On the back, a large marshmallow stuck on with a toothpick is the tail. 

The girls were super excited to help!

Happy Spring!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Asparagus is one of the staples of Easter meals, and this is a slightly different way to serve it.  There are a few different ways to prepare it, I will include them both.  Either way is delicious!

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus
- Bunch of fresh asparagus, trimmed
- 8 oz. prosciutto
- 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened to room temperature

To Bake:
Spread cream cheese on prosciutto slices, and wrap a few spears of asparagus in each.  Lay on a single layer in a baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick spray.  Bake at 450 for about 15 minutes. 

To Grill:
Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for a minute or two, remove and drain.  Spread cream cheese on prosciutto and wrap a few spears in each.  Grill for 5-10 minutes, until asparagus is tender.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Ginger's Meaty Beachballs

Forgive the title of this one.  This is a meatball recipe, originated out of necessity while she was vacationing at a beach house, trying to use what was in the kitchen already rather than going to the store.  The name just...well...evolved.

This is her recipe, with a few tweaks since I didn't have everything she called for.  The kids LOVED it!

Ginger's Meaty Beachballs
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 cup red onions (I used yellow)
- 1/4 Good Seasons Italian Dressing, prepared (I had some sort of red wine vinaigrette)
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup crushed Ritz crackers
- salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 jar marinara sauce
- 1 small can tomato sauce (I didn't have this on hand, used a can of condensed tomato soup, undiluted)

Chop onions very finely (I ran them through a food processor).  Combine ground beef, onions, dressing, egg, crackers, salt and pepper thoroughly.  Shape into 1 inch balls.

Heat oil in skillet and brown meatballs on all sides, don't cook completely.  Place balls in baking dish in one layer, cover with marinara and tomato sauce.

Bake at 250 for 2 hours.  We ate the meatballs with spaghetti.

You can find Ginger's entire blog, along with the original recipe, here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Homemade Croutons

This is one of those things I should have learned to make a long time ago.

Quick and easy, just keep a close eye on them so they don't burn.

These are great for salads obviously, but also good in soups.

Homemade Croutons
- stale crusty bread, cut into cubes
- olive oil
- salt and pepper

Toss bread with oil and salt and pepper (can also substitute ranch flavoring or garlic salt depending on the taste you are aiming for).

Spread in one layer on cookie sheet and bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes or so. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Teriyaki Sauce & Shrimp Stir Fry

This one's a two parter, and I totally forgot to take pictures.  My bad.

Up first, homemade teriyaki sauce.  I made this tonight because I didn't have any in the house, which is unusual.  Teriyaki is one of my staples usually.  I'm thinking now I might just make it myself.

Teriyaki Sauce
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- dash cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp corn starch

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl, then add to a saucepan.  Carefully heat to just boiling, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and cool.  It will continue to thicken as it cools.   I used about half the teriyaki in the recipe below, saved the rest in the fridge for later.

Shrimp Stir Fry
- 1 pound deveined shelled shrimp
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- about 1/2 cup prepared teriyaki sauce
- 4 cups stir fry vegetables
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil

Place raw shrimp in a shallow bowl, then sprinkle garlic, cayenne, ginger and sesame seeds over.  Mix thoroughly and let sit for 30 minutes in the fridge.  When ready, heat oil in wok and cook vegetables on medium high heat for about 5 minutes. 

Add teriyaki and combine thoroughly.  Last, stir in shrimp and all seasonings, cook until shrimp are done.

Serve over rice.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lemon Garlic Marinade

Here is a quick and easy marinade that you can use for chicken, shrimp or fish.  It tastes best if you grill the meat after marinating it. 

Lemon Garlic Marinade
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp pepper

Combine all marinade ingredients in bowl.  Place meat in shallow baking dish or plastic bag, pour marinade over meat.  Let sit in the fridge at least 2 hours, turning meat to coat all sides evenly. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Shrimp Etouffe

A friend posted that she had made this one a few weeks back, and I was intrigued.  You see, my husband really would love to live in the South.  He could eat cornbread and Cajun food, hush puppies and fried chicken every day without it ever getting old.

Having said that, I attempted jambalaya once when we first got married and it wasn't good.  Of course, I also wasn't a very good cook back then.  I should try again, I suppose.  When we have fried chicken, he's usually the one that makes it.

Then I saw this recipe and knew I had to try it.

I'm borrowing her picture, and she added scallops.  The original recipe calls for a pound of shrimp and a pound of crawfish, which are a little hard to find in the middle of the country.  I just added another pound of shrimp.

The first part is making a roux.  Which is time consuming and more than a little bit stressful since it needs to be stirred constantly.  You cannot burn it at all or you have to toss it and start over. 

My advice, pour a glass of wine before you start.  ;)

That, and have everything else already cut up and ready to go before you start the whole process. 

Shrimp Etouffe
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 cup chicken stock (can use vegetable as well)
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tbsp seasoned salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
-  2 tbsp Frank's Red Hot pepper sauce
- dried cayenne pepper if desired to taste
- 2 pounds raw peeled, deveined shrimp (can substitute half with craw fish, scallops or sausage)

Heat oil, adding flour a little at a time, stirring constantly over medium heat.  Making the roux takes about 20 minutes, keep stirring the whole time to make sure the bottom doesn't burn.  When it turns a medium brown color, it's ready.

Add the bell pepper, celery, onion and garlic and saute in the roux for a few minutes.  Then add tomatoes and chicken stock.  Stir together, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. 

Add seasoned salt, pepper and Red Hot.  Taste.  Add more cayenne if you want more heat. 

Last, stir in the raw shrimp and simmer in the sauce for about 10 minutes until they are done. 

Serve over rice.

Then thank Elisa.  :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Orange Chicken

This is a recipe I've been meaning to make a while now.  I've included two different options for cooking the chicken.  One is sauteed and the healthiest option.  The other fried and the way you are probably accustomed to orange chicken being served in restaurants.  Either way, the marinade and glaze is the same...awesome.

Orange Chicken
- 4 chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
- 1 cup water
- zest and juice of two small mandarin oranges
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 2/3 cup rice vinegar
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 tsp fresh minced ginger root (or 1/2  tsp dried)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 4 green onions, thinly sliced

To Saute
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil

To Bread and Fry
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- dash pepper
- oil for frying

For glaze
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup water

Combine all marinade ingredients in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.   Cool completely.  You can do this portion the night before.

Marinate chicken pieces in 1 cup of the sauce, reserving the rest for the glaze.  Let marinate for a few hours in the fridge.

To Saute the chicken: Drain off marinade and saute in large pan or wok, pre-warmed with 3 tbsp oil.  Cook until chicken is slightly browned and cooked through. 

To Fry the chicken: Combine flour, salt and pepper in a bag, drain marinated chicken and toss in bag to coat.  Fry in preheated frying oil for about 5 minutes, checking for doneness.

To make the glaze: Combine the cornstarch and water until cornstarch is fully dissolved.  Add this mixture to the reserved sauce and heat in a pan until bubbly and thickened.  Add cooked chicken to glaze, toss to coat and heat through completely.

Serve with cooked rice and vegetables.

Invisible Ink

We got a catalog from one of those mail order buy crap you don't need in bulk for really cheap companies.  You all can probably figure out which one I'm referring to. 

There was a page of magic trick novelties and Aidan insisted he needed everything on the page.  Finger traps, whoopie cushions, invisible ink.  He wanted to buy one of each with his own money and couldn't wrap his head around why you needed to buy 6 dozen of everything to get that super cheap price.

That's just how it works, kid.

He made his disappointed sad face, which I don't want to see right now since he just had surgery and all.  So I told him we'd make invisible ink at home instead.

Here's how.

Invisible Ink
- lemon juice
- q-tips
- light colored or white paper
- heat source
- salt
- crayons

There are two different ways we used the ink.  The first is the simplest.  Use the q-tip, dipped in lemon juice, to write out messages on the paper.  Let dry completely.  With help from an adult, hold the paper near a heat source.  The lemon juice stained areas will darken before the rest of the paper, revealing the message.

The other way is to sprinkle salt on the message immediately when it is still wet.  Give it a minute for the salt to absorb the juice, then shake off the excess.  Place another piece of paper on top and use a crayon to make a rubbing of the salted message below. 

Have fun!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Irish Cream Brownies

If you love chocolate and mint and alcohol separately, then you will adore them combined.  This is a fabulous, yet easy brownie recipe and oh.so.good.

Best part, you get to cheat and use a box mix as your base.  ;) 

Irish Cream Brownies
Brownies
- 1 box brownie mix
- 1/2 cup irish cream (I prefer Bailey's)
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 whole eggs

Frosting
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
- 1/3 cup irish cream
- 2 1/2 - 3 cups powdered sugar

Glaze
- 1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
- 1 tsp vegetable oil

Combine brownie ingredients and pour into 9x13 pan that has been prepared with nonstick spray.  Bake in preheated 350 oven for 20-22 minutes.

Cool completely, then combine butter and irish cream for the frosting, adding powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until fully combined.    Add sugar until it reaches a good consistency - you want it to be spreadable, but not too runny.

To make glaze, microwave chips for 20 seconds at a time, stirring each time.  Add oil and blend until completely smooth.  Drizzle over frosted brownies.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Easy Rainbow Craft

I made this with my girl scouts this week, and it was a hit!  Very easy, somewhat time consuming, and perfect for any rainbow themed party or occasion....even a rainy day.

I did get some heavy duty construction paper for it though, because it does require tons and tons of glue....and what kid doesn't like a craft that includes that?

Plus, this can take a while because the pieces tend to mysteriously disappear.

You will need:
- blue construction paper
- white glue (we use regular school glue)
- fruity circle shaped cereal (we used generic)

It helps if you draw the top of the arch for the first row before starting.  I did that with the one shown here, but let my girl scouts draw their own arches.  Needless to say, we had rainbows of all sizes and shapes, and more than a few that ran out of room before they got to the blues and purples.

Glue cereal on in rainbow order, using a decent amount of glue for each piece.  It takes a while to dry, so factor that in to your crafting time. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rainbow Cupcakes

I saw these a while back and had to make them.  I cheated, took the easy way out and used boxed cakes mixes and cans of pre-made frosting.

Don't be haters.

I did make over 100 of these, since when one kid asks for something for their class, they all will.

The boxes of cake mix say that they make 24 cupcakes.  They lie.  They really make more like 16-18 unless you are really stingy when filling your cupcake liners.  And these aren't the kind of cupcakes you can be stingy about.

In some ways, it is easier to make these in a larger quantity because of the food coloring issue as well as the is this really worth the amount of effort issue.

I'll leave it to you to decide.  ;)

I have written this recipe to make about 3 dozen cupcakes.

Rainbow Cupcakes
- 2 boxes white cake mix (not butter or yellow), and ingredients called for on box
- 3 cans pre-made buttercream frosting
- food coloring
- time and patience

Preheat oven to 350 (or whatever temperature recommended for cupcakes if the mix you are using is different). 

Make both boxes of cake mix at once, according to the package instructions.  Pour batter evenly into six bowls and tint them red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.

Line cupcake pans, then carefully drop batter in rainbow order into the liners.  You will need about a rounded 1/2 Tbsp of each color to fill the liners.  (about 3 rounded Tbsp total for each cupcake).

Do not stir the colors together, just pile on top, trying as much as possible to center the batter each time.

Bake 20-22 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out dry.

Let cool completely before frosting.  I prefer the lazy method of frosting, which looks fancier anyway.  Put the frosting in a gallon size baggie and squeeze out the air.  Cut off tip and pipe in a circular motion.

I sent these to school as a surprise, when the tops are frosted plainly and a darker liner used, the lucky eater will have no idea what awaits them inside!  Fun for St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

I'm sharing today one of my most favorite recipes. Something that I make at least once a year, for St. Patrick's Day, and then wonder why I don't make it more often. I came upon a version of this recipe many, many years ago and have modified it more than a few times.

It's the kind of item that lends itself quite well to imperfection. There isn't a set way to make it so much, and if you mess it up, chances are it will still be good. It comes out a little bit like a giant scone. I add more moisture to it than the original recipe called for since my husband isn't much a fan of dry breads.

Irish Soda Bread
- 3 1/2 cups flour
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk (if you don't have this, you can make buttermilk by placing 1 tbsp vinegar in a measuring cup and adding the appropriate amount of milk, then letting it sit for a minute or two until thickened)
- 1 cup raisins (can substitute cranberries)

Mix everything but the raisins in a large bowl, then fold in raisins.  Dough should be thick and almost impossible to stir.

Place dough into a greased round baking pan. I use a large round pyrex casserole. Don't bother trying to form it into a pretty shape, as I said, this is an imperfect type of recipe. Just lump it in there. Bake for about an hour in preheated 350 oven, until the top turns golden brown and the center of the loaf is done.

Break off pieces and share.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tuna Noodle Casserole

This is one of those comfort food recipes.  It's easy to throw together, and you probably have most of the stuff you need to make it on hand already.


Tuna Noodle Casserole
- 2 ~ 6 oz cans of tuna, drained
- 2 cans reduced fat cream of mushroom soup
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 8-10 oz bag egg noodles, cooked as directed
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 stalk celery, minced
- 1 small onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425.  Saute celery, onion and garlic in butter until onion is transparent.  In large bowl, mix tuna, soup, peas, cooked noodles, and 1 cup cheddar cheese.  Add in onion mixture when cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour noodle mixture into 9x13 casserole dish, prepared with non-stick spray.  Top with remaining cheddar cheese and breadcrumbs.

Bake 20-25 minutes until top is golden brown. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Oven Roasted Veggies

Here is a simple yet delicious way to prepare just about any type of vegetables as a side dish.  Most recently, I made zucchini, beefsteak tomatoes and onions.

Oven Roasted Veggies
- non stick spray
- whatever vegetable desired, whatever quantity desired, sliced
- olive oil
- salt
- pepper
- garlic
- thyme

Preheat oven to 375.  Spray dish with nonstick spray.  Layer veggies, arranging if desired for visual appeal.  Drizzle with olive oil, then lightly salt and pepper.  Add some fresh minced garlic and fresh thyme. 

Place in middle rack of oven and roast for 30-40  minutes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Risotto

If you've never wanted to make risotto, I assume you've never had it.  If you did, you'd want to.

If you've not wanted to invest the time required for perfecting it, I say find it.

Seriously.

It takes a while, requires a lot of attention.  But you end up with this:
Lesson #1:  Find the time. 

Risotto
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup water
- 1 1/2 cup rice (preferably arborio or jasmine)
- 3 tbsp butter, divided
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 1/2 cup chardonnay or other white wine
- 1/2 cup fresh shredded parmesan/romano blend
- salt and pepper
- fresh parsley for garnish

Combine broth and water in medium saucepan, heat over low.  Keep warm. 

Melt 2 tbsp butter in large (separate) saucepan, then saute onion until transparent.  Add rice and wine, reduce heat to medium/low and simmer until wine reduces almost completely.

Add broth mixture about a half a cup at a time, stirring constantly and waiting to add more until almost fully absorbed.  Repeat until all broth mixture is gone. 

Relax...you opened a bottle of wine.  Drink while you stir.  It passes the time. 

After all broth combined, remove from heat.  Stir in parmesan/romano cheese blend, remaining tbsp  butter, then salt and pepper to taste. 

Serve immediately.

Drink the rest of the bottle of wine.

Rejoice that you took the time to make the risotto.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Creamy Prosciutto Tomato Pasta Sauce

Ah, salted pork. 

Seriously.

Prosciutto may very well be the only thing better than bacon in the entire universe.

I saw something like this recipe in a magazine and decided to make it. 

Super easy and quick and way better than anything that comes out of a jar.

Creamy Prosciutto Tomato Pasta Sauce
- 6 oz prosciutto, diced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 package cherry tomatoes, halved
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 small can tomato paste
- 1 cup cream

Heat olive oil in skillet and cook prosciutto until crispy.  Add tomatoes and garlic mixing thoroughly.  Reduce heat and stir tomato paste and cream.  Heat through, do not boil. 

I tossed the sauce with fresh blanched peas and spinach ravioli, topped with fresh shredded romano cheese. 

Yum. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Shrimp Tacos

Oh, it has been a while. 

I'm home now, getting back into the swing of things around here again.  Back to my happy place, cooking. 

I made these a few nights ago and they came out pretty good.  I opted to broil the shrimp rather than bread and fry them in an attempt to make it healthier.  But we all know that fried would be more awesome.  ;)

Shrimp Tacos
- 1 1/2 pounds raw shrimp
- 3 cups shredded cabbage

Marinade
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup lime juice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- dash pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
- handful of cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- dash cayenne pepper

Topping Sauce
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup salsa

Other taco ingredients:
Guacamole
Cilantro Lime Rice, recipe in this post
Black beans
Flour or Corn Tortillas

Mix all marinade ingredients together.  Toss cabbage with half the marinade in one bowl, combine raw shrimp with the other half of the marinade.  Put in the fridge for about 20 minutes.

Stir sour cream and salsa together, let sit in fridge.

Spray cooking sheet with nonstick spray and broil shrimp 4-8 minutes until done.

Fill tortillas. Eat.  Yum.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Simi Valley Moms Town

I grew up in Simi, and it is still the home to many of the people that I have known through the years.  Through the wonder that is Facebook, I've reconnected with many of them. 

I was introduced to this website through a mutual friend, and it is a fantastic resource to anyone in the Simi area, particularly those with children.  To get there, you can click on the image below, or the one on the margin of my main blog.  Please take a moment to check it out!

DeBie Hive

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Beef and Barley Soup

I made this a few days ago, but I was the only one that ate it.  Best of intentions, but things here aren't really under any kind of plan or control.  It was good, and most of it is in the freezer.

It's easy to make, I tried to find a recipe but just ended up tossing it together.

My apologies in advance if I forget anything.  I am exhausted.

Beef and Barley Soup
- 2 lb lean beef stew meat
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 cups beef broth
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup barley
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 1 package sliced mushrooms
- 1/2 tsp pepper

Heat oil and brown meat in large stock pot.  Add broth, water and barley.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 20 minutes.  Add celery, onion and carrots, bring back to a boil, cover and simmer 30 minutes.  Add mushrooms and pepper, bring to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Baby Gear - What you need with a newborn

I got a request from a dear reader (and one of my best friends in the world who has seen sides of me very few people have, literally) a week or so ago.  She's expecting a baby, but it's been a few years since she had her last one.  And as any parent knows, they come out with all kinds of new baby gear all the time.   She asked me to write up a list of the things a new parent needs, as opposed to the lists you find in magazines and specialty baby stores. 

Truth is, with those lists, most of what is on those lists is stuff you really don't need.

I'll try to organize this list into sections.  First, the things you really need.  Second, the things you will probably need.  Third, the things you should buy only if you really need them. And fourth, the things you truly do not need.

The Things You Really Need
- Diapers - I have always tried to get my husband to do cloth, but he resisted.  I personally love the Pampers Swaddlers.   Don't buy huge quantities of diapers in any small size, chances are the baby will outgrow them before you use them all up.  Most newborns go through 10-14 diapers a day.

- Wipes - Unlike diapers, these are something you can stock up on fairly safely.  Even once your kids are potty trained, which won't be for years, you will still find uses for wipes.  Before purchasing giant boxes of them, make sure you try them first.

- Basic Generic Clothing - Onesies, long sleeved kimono style shirts, soft knit pants and one piece outfits.  Newborns don't wear clothes yet, and everything should be soft.  Don't go crazy buying too much, it will all be outgrown in a few weeks.

- Burp Cloths - You will probably want to have at least 12 of these on hand, since you will use a few a day at least in the first few months.  The best ones I've ever found are actually the plain cloth diapers.  You can spend more on the fancy ones if you want, but just because something costs more doesn't make it work better.

- Receiving Blankets - You will need at least 4 lightweight blankets to wrap the baby up in.  Most flannel receiving blankets sold in the stores work fine for newborns, but the baby outgrows them quickly.  Some companies are now making cotton larger blankets.  I made my own out of flannel in larger sizes. 

- Infant Car Seat - You need a car seat that is safe for a newborn.  Whether it is a portable carrier or one that stays in the car, you need to make sure it is safe for the baby.   The portable carriers are easier when they are tiny, and are often sold with stroller combinations.  Make sure your car seat is properly installed.  Most fire stations will inspect it for you.

- Somewhere to put the baby down - Even if you intend to co sleep with your newborn, there will be times that you need a safe place to put them down alone.  Whether it is a crib, a playpen or a bassinet, you need something.  Bassinets are nice and convenient, but will be outgrown quickly.  Playpens these days usually come with bassinet inserts and will serve more practical purposes longer than a bassinet will.  I had a playpen downstairs for the baby, which I recommend if you have a multi-story home.  Get a few sheets and mattress covers, you don't need more than a few. 

Things you probably need
- Stroller - If you get a travel system with your car seat, you will most likely have a full size stroller to go with it.  Keep in mind that you only have so much room in the trunk of your car, and if it is completely full with the stroller, you may not be able to get groceries in there too. Full size strollers have their benefits but their drawbacks as well.  I'd highly recommend going to a store where they are assembled already and test driving them BEFORE you get one.  Practice folding it, locking it, opening it and carrying it.  Then imagine doing it quickly, in the rain, holding a baby, etc.  We opted with our last one to get a travel system that came with a lightweight stroller.  I also recommend getting an umbrella stroller once the baby can sit up.  I know people who swear by the car seat carrier strollers, but I personally don't see the point since it won't be used very long.  It might be a good temporary option if the car seat you love doesn't come with a stroller, or if the stroller you love won't work with a car seat. 

- Baby Carrier - I used slings in the first months with my babies.  Again, this is a personal preference, and you have to get used to wearing them.  The baby has to like being in them too.  This is also something that you should attempt to test drive before purchasing.  If you aren't comfortable wearing them, ask for help.  Chances are someone around can give you tips.  I loved my slings and my babies did too, plus you get your hands free to do other things.  When they are a little older, I also had a front pack style carrier.  With my last, I had a used Baby Bjorn, and it really is worth the money.  It was far more comfortable than the other front packs I have used.  When the baby is sitting up, I'd also recommend a backpack style carrier. 

- Swing - This is something you will probably need, but might not.  Most babies like the rhythmic motion of a swing, but not all of them.  Baby swings saved my sanity.  Pay the extra and get the kind that can swing front to back and side to side like a cradle.  Also, get one that has a cord, you don't want to be constantly replacing batteries.  They cost a little more on the front end, but you will save a lot in the long run.  You can probably wait until the baby is born, then go test drive a few swings at the store or borrow a friend's before you make the purchase.

- Highchair - You won't need it for a while.  A fairly long while, since it won't be used until the baby is sitting up.  Whether you get a freestanding one or one that sits on a regular chair doesn't really matter.  My only important piece of advice is this: get one that is easy to clean.  Do not get one with lots of padding and crevices and spots food can get shoved into.  Gross.  We have a solid wood highchair.  Easy to clean.  The ones that sit on a regular chair are often even easier, with the tray being dishwasher safe. 

- Bottles - Whether you are bottle feeding or nursing, chances are you will need bottles at some point.  Buy one of a style before you commit to a whole bunch of them.  Babies are sometimes picky, and you dont' want to spend a ton of money on bottles they don't like.  Again, expensive isn't necessarily better.

- Baby Monitor - If the baby will spend any time in a room away from you, you need to get a monitor.  Get one that has a higher frequency and several channels to avoid interference with other signals.  Ideally, get one with more than one transmitter.  If you anticipate being the kind of parent who needs to check on a sleeping baby (and we all do it to some degree), there are video monitors and motion sensor monitors.  These are not necessary for most parents, but may help ease your fears a little.

Things you should buy only if you really need them
- Exersaucers - Test drive them.  Some kids like them, some don't.  It's a big chunk of change if it never gets used.  Even if they like it, they will use it for a very short period of time.

- Breast Pump - If you are nursing, chances are you will need a pump.  I recommend renting one from a hospital first.  If you plan to return to work, get a double electric, and do not go cheap.  This is one thing that you really do need to spend the money on.  Cheap motors burn out....trust me.  I have had and loved two Medela Pump in Styles.  I also highly recommend the Avent Isis manual hand pump for times you aren't able to use the electric.  It is by far the best on the market.   

- Breastfeeding Pillow - A regular pillow will do, but there are specially designed ones that may make it easier.  They may also just get in your way. 

Changing Table - No, you don't really need one.  You can get a changing pad and change a baby anywhere.  A changing table, if you get one, should be designed to last longer than the time the baby will be an infant.  The one we currently have is a dresser with a pad fitted to the top.  I do recommend having a little basket with diapers and wipes in every room you might be in throughout the house.

- Glider or rocking chair - You can live without this, but you might want it.  Only buy it if you have room for it and can foresee using it more than a few months. 

- Diaper bag - You don't really need any special bag.  A decent sized bag of any sort will work fine, whether it's a purse or a backpack.  If you get a diaper bag, look for one that has a changing pad included.  You may want a waterproof wet sack for soiled clothing as well.

- Infant Thermometer - This is one of the things you won't think about until you need it.  With newborns, if they are running even a low fever, it can be a sign of a serious problem.  Temporal thermometers work the best (the ones that you glide across their forehead), but are pricey.  We have gone through dozens of thermometers over the years, and the only one that we have kept is the temporal one.  It's probably better to just get one and hope you don't need it than wait until you do.

- Infant Medications - I'm not a huge fan of these and don't recommend buying them until you need them.  The dosages change as babies get bigger and you may not use them before they are expired (or recalled! gasp!) 

- Diaper Rash Ointment - I recommend Burt's Bees, and I know people who swear by Mustela and the Butt Paste.  Major brands don't work in my experience at all.  I'd have a tube on hand just in case you need it.

- Lanolin, breast pads, breast soothers - These are things you can wait and see if you need them.  These days, they are carried by even grocery stores and are easier to find than they used to be. 

- Baby bathtub - You may not need one.  A foam insert for the sink or larger bathtub works great and is easier to use than most baby bathtubs.  I would get a few of the soft baby washcloths and towels though.

- Formula - Unless you are planning from the beginning to bottle feed, you should try to avoid keeping this in the house.  The first few weeks of nursing can be frustrating, and having formula in the house can serve as a temptation.  Stick with nursing, resist supplementing for those weeks if possible, and you increase your chances of successful nursing. 

- Pacifiers - This is a personal choice.  If you want to give your baby one, assuming they will take it, then get them.  If you don't, don't.  Simple enough.

Things you really don't need
- Wipe warmers - silliest invention of all time.

- Bottle warmers - a large cup of hot water works fine.

- Sterilizers - a pot of boiling water works fine.

- Bumbo seats - they shouldn't sit up until they can.

- Floor gyms - none of my kids ever liked these.

- 90% of the stuff they sell in baby specialty stores - Really, you don't need most of that stuff.  My advice for everything else is that you really think about whether you need it before purchasing it.  Read reviews. 

- You should also avoid buying too many things in advance.  Clothing may be the wrong season if purchased in advance.  You won't need to childproof until they are crawling, so don't bother doing it with a newborn.   Newborns also don't need bowls and spoons and sippy cups. 

I am sure there are things I am forgetting.  And I am sure they will have invented something new by the time she has her baby.  Whether she'll need it or not, well, that's anyone's guess. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beef Stew

I have posted a recipe for beef stew before, but that one is more a sweet and savory variety.  You can get the recipe for Strange Brew Beef Stew here. 

This recipe is a more traditional beef stew, with a little twist.

It makes enough for about 6 adults.

Beef Stew
- 2 pounds lean beef roast, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
- 2 cups peeled and sliced carrots
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup flour, divided
- 2 cups chicken or beef broth
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp coarse ground mustard
- 1/4 tsp dried rosemary (or 1 tsp fresh minced)
- 2 tbsp water
- dash pepper
- 1/2 bag egg noodles, cooked according to package directions

Use half the flour and coat chunks of meat.  Heat oil in large stockpot and brown meat in batches, then remove meat and put in a bowl.  Cook onion and mushrooms in drippings until onion is transparent.  

Add broth, Worcestershire sauce and mustard, stirring to combine.  Scrape any browned pieces of meat and vegetables from bottom of pot and stir in to mixture.  Return meat to pot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add carrots, then cover and simmer for one hour.  Mix water, remaining flour and pepper in a separate bowl, then add to soup.  Bring to a boil and stir until thickened. 

Layer cooked egg noodles in bottom of bowl, then spoon stew over top.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

This is awesome, and possibly the most awesome thing about it is that it's quick and easy to make. 

Even my hugely anti-tomato husband ate it.  And he liked it.  He's a smart man.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup
- 1 jar roasted red peppers, drained
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 large can (28 oz) tomato puree
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 1 cup cream (can use skim milk to cut fat and calories)
- pepper to taste

Run tomatoes, peppers and oil through a food processor, adding a bit of the chicken broth if more fluid is needed.  Add puree to large stockpot.  Mix in tomato puree, remaining broth and sugar to pot, stirring thoroughly.  Add pepper to taste.  Heat soup to boiling and reduce heat, simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in cream.

Bacon Cheddar Paninis

If you are anything like me, and truly believe that sandwiches taste better when someone else makes them, then thrust this recipe into the hands of another if you must. It's that good.

Bacon Cheddar Panini
- 8 pieces wheat bread
- butter for toasting
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 8 pieces bacon
- 1 large tomato, thinly sliced

Spread Mixture
- 1/2 cup light mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp course ground prepared mustard
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp parsley

Combine mayo, mustard, garlic powder and parsley in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour. Cook bacon, preferably on a griddle that can be used for cooking sandwiches as well. Drain on paper towels and remove most of the grease from the griddle, leaving a little for cooking the sandwiches.

Lightly butter the outside of 4 pieces of the bread, placing butter side down on griddle. Generously smother spread mixture on bread. Top each piece of bread with two pieces bacon, broken into smaller pieces to fit. Layer tomatoes, then 1/4 cup cheese per sandwich. Before placing top layer of bread on the sandwich, coat inner side with spread, outer side with light butter.

Toast both sides until golden brown, cooking until cheese is melted, pressing down evenly to squish the sandwich a bit. Ideally, you would have a panini maker to create this sandwich.

I'm telling you, this sandwich is that good. I've got to stop cooking or my life of eating out will forever be ruined. This is better than any sandwich I've ever paid for.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Guacamole

I made a big giant bowl of this last night to go with the carne asada we had for dinner.   I figured I might as well share it here.  I have a special love of guacamole.  When I was pregnant with Aidan, I actually made it every single day.  Love, love, love it.

This is a basic version of the recipe, subject to the additions you would want to make.  I tend not to add much heat to it since the kids love it too.  But if you like it spicy, feel free to add whatever it takes.  You can use dried cayenne pepper or fresh peppers.  Chili peppers should be seeded and finely minced, then evenly distributed.   If you like it mild, add an Anaheim chili or two.  I'd recommend a Serrano chili which is medium heat.  If you want it even hotter, add half a habanero.

Whatever you do, don't buy one of those guacamole mixes ever again.

Guacamole
- 3-4 ripe avocados, should have blackened skin and yield to slight pressure, but not feel mushy
- 1 large hothouse tomato
- 2-3 green onions
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
- 1-2 limes
- salt and pepper

Cut avocados in half, remove pit and scoop out flesh.  Roughly chop and put in a bowl.  If a smoother texture is desired, mash with a fork.  Dice tomato into small pieces. 

Some recipes call for white onions or red onions, but I personally prefer the green onions.  Slice tops and roots from onions, thinly slice, then separate layers by rolling through hands and add to bowl.  Stem and chop cilantro.  Roll limes firmly on counter before slicing.  Squeeze juice over mixture.  Stir until completely blended.

Add salt and pepper to taste, then chili peppers if desired. 

I serve it with chips, but I'd eat it with a spoon.  ;)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Post-It Education

I've done this before, and I'll do it again.  I love post-its. 

When Ashley was in Kindergarten, this is how she mastered her sight words.  Now that Ally is having a hard time finding the motivation for learning them, I'm doing it again.  My kitchen cabinets are currently covered with bright green post-its. 

I decided to speak her language.  For every row of words she masters, I will paint her nails.  If she gets them all, she gets to go to the beauty salon for a real manicure. 

Ahhh, the things we do.

As soon as she gets them...the multiplcation tables are going up.  Ashley is determined to master those before her big brother.

I've found that this system works better than anything else I have tried for things that just need to be memorized.  The constant reminder of them helps, and I can point out the words, letters or math problems several times a day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Buttermilk Blueberry Crumb Muffins

I got a craving for something today.  This is what happens when I have a craving for something. 


These muffins will change your life.  Really.  I dare you to tell me otherwise.

At the request of a reader, I will include substitutions to make the recipe lower in fat.  In the above pictured version, I used the regular recipe.   This yields about 16 regular sized muffins or 10 jumbo.

Happy Baking!

Buttermilk Blueberry Crumb Muffins
For Muffins
- 3 cups flour
- 1 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp, plus 1 tsp baking powder
- 2/3 cup buttermilk (to make lower in fat, I make my own with 1 tbsp vinegar and skim milk, just let sit a few minutes)
- 2/3 cup oil (can substitute with smooth plain unsweetened applesauce)
- 2 whole eggs (can substitute with 3 egg whites)
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 2 cups blueberries

For Crumb Topping
- 2 tbsp butter, softened (can substitute with light spread)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400.  Spray muffin tins with nonstick spray.  (You could use paper liners, but you would be sacrificing all the muffin stuck to the paper, and believe me you don't want to do that!)  Combine dry muffing ingredients, then add buttermilk, oil and lemon juice.  Add eggs one at a time.  Fold in blueberries until just mixed.  Pour into prepared pans.

For topping, combine with a fork until mixture resembles course crumbs.  Sprinkle generously over muffin batter.  Bake for 23-25 minutes, until toothpick insert in center comes out clean.

Quick and Easy Chili

I've used the same basic recipe for this forever.  It's something you can throw together in 15-20 minutes for dinner or put into a crockpot and let cook all day.  You can use it to make chili dogs, serve it over fritos for homemade gutbusters or just have a bowl of it all by itself.  I made this just last night.  One of these days I will fiddle with it and try adding more stuff to it, but I haven't yet.  Why mess with a good thing?

Chili
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1/2 medium onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- dash pepper
- 1 large can chili beans
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 small can tomato paste
- shredded cheddar cheese and/or diced onions for garnish

Brown ground beef in deep skillet, adding the onion, garlic, chili powder and pepper to the meat.  Cook until meat is done and onions transparent. 

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly.  You can warm it all together on the stovetop or put it in a crockpot on low for a few hours.  I opt not to add more heat to the chili since the kids don't like it too spicy, but you can add hot pepper sauce or dried cayenne pepper to make it hotter. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Rosemary Chicken

Hello blog.  I've neglected you.  But I've been busy....had a good excuse and all I suppose. 

Here is one of the things I cooked since I've been here.  It ain't fancy, but it's good.

Rosemary Chicken
- 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 4 springs fresh rosemary, chopped
- 3 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

Heat oil in large skillet on medium, then place chicken in pan.  Cook until browned on that side, then flip.  Brown on the other side, then add butter, garlic and rosemary and cover.  Reduce heat to low-medium and cook until chicken is no longer pink in the center.

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