Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Saturday, May 26, 2012
With the farmers market opening and Spring vegetables making an appearance on our dinner table I decided to haul the mandoline out, find a new home for it and make an effort to use it more often. To get back in the groove of using it I decided to make Paninis. Not only are Paninis an amazing food, they also remind me of the same friends who gave us the mandoline, so they were the perfect inaugural meal.
For me the thing that make paninis amazing is that so many flavors can be layered together and enjoyed in one delicious bite. So the thinner the ingredients the more you can add. The fact that they are also portable, can be eaten hot or cold and can be fixed quickly is icing on the cake. My kids like making paninis because they can custom make the sandwiches adding all of their favorite items and avoiding the items they don't like, which makes for a happier meal time for everyone.
I kept these sandwiches pretty simple. I started by slicing some eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. Drizzled the veggies with some olive oil, and sprinkled them with a little salt and pepper, then tossed them in a 350 oven. They baked for about 20 minutes and when they came out they were a magical combination of juicy and crunchy.
When it was time to assemble the sandwiches I began emptying the fridge. I put the baked squash out along with some, tomato slices, roasted peppers, roasted chicken, prosciutto, provolone cheese, goat cheese, Tapenade spread and a spicy lime vinaigrette - you really can't have too many options when it comes time Panini assembly. We made the sandwiches on a thick crusty bread and drizzled a little olive oil on the outside of the bread. We then got to work assembling. As always I was surprised at the kids choices, each chose an item that they would normally push away if it was given to them on a dinner plate.
My panini press broke last summer, but while it is a fun machine to have it isn't necessary. A brick wrapped in foil works just as well. After about 5-7 minutes per side over medium low heat all the flavors begin to meld together forming a wonderful sandwich that welcomes summer and the opportunity to reminisce of good friends.
Monday, May 21, 2012
This month the winning recipe was Tish Boyle's Meringue Cups with Lime Cream and berries. This is one of those desserts that looks very impressive, but is super easy to make. Another plus is that it can be made ahead of time and then assembled quickly at dessert time.
I also love this dessert because it is great to make with kids. I worked with Maggie and she made the meringue and cut the berries pretty much by herself, while I did the lime curd. Separating eggs is a great task for kids. It is an opportunity to play with food that is oohy and gross. Just remember to use 3 bowls when separating so if a yolk breaks it does not ruin your whites.
I like to use the hand mixer when making small batches of meringue. It is much easier to watch the whites transform from a thick gelatinous liquid to soft billowy peaks when using a hand mixer. I would also recommend that if you haven't done it in a while to take the time to whisk up egg whites the old fashioned way - by hand with a metal whisk in a copper bowl. It is a really neat experience to feel the transformation of the white.
Meringue is also great for practicing piping skills. It is easy for small hands to squeeze out and I think the cups look even better in funky shapes, it gives more surface for the cream and berries to cling to.
The curd can be a little trickier for kids, but it isn't that difficult if you are willing to stand at the stove and stir while it cooks and thickens. Let the curd cool, then just before serving lighten it with a little whipped cream.
As I said this is a great dessert for your repertoire. It is wonderful any time of year topped with whatever fresh or frozen fruit you have available. But the thing I love best about it is the joy on the chef's face when it is presented.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Like many couples Mike and I adopted a dog when we bought our first house about 12 years ago. We weren't ready for kids so we started with a dog. We got Gordy as a rescue dog and therefore didn't know too much about him. We guessed he was part boarder collie mixed with something big and thought he was about 2 years old when we got him. W knew he had a bad hip and it was thought he had been hit by a car. We also knew he didn't like other dogs, but was well trained and good with people, big people that is. As we later discovered we wasn't very good with kids. This wasn't a problem when we didn't have kids, but as the kids came along Gordy's life changed greatly.
We had had him 5 years when Will was born and we couldn't bring ourselves to get rid of him, so we have just kept him separate from the kids. This has resulted in Gordy living a slightly neglected life. To make up for it we indulge him in treats. We give him scraps and occasionally I bake special dog treats for him. But I am thinking the ultimate way for us to show him we really do still love would be to start making all of his food. As with humans it would be so much better for him to have natural products rather than processed food.
My brother has always made food for his dogs and swears it is the best way to feed them. He uses a combination of leftovers and meat bought specifically for the dogs which provides them a healthy diet and is easy to prepare. If you don't have a lot of leftovers or are looking for something more regular there are some great recipes at Homemade dog food. The Easy cooked dog food recipe contains just a few ingredients, is easy to put together and can be made in a large batch and kept frozen. The thing I find most interesting about this recipe is that it uses the entire egg, the shells and all are blended together providing additional calcium, but still easily digestible.
The site has great information on portions and serving size. You can also learn about what dogs are designed to eat, their digestive systems, immune systems and nutrients needed. It is a great site to get started in giving your dog a healthy homemade diet.
I realize this post is a little different from other recipes I have shared, but dogs - even old, grumpy, slightly neglected dogs - are an important part of many families and deserve delicious recipes!
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Despite my jealousy I enjoy putting all the goodies together. This is what we did this year and yes, most of the ideas came from that wondrous place called Pinterest.
Apple Dip - this is super easy and even though the apples weren't the best it was very tasty. I can't wait to try it in the fall with fresh crisp apples.
The dip is super easy. Combine cream cheese and Marzetti's Caramel Dip, top with chopped Heath Bars and a little more of the Marzetti dip. So simple and so yummy.
Lunch - for the girls' school each class chose a day and provided lunch for all the teachers. One class did a Mexican theme and the other a Thai. For the Mexican meal we did a make your Taco salad bar. I volunteered to bring in the salsa and salad dressing. I cheated and bought the salsa. The dressing I passed off to Mike and had him make a Cilantro Lime dressing, it was super yummy.
Even though teacher appreciation week is over we haven't done the Thai meal. The lead teacher was out on Friday so we have postponed lunch until Monday. I will be making fortune cookies over the weekend and will let you know how they turn out.
It was a fun week and the teachers were very appreciative of all the goodies. Now we get a few weeks off until we begin preparing for the end of year celebrations!
Monday, May 7, 2012
When we first started spending holidays with each others extended families I was saddened to learn that only rolls would be served with Thanksgiving dinner, no biscuits and gravy. How could this be called a proper meal! Mike was fascinated by the way my Mom and Aunt would throw together a perfect batch of biscuits in just minutes without even measuring. He took on the mission of learning how to make light and fluffy biscuits. There were a few disasters along the way, but now when we are having Thanksgiving with his family he always makes sure I have my biscuits.
As we grew our own family we willingly excepted both rolls and biscuits, although if forced to choose I would take a biscuit. Sweet or savory they are just heavenly and that is why I knew I had to try Crystal's Cheddar Garlic Buttermilk Biscuits for this month's Secret Recipe Club.
Crystal has a wonderful blog - Mrs. Happy Homemaker - filled with delicious recipes, household tips and homeschooling ideas, she is definitely one busy woman.
Crystal's biscuits are a family recipe. Her mom recommends using White Lily Flour and even though I am not a southerner and sometimes have a hard time finding this brand, I agree this is the best brand for light and flaky biscuits. The Cheddar Garlic biscuits are just an enhanced version of the plain buttermilk biscuit, so if you aren't a fan of cheddar or garlic just omit those ingredients and still have an amazing biscuit, the perfect side for any meal.
Cheddar Garlic Buttermilk Biscuits
Recipe from Mrs. Happy Homemaker (Printer Ready)
Cheddar Garlic Buttermilk Biscuits
from Mrs. Happy Homemaker
2 cups self rising flour
1/4 cup vegetable shortening (like Crisco)
3/4 cup whole buttermilk
1.5 cups cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder + 1 tsp garlic powder
1 stick unsalted butter
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.
Using your fingers, work the shortening in with the flour in a large bowl until the flour appears crumbly, about the size of little peas. Stir in the buttermilk & shredded cheddar with a wooden spoon.
Lightly dust your countertop with a little flour.
Pat the dough down into a neat rectangle, no reason to do any kneading really. Using a pizza cutter, slice the biscuits into 8-10 squares. Place the biscuits into a greased cast iron pan or if you don't have one, a round cake pan or any casserole dish will do, with the sides of the biscuits just touching.
Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and stir in the tablespoon of garlic powder and garlic salt. Pour on top of the biscuits.Bake for 15 minutes, or until nicely browned.
Melt the rest of the butter. Add the teaspoon of garlic powder and stir. Brush the mixture on top of the biscuits once they come out of the oven.
My kids' preschool has a tradition of the kids in the oldest class, those who will be going on to Kindergarten in the Fall, going out to lunch on one of the last days of school. The cool thing about this tradition is parents aren't invited. It is just for the kids, a time for them to celebrate with each other. The two teachers and one parent helper are at the restaurant with the kids, but they do not sit at the same table and in fact they try to sit a few tables away, slightly out of view of the kids. The kids order their own meals and help each remember the rules of the restaurant. A lot of preparation goes into this outing. In the weeks leading up to this very special outing they review the menu, practice ordering, and talk about manners. By the time they get to the restaurant they are a bunch of very well behaved five year olds with wonderful manners who are very proud to be out on their own celebrating a year full of amazing accomplishments.
Now that they are in the final month of school Maggie's class has started talking about this outing. As soon as she started telling us about it Will interrupted and started reminiscing about his own lunch out when he was in the class 2 years ago. Each year the class goes to a different restaurant and the year Will went they went to Chili's. Ever since then it has been his special restaurant and he always suggests it when we have a occasion to celebrate.
Maggie's class hasn't decided where they are going, but I have promised the kids that regardless of which restaurant they go to, our family will go to Chili's to celebrate Maggie's preschool graduation. The kids have their favorite dishes and are already planning what they will have. Will will order the corndog with a side of cinnamon apples - the same dish he ordered when he went with his class - Maggie is my mac-n-cheese girl and Edy will be the unknown. Mike and I haven't picked out our meal yet, but one thing we always have is a margarita and on our next visit we will give the new CoronaRita at Chili's a try.
This wonderful concoction marries a cool Corona with an icy Margarita - yum! - and is the perfect match with any of Chili's hot and spicy fajitas.
While it is hard to believe my #2 is finishing preschool we are looking forward to celebrating this big event at a place that has special memories for my kids. Whether it is for a graduation or birthday I hope you find a special occasion to go out and celebrate!
What do you think of the new CoronaRita and what would you pair it with?
*you must be 21 years or older to drink alcoholic beverages and as always, please remember to drink responsbily
Sunday, May 6, 2012
It has become a tradition for each of the classes to make a cake to donate and this year I worked with the youngest class. The theme of the fair was "beach party" and after a lot of thought I decided to go with a simple beach ball cake. I wasn't sure if the final result would have any resemblance to a beach ball, but it turned out surprisingly well.
Baking with kids is always an adventure, working with 12 kids who are 3 years old it is an even greater adventure. I have been doing cakes with the preschool classes for a few years now and have figured a few things out along the way:
- Less is definitely more: for the first couple of years I tried to give the kids lots of choices and include them in many of the steps. This became too overwhelming for everyone. I still want them to be a part of the process, so now I give them 3 colors to choose from and we mix one batch of icing together. The same with piping tips, I show them 3 different tips and the styles each tip makes. They then vote on one tip to use.
- Have Samples: the kids are going to stick their fingers in the frosting. It is much easier to be prepared for this than try and stop it. By having a bowl of frosting they can stick their little fingers in there is a slightly less chance they will go for the cake - when you see them going for the cake, offer the bowl.
- Keep the demo short and give lots of hands on time: I like to build the cake in front of the kids and have them guess what we are making. Once the cake is built I take one or two kids at a time to help decorate while the other kids are playing or working on something else.
- Have fondant: Not all of the kids want to try to piping and with the really little ones some aren't strong enough to squeeze the bag, so it is nice to have something they can easily do on their own.
- Have fun: sometimes the best cakes are the ones where the kids take over. Let them squeeze frosting and spread it around, the cake might not be pretty to us, but to the kids it will be the best cake ever.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
This month was a wonderfully delicious Cinnamon Swirl Buttermilk pound cake, from The Cake Book by Trish Boyle. The cake has a subtle orange flavor that mixes wonderfully with the cinnamon streusel that is layered in the cake. My only problem with this cake is that it was a bundt cake and bundt cakes and I don't get along. This time I don't know if it was my inability to properly prepare the pan or the cake, as it split right at between the bottom layer and the streusel layer. I am pretty sure it is me, but it is nice to think maybe the recipe had something to do with it.
Despite the way it looked the cake was still devoured little slice by little slice. I enjoyed it with some strawberry sauce and Mike liked it with mango strawberry fruit salad. They weren't necessary additions as the cake was super moist and tender, but it was still nice to have a little extra fruit juice flavor. The Streusel filling was a wonderful addition. It melted in slightly giving a wonderful extra touch of sweetness. If I make this cake again though, I will add the Streusel in the top 1/4 of the cake rather than in the middle, partly for looks, and also in hopes that the two sections of the cake would adhere together a little better.
Cinnamon Swirl Buttermilk Pound Cake
from The Cake Book Printer Ready
Cinnamon Streusel Swirl:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Buttermilk Pound Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 cup buttermilk
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan. Dust the pan with flour and shake out the excess.
Cinnamon Swirl: In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, breaking up any large lumps of brown sugar. Add the melted butter and stir until blended and crumbly.
Pound Cake: Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg into a medium bowl. Whisk to combine, and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at a medium speed until very creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and beat at medium-high speed until well blended and light, about 4 minutes. At medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the vanilla extract and orange zest. At low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk in two additions and mixing just until well combined.
Scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer. Sprinkle the streusel mixture evenly over the batter. Scrape the remaining batter on top and smooth it into an even layer.
Bake the cake for 65 to 75 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
Invert the cake onto the rack and let cool completely.