Tuesday, January 31, 2012

DIY Mario Party

 For my son's 6th birthday party, we threw a Mario Party.
We made invitations, cut from a template I made from toadstool napkins.
I frosted a cake that looked like a controller (I am boycotting fondant, since it tastes disgusting). I went with a bit of an Italian food theme, since Mario and Luigi are Italians. We served mini toad pizzas, (I tried to make them look like toad but it didn't work.) Yoshi munch (Italian salad with mozzarella, salami, tomatoes, olives, and pepperoncinis). We also had ? block PB& J Sandwiches and Power Star cheese crackers. The cheese crackers are really good and very easy. I would definitely make them again.

This is the perfect punch to serve at a kids party because it is virtually sugar free! 

Princess Peach Punch
2 2-liters Fresca
1 2-liters club soda
2 8 oz package frozen peaches
1 8 oz package frozen raspberries
apple juice (optional)

Puree peaches and raspberries in a blender, adding apple juice or water to thin enough for a puree. Combine chilled ingredients in a punch bowl.

We blew up white balloons and I had my husband draw 'Boo' faces on them with permanent marker. We hung them with fishing line tied around their bodies. My mom made a SUPER cute Mario scene on the table, and that was totally her idea at the last minute.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Chocolate Chip-Cranberry Pancakes with Flaxseed

I have been reading through Nigel Slater's book Tender, A cook and his vegetable patch.
Let me come back to that.

My husband and I, for a cheap date, like to go to bookseller stores and flip through books and magazines. Before you get your feather's ruffled, know that this is how I compile lists of books I like, and thereby wish to purchase, and recommend books to others. While I sit, drooling over cookbooks and critiquing the picture-less, he listens with half an ear and and looks at awkward family photos.
On one of these occasions, I had just finished going through another vegetable cookbook, disappointingly filled with disgusting-sounding cold soups, vegan sides and entrees (filled with processed meat and cheese substitutes), bland salads and fiber-laden desserts, when I told my husband, in a very frustrated manner, that there were no normal vegetable cookbooks. I should know. I have looked through a lot of them. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT.  The aforementioned list is what I frequently find. I told my husband that there are no vegetable cookbooks for people who are not vegetarians. I love vegetables. I try to prepare proper amounts of them for my family, and I would like a little variety, once in a while.
After having said this, my husband responded, "Write one." We soon left. The next time we were at the booksellers, I found it. Nigel's book. I flipped it open and literally, tears came to my eyes. Number one, he is a gardener. I love gardening. I love growing vegetables, and making things from them. A lot of gardening books do not tell you when to pick your product. You just sort of have to guess, or look it up on the Internet. Not Nigel's book. He tells you how to plant, when to plant, what bugs like your garden, when to pick, how to pick,  and most importantly, what to do with what you picked. I am reading through this vegetable cookbook like the tome of knowledge it is.
I absolutely adore British authors (Nigella Lawson is another favorite), and I always feel like my vocabulary has been widened after reading their books. One such recipe that is currently stuck in my mind is dredged and fried cauliflower with salsa verde. I don't even like cauliflower and that sounds pretty amazing. I just can't wait to try it. I have stocked my fridge with brussels sprouts and broccoli, in anticipation of the wondrous things I am going to try. His carrot cake with mascarpone frosting sounds delicious, and the roasted pork with plum sauce.
He gives you stacks of ways to make different veggies, just little ideas, and then complete recipes. Another thing: the entire book is categorized, alphabetically, by vegetable. Just wanted to let you know.

In other news, I made these pancakes and they are good. It seems like I can't make pancakes enough around here. Also, don't go overboard on the flaxseed. If your body is not used to it, you will be in pain.

Chocolate Chip-Cranberry Pancakes with Flaxseed

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cooking at Home
 2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons salt
2 cups buttermilk
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 Tablespoons ground flaxseed
1/2 cup semi-sweet morsels
1/2 cup dried cranberries

In a bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the chocolate chips and cranberries, and blend until smooth. Fold in chocolate semi sweet morsels and cranberries.

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium-high heat until a few drops of water sprinkled on the surface evaporate quickly.
Pour 1/3 cup of batter onto greased skillet or griddle and heat for about 3 minutes per side, or until small bubbles form on the surface of the pancake and the edges begin to dry out. Flip over, and cook for another minute or two.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Drop Biscuits

Breakfast is special to me. I honestly don't care that much about lunch, since I am a grazer, but breakfast is, you know, 'the most important meal of the day'. If we have a chance to eat together as a family I really, really enjoy it. I don't particularly enjoy being the short-order cook, preparing breakfast for my husband before he leaves for work, then preparing it for each of my children as they wake up....it kind of sucks the fun right out of it.

I do love those late morning breakfasts, when everybody lazily rolls out of bed, somebody makes some French press coffee, and I start some potatoes and eggs, just lolling about the kitchen, maybe putting together a fruit salad and some crepes. Honestly, we don't have days like that very often. Lately, they only happen if there is a national holiday. We are so busy we scarf down breakfast and hurry on our way. Too bad.
But, for either of those days, these biscuits are  a miracle. They are drop biscuits, so you simply stir together a bunch of ingredients and plop them onto a baking sheet and make a batch of hot sausage gravy while they are in the oven. Throw some potatoes or eggs on the plate and you have the breakfast of champions.

Drop Biscuits
from the Bride and Groom Cookbook
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chilled heavy cream, plus more as needed

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and kosher salt in a large bowl. Add the 1 cup cream and stir just until dough forms. The dough should be slightly sticky. If it seems dry, add a little more cream. Drop 1/4 cup of the batter onto a baking sheet for each biscuit, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake until the biscuits are pale golden on the top and golden brown on the bottom, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cook for 5 minutes before serving.

Variations are listed, such as adding 3/4 cup cheddar cheese, 1/2 teaspoon dill, and an additional 2 Tablespoons flour. I have never been so inclined.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Beef with Tomato Gravy

On these cool wintery days I find myself craving comfort food. Gravy, mashed potatoes, buttery peas, and homemade desserts. The sort of food that you just can't find when you eat out.
Here is a recipe born out of desire. Just kidding. Well...maybe not. I was in the mood for something a bit like beef stew, but I didn't have the time or ingredients to make beef burgundy. So I took some elements that are usually present, trimmed it down and created another dish. My sister said she likes this better. I am not so sure, but it is up there. This has more tomato flavor, and a thick, rich gravy envelopes the small bits of meat. Some creamy, buttery mashed potatoes make the perfect vehicle for this gravy. And like I said, throw some buttery peas up in there and you have a deliciously comforting dinner in about 35 minutes. Not bad.

Beef with Tomato Gravy

2 Tablespoon bacon grease, plus 4 Tablespoons
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 lb beef stew meat, chopped into small pieces
1/4 cup flour, plus 1/4 cup
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder
1 12 oz can tomato sauce
4 teaspoons beef bouillon
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 cup brown sugar
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
1 sprig thyme (about 4 inches)
Chopped parsley for garnish

Heat 2 Tablespoons bacon grease in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat with onion. Cook until onion is soft. Combine 1/4 cup flour with salt and pepper. Dredge beef pieces. Drop into hot fat and cook for 4-6 minutes, until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon. Meanwhile, mix tomato sauce, beef bouillon, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar with enough water to equal four cups. Heat in the microwave or in a saucepan.
Add 4 Tablespoons bacon grease or butter to pan drippings and melt. Add 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder, and whisk, cooking until dark brown.
Add heated tomato sauce mixture, whisking until smooth. Add beef, carrots, and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and continue cooking for about 20 minutes more.
Serve over mashed potatoes or rice.
Garnish with fresh parsley.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Buttery Cinnamon Rolls

Each new year brings something special. I often find myself looking forward to the coming spring, even though fall and winter are my favorite times of the year, but I begin to yearn for the warmer days, the first seedlings to sprout from my garden, and the canning, pickling, and barbequing that will be upon us before we know it. The new year symbolizes a new start. A time to reevaluate our lives and re prioritize. Not just a time to make resolutions that we will soon forget, but a time to take baby steps in our lives toward larger goals we dream of accomplishing.
I am sure we all have big goals for the year, in conjunction with small steps toward life-changing goals. I want to learn to sew this year, and I want to learn sign language. Two bigger goals, to go with my smaller goal of drinking 8 glasses of water each day. I may not master sign language, but each step in self-improvement helps us to be a better person.
Something I really, really want to do, is have one breakfast a week that we are all together as a family. With our busy schedules, breakfast is the one meal that is pretty difficult to get everybody together for. Unless I want to wake up the little guys extra early. No thanks. So here is a delicious way to wake up, and, the best part is, you can do all the work the night before, and leave the rolls in the fridge for their second rising. Homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast? I think yes.
If you make these the night  before, be sure to set them on the counter while the oven is preheating. You also might have to cook them a little longer.

Rich Breakfast Dough
1/2 cup warm whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 large egg, plus 1 egg yolk at room temperature
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick very soft butter

31/2 stick butter, very soft
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

6 oz soft cream cheese
3/4 stick softened butter
2 cups powdered sugar

Make the dough: Combine the warm milk and sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast over ht op. Whisk by hand to blend well. Let the mixture sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until the yeast is activated and foamy or bubbling. And the egg and yolk and whisk by hand until well blended. Stir in the flour and salt with a silicone or rubber spatula. Attach the dough hook  and knead on low speed for 2 minutes. The dough may look ragged at this point. Increase the speed and knead for 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the soft butter, 1 Tablespoon at a time. Knead for an additional 5 to 6 minutes, until the dough looks soft and silky.

Rise the dough: Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray and place the dough inside. Cover with a damp linen towel and allow to rise until double in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Punch the dough down and dust your work surface with flour. Turn the risen dough out of the tub and onto the flour. Press down firmly with your hands to expel as much of the has as possible, but don't knead the dough. Dust the top of the dough with flour. Roll the dough into a 10- by 16- inch rectangle.
Combine the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl and spread over the dough.
Roll the dough into a cylinder, lengthwise. Turn the seam side down and use a sharp knife to cut the roll into 10 equal  pieces.
Spray muffin pan with nonstick spray and place cut rolls into pan.
Second Rise: Cover the pan with your linen towel and allow to rise until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 350 and position and oven rack in the center. Bake for 30 -35 minutes, until the rolls are deep golden brown.
Set on a baking sheet and allow to cool until you can handle them.
Make frosting: Combine butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar in a small bowl and spread on warm rolls.

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