Sunday, April 29, 2012

Nacho Cupcakes

I made some fun Nacho Cupcakes for our college people this afternoon.

They were really simple and fun! I baked chocolate cupcakes and frosted them with orange-tinted cream cheese frosting. The "nachos" are tortillas spread with butter, cinnamon and sugar, cut into triangles, then baked. After they cooled, I stuck 2 or 3 in each cupcake and drizzled them with more frosting. Some I left like that and some I topped with a squirt of strawberry jelly "salsa" and a "jalapeño" made from sour jelly Lifesavers. I made two jalapeños from each Lifesaver by cutting out the middle with an icing tip.

I found the idea on Pinterest, through this link.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Little Things ...

I have often expressed to Handsome that I don't understand why my cooking is special - "I just follow the recipe!" The response I get is, "When have you ever followed a recipe exactly?" And it's so true! I nearly always change some ingredient or method to make the recipe my own. Often, it's things that are easily overlooked or that people think don't matter or won't make a difference. In my experience, though, it really DOES matter! I always try to make every ingredient count. If it doesn't add flavor or nutrition or both - it doesn't make the cut! Sometimes I'll be out of a "special" ingredient so I leave it out or use a substitute - and invariably Handsome says it doesn't taste as good. A perfect example is the apple pie I made for him recently. I didn't have any apple juice, which I usually use in my crust, so I subbed in water. Though he didn't know I'd changed anything he remarked that it wasn't up to my usual standard. I was shocked (and a little pleased!) that he noticed.

All that to say ... The little things matter. We've all heard the somewhat trite expression that the most important ingredient is love, but it's actually true! When you love your family and friends enough to go that extra mile to make the food they eat special, it means a lot. Sure, it's easy (and sometimes necessary!) to open a box of Hamburger Helper or whatever, but when you make it from scratch with healthful ingredients, adapting it to suit their preferences, your love and care over them really shows.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Lunch

For lunch today, Little One and I shared Quinoa Cakes. They were fabulous as usual! I made the cakes with chopped broccoli and shredded carrots. I served hers plain, but I made a Greek dipping sauce for mine. I simply combined sour cream, a touch of mayo, salt, pepper, crumbled feta, lemon juice, chopped rosemary and chopped oregano in a small bowl.

Little One made short work of hers!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Teddy Bear Picnic

The other night, my Oldest Girl helped make dinner from a menu she chose. The theme was teddy bears! The idea came from one of my Taste of Home cookbooks and was originally for a baby shower. We made our own pretzel rolls and arranged them in a teddy bear shape, then made teddy bear cookies from a simple sugar cookie recipe.

Our Pretzel Roll teddy.

I ate the teddy's appendages with ham, provolone, romaine, mayonnaise and mustard.

Our teddy bear cookies, before baking. We rolled the dough balls in cinnamon sugar before assembling.

Mini M&Ms and Peanut M&Ms formed their features.

Yep, they're delicious!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Stuff I've Made Lately

I go through different stages in my cooking where I either make all new things or get in a rut with old standbys. Mostly I try to do a mix of the two, but sometimes it just works out the other way. A few new recipes I've tried lately are going to be new favorites, I know!

Number one on that list is Homemade Cereal Bar Cookies! The lady who posted these originally bakes them in muffin cups, but I use a metal 9 x 13 baking pan. I line the pan with aluminum foil and spray it with cooking spray. The bars are layered in, pressing down the bottom and top crusts. When they've baked for 30-35 minutes, I let them cool completely, then turn them out onto a cutting board and cut them into bars. The whole family (Except one - remember the kids' unacknowledged rule, "One Must Dissent".) loved them! They don't last long, but I don't mind because they're so good for them! I used homemade pear freezer jam in the first batch, along with flax seed and cinnamon in the crust. (Those two things are supposed to be good for people who are watching their cholesterol.)

Homemade Twix Bars were a big hit with the college people, and Handsome, too!

I know, it's too late now, but file away these Easter Story Cookies for next year! They were a great way to illustrate the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

You can always trust the Pioneer Woman to knock it out of the park and her Oatmeal Whoopie Pies are no exception. I went with the second filling option, That's The Best Frosting I've Ever Had, and I must say ... that's the best frosting I've ever had!

I realize all those are recipes for sweets, and I promise we eat entrees, too! I just haven't tried any new ones lately that are post-worthy - other than the soup I posted a few days ago. I've been on a big salad kick for lunches, and I made my Spinach Feta Hummus this week, plus macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, fried chicken, bacon cheeseburgers, chicken casserole ... so nothing I haven't shared already. I do have a few recipe ideas up my sleeve for next week, and I'm excited to try them out! I'll be sure to share them if they turn out well.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Grocery Shopping

I love grocery shopping almost as much as I love cooking - and my love is not even dampened by the fact that I always take my three little loves along! My ideal experience hinges on a few things, not the least of which is making sure that Little One's naptime is not hindered by the trip. My preference is to start on Thursday with cleaning out old food from the fridge and assessing what staples we're running low on from the fridge and pantry. I keep a notepad on the fridge to jot down items throughout the week, too, so I double-check that. If it's a staple I don't use often or definitely won't use in the upcoming week I consider it a "maybe" until I hear from Handsome what my budget is. I also spend time on Thursday going through my coupons and recipe and making my list. Also, I've posted before about what my fridge looks like by a typical Thursday, so I don't usually have much to work with. Once Friday comes and the shopping is done, the little people bring in the groceries while I put them all away.

When time permits (we're talking ideal here, remember?) I like to go ahead and put everything away, including pouring flour, sugar, etc. into their bulk containers. If I'm home early enough and my schedule is clear, I'll even get chicken started in the slow cooker and prepare items like grapes and celery sticks for easy snacking.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Creamy Tortellini Soup

Man, this soup was good! I was taking a chance since I knew Handsome isn't crazy about spinach or alfredo type sauces, but it paid off in this case. The flavors blended incredibly well and I found myself craving more even after I was full. Despite the chopping prep that's needed, the soup came together really easily and quickly. I keep diced ham in the freezer, and I added it straight from the bag, still frozen. This could also be easily adapted to a meatless meal by omitting the ham, using veggie broth, and maybe adding a can of navy or cannellini  (white kidney) beans.

Creamy Tortellini Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 shallot, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped
1 cup diced ham
1 teaspoon each chopped fresh thyme and rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoon flour
4 cups chicken broth
1 - 9 ounce package fresh cheese tortellini
3 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
Parmesan cheese, shredded

In a large saucepan, saute the shallot, garlic and ham in the olive oil and butter until the ham begins to crisp and the shallots are translucent. Stir in the herbs and pepper; cook for one minute. Whisk in the flour; cook and continue whisking for 3-4 minutes. Gradually add in the chicken broth, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and add the tortellini. Cook for 5 minutes, then stir in the spinach and cream. Heat through and serve with Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter Eggs

Just for fun this year, I decided to use natural elements to dye our Easter eggs. I read about it last year and filed the idea away in my brain for later recovery. Thankfully, I remembered! A quick internet search was all it took to get lots of ideas on what to do. Basically, you take the ingredient you want to use and combine it with eggs, water and a bit of vinegar and bring it to a boil. Boil it for 10-15 minutes, remove from the heat and then let the eggs soak in the solution. Some things required longer soaking than others, and it depends on how deep you want the color, too. I was surprised by some of the colors and others did just what I expected. I used coffee, sweet onion/shallot skins, spinach, mixed berries, red cabbage, red cabbage with baking soda, carrots, and turmeric.

Here they are labeled with their dye ingredients.
I was very hopeful that the egg I dyed with cabbage and baking soda would take on the color of the dye, but it didn't. From a deep purple with just the cabbage, it transformed into a brilliant teal with the addition of baking soda. I was shocked at how rich the color was on the onion skin eggs, though! And disappointed the spinach and carrot eggs didn't take on much color at all, even after an overnight soak.

At any rate it was fun experimenting!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Picnic Supper

For our college people last night I made a pretty traditional picnic meal, and it was easy as pie!

Hotdogs - I like turkey hotdogs, and I ate mine wrapped in a slice of cheese and dipped in a mix of ketchup and mustard - no bun. I don't have a grill, so I boil the hotdogs in a small amount of water in a large skillet. When they're nice and plump I drain off the water and add a touch of canola oil to the skillet. I sauté them until they're crispy.

The slow-cooked macaroni and cheese recipe is my standard for a crowd.

I used Alton Brown's method of "hard-boiled" eggs for these - baked in the oven! The only change I'd make is to cook them for less time. The recipe says 30 minutes, I took mine out at 28, and I could have probably done 25 instead. For the filling, I mix the yolks with a touch of Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Bonus tip for peeling eggs - the large end of the egg usually contains water, so crack that first, allowing the water to drain down into the egg, loosening the shell. After creating a small opening there, I use a small spoon to slide the shell right off! I can typically do it in two pieces. It's a fun challenge for someone who is easily amused.

Dessert was my mom's "Secret Recipe" Chocolate Chip Cookies. The quotes are because the recipe is available in my cookbook, and isn't a secret anymore! But for years people asked my mom for the secret to why her cookies were so tender and delicious - now you can know!