Monday, January 30, 2012
Soups are an easy and delicious way to warm up on a winter’s day, to add some more vegetables to your diet, and to pull a meal together quickly. This soup is particularly simple. I felt like a contestant on one of those cooking shows who may have been challenged to make something using canned goods as the main ingredient. Ha! Even though you start with cans, you end up with a flavorful soup that you’ll be happy to share with your family.
A large handful of basil is the trick to erase any thought of canned soup from your palate. The basil I found at the grocery store this week looked rather tired out. It had clearly traveled a long way to get there and was showing its age. Nonetheless, it was fragrant and still was strong enough to shine in this soup.
2 cans of diced tomatoes (mine were 14.5 oz each)
1 can tomato sauce (15 oz)
1 can of chicken stock
1 large handful of basil, about 15 leaves
1. Cut the basil and save a small bit aside for a garnish to use later.
2. Pour everything into the Dutch oven: tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken stock and the basil (except for the garnish)
3. I pureed the soup at this point. You could do it after you cook the ingredients as well. A blender would have worked well; you could blend all the ingredients then empty them into the pot. I used a hand blender and it worked nicely too.
4. Bring the soup to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile make some croutons:
1. Take out whatever bread you might have leftover. Slightly stale is fine but if you only have fresh bread it will dry out in the oven as you bake
2. Cut off the crust and dice the bread into cubes.
3. Throw into a mixing bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning. Stir until all the cubes are covered.
4. Bake at 400 degrees on a sheet pan for 15 minutes, turning and tossing the cubes every 5 to make sure they are not getting too crisp.
5. Remove from the oven just long enough to grate some cheese over top of the croutons. Continue to bake for another 5-7 minutes until the cheese is bubbly.
Now you are ready to assemble the dish. Ladle the soup into a bowl, top with cheesy croutons and the garnish of basil. Enjoy!
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Lemon curd is a bright and delicious way to perk up many desserts. It would be delicious as a filling between layers of cake, equally good on some fresh scones, or pretty and delicate in a tart shell and topped with freshly whipped cream. The possibilities are endless and this recipe, shared with me by my mother-in-law, comes together in less than 20 minutes while the microwave does most all of the work.
3 oz butter (¾ of stick)
1 cup sugar
3 large lemons or 5-6 smaller lemons
3 beaten eggs at room temperature
2 half pint glass jars or other storage container
1. Prepare the lemons. First, zest the lemons then squeeze the juice. You should have about 1/3 cup of fresh lemon juice and a few teaspoons of lemon rind.
2. Melt the butter in a glass bowl on high for 30 seconds. Stir until butter is smooth and completely melted.
3. Add the sugar, lemon rind, lemon juice, and eggs. Stir together gently.
|I must have learned this trick from the Food Network. Squeeze your citrus over the microplane and it will catch any seeds while letting all the juice run through. What a great idea!|
4. Cook in the microwave on high for 2-3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until the sugar has dissolved. You’ll know the sugar has dissolved when you can’t hear its grainy texture as you mix. I found a whisk worked well, a spoon or spatula would do the job as well.
5. Continue to cook for another 2 minutes oh high, stirring at least twice as the mixture thickens.
6. Fill your jars and let the lemon curd cool. Refrigerate for no more than a week to ten days.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Have you discovered Bakerella? www.bakerella.com
She has a website, books, and ideas just overflowing on how to make adorable cake pops and other tasty treats. These are deceptively simple; a combination of cake and icing come together then are added to a mini cone and dipped in chocolate. Here is Bakerella’s version: http://www.bakerella.com/i-scream-you-scream-we-all-scream-for%e2%80%a6/
I made these today for my three-year-old to take into playschool as a birthday treat. The hardest part of making these might be coming across the mini cones. I live near Denver and the only store I’ve found locally that sells this mini cone is Walmart. I made these at least a year ago and just afterwards Walmart stopped stocking these. Oh no! It has been months and months but they are back on the shelves now and ready to eat.
Mini ice cream cones
Chocolate, melted for dipping
Sprinkles or any other optional decoration
I made the cake from a boxed mix and used store-bought icing. If you are more ambitious go ahead and start from scratch but don’t put that added pressure on yourself this time.
1. Take your perfectly fine cake and crumble it into very small pieces using a fork. Better yet, if your cake did not come out of the pan evenly this would be a great reason to make cake pops in the first place. Crumbs are the goal here, it doesn’t matter how you get there!
2. Use a few dollops of icing and mix it through the crumbs. It’s difficult to give an exact ratio of crumbs to icing. You want the mix to come together like a dough. When you try to pinch the dough between your fingers, the mixture should start to stick together. Can you roll and shape it like play doh? If so, you have enough icing and are ready to move on.
3. Make balls of the mixture. Think smaller than a ping pong ball and larger than a marble-- maybe the size of those super-bouncy balls that kids love to bounce off the walls when you least want them to do so? (Or is that just at my house?) Place the balls on a plate or tray covered with parchment and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze the balls for 30 minutes. I happened to put mine in the freezer then left the house to run some errands. Two hours later I took the cake balls out and gave them five minutes at room temperature before I continued to the next step.
5. Melt your chocolate until it is a good consistency for dipping. Use a glass bowl and melt in 30 second increments on half power, stirring in between each 30 second blast, until the chocolate is smooth and uniform.
6. Experiment to see what works best for you when it comes time to dip the cones. I found tilting the bowl to the side and spinning the cone around was a good method for me. Try to cover the gap between the cake pop and the cone to achieve a realistic effect for your final cone.
7. Before the chocolate hardens shake some sprinkles or other decorative bits on the top.
I linked to
and to http://www.skiptomylou.org/2012/01/30/made-by-you-monday-87/
Thursday, January 26, 2012
My boys enjoyed our Christmas advent calendar so much this year. They were excited each morning to race down the stairs to the calendar; and their daily ritual helped them anticipate when the big day would arrive. I figured we could keep that excitement going in the new year as we gear up to celebrate birthdays in January and February so I created this Birthday Countdown Calendar. The boys loved it and I hope it becomes a family tradition in years to come.
Working on this project was a lot of fun. Not only did the boys follow my progress, but they were really interested in how the sewing machine worked, how the numbers should be placed in order, and…most importantly to them…how soon their birthdays would be here! Both of their birthdays are towards the ends of the months of January and February so, for us, it worked to list the numbers like a calendar starting at 1 and working our way up to 24. If your child’s birthday is in the beginning of the month, you might want to make a countdown calendar for ten days or maybe have thirty spots but start in the prior month to work up to the special day. I am sure there are plenty of variations, this is just what worked at our house.
Felt: a background color of your choice, brown for the cupcake base and I used white for the cupcake icing)
Poly-fil (although not necessary)
Felt number stickers
Felt stars (or other shape) stickers
1. Decide what size your cupcake will be first and cut the background color. Then cut out two identical pieces of the base and one of the topping so that it fits on your felt (the background color). The second piece on the base will become your pockets for your daily “treasures”.
2. Cut your second piece of base material into three or four strips to form the size of the pockets, leaving a small space between each row of pockets. In hindsight, it would have been easier if I had followed a typical calendar pattern in which all the numbers lined up in rows and columns. I spaced mine out and it made for a trickier path of sewing them onto the base.
3. Pin the base onto the background. I sewed the horizontal lines of the pocket pieces first, then spaced out my numbers to make sure my 24 days would fit. Next, sew the vertical lines in between your numbers so that you make an individual pocket for each one. Be sure to make the pockets big enough for your stickers.
4. Now sew the top of the cupcake on to the background felt, leaving a few inches of a gap so that you can stuff your cupcake if you wish to do so. Next time I think I’ll leave mine flat but the boys seemed happy to help me add the filling so that made it more fun! Sew the gap once you have finished with the filing.
5. You could cut out any design of felt pieces to decorate your cupcake; I chose an easy route and bought felt sticker shapes. They stuck to the cupcake but also can be removed easily and used again. I did cut out the shape of a candle to be added on the last day-- the actual birthday. It made the cupcake complete.
6. I hung the calendar using 3M's Command Brand strips for picture hanging. The velcro-like strips fastened to the felt nicely and made it easy to hang the calendar. You could also make a sleeve at the top by folding over an inch of material and sewing a line straight across. Insert a dowel and hang using a ribbon and a nail or hook on the wall.
I think it would be nice to make a name banner to put across the top of the Countdown Calendar. That way, each child would have his own countdown just for his special birthday month. This first time, though, they were so happy with the novelty of it that they didn’t seem to mind that it wasn’t personalized. Maybe next year!
I linked to http://www.houseofhepworths.com/2012/01/25/hookin-up-with-hoh-84/
and to http://www.toysinthedryer.com/2012/01/fun-stuff-fridays-8.html
and to http://tatertotsandjello.com/2012/01/weekend-wrap-up-party-and-the-confident-mom-giveaway.html
and to http://www.skiptomylou.org/2012/01/30/made-by-you-monday-87/
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
My lunches are often bits and pieces of what my son is eating: peanut butter crackers mainly. Occasionally I’ll make a grilled cheese sandwich. Who says a weekday lunch has to be so plain and routine? Here is a sandwich that elevates the typical grilled cheese to a new level. It is easy to make and even easier to eat! You do not need a Panini press to make this toasty sandwich. You could put the sandwich in a skillet then press down on it with another heavy pan or I’ve also seen a brick wrapped in foil do the trick. I use something even easier: the George Foreman Grill. It heats up quickly, leaves little mess to be cleaned, and makes a delicious sandwich.
Here is the combination of flavors I used today: Blue cheese and apples with some sliced turkey
Try this out with what is in your refrigerator and you’ll have a great sandwich in no time at all.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
You cannot go wrong with this combination: chocolate plus strawberries. Delicious! Almost better than the fact that this is a delicious dessert, is that it is simple and takes hardly any time to make. I am sure this would be best with strawberries picked freshly from your summer garden…but guess what? It’s the middle of January and grocery store strawberries grown somewhere far away really do make an ok substitution.
1. Wash and dry the strawberries. Extra moisture will upset the chocolate so be sure that the berries are completely dry before moving on.
2. Melt some chocolate chips (any kind will do, I used semi-sweet this time) using any method you like. Microwaving on half power for short periods of time is a good idea; today I tried the double boiler method in which you have water simmering in a saucepan over which you place a bowl with the chocolate. Do not let the water level come in contact with the bottom of your bowl.
3. Once the chocolate is a good consistency for dipping, dunk each strawberry in the melted chocolate. I tried two methods: I used my hands to hold the strawberry and I used a plastic stick. I found the stick worked ok on smaller berries but for larger sizes, the berry simply fell off the stick into the chocolate. Soon I stuck with the first idea of holding the strawberries with my hands.
4. Once you dip the berries you can place them directly on parchment. I read somewhere this tip: to avoid the “foot” of chocolate forming on the strawberry, turn the berry about a quarter of the way around as you lay it on the parchment. The “foot” is that clumpy part of the chocolate that forms where you rest the strawberry on the surface. I gave it a try and think with more practice that I could get the hang of it. In the mean time I will just enjoy eating the extra bit of chocolate and won’t worry too much about the imperfection of my dipping skills!
5. Let the chocolate harden and in no time at all you will have a beautiful chocolate covered strawberry.