Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Royal Icing

I can't remember where I got this recipe.
2 cups powdered sugar
4 tsp meringue powder
3 Tbsp cold water
2-3 drops almond or vanilla extract (optional) [we haven't used any extract, and like the flavor]
Sift the powdered sugar into mixer bowl.  Combine sugar with meringue powder until well mixed, stir in water.  Beat on low speed until ingredients are moistened, about 30 seconds.  Increase mixer speed to med/high and beat for 5-8 minutes until icing is stiff.
I separated the icing into two bags and colored them yellow and red.
I drew lines of different colors.
Then spread the frosting around, mixing the colors, or not mixing them.  Each leaf was different.
Then I used the edge of the froster to make the vein lines.

Finished leaf.

 Each leaf is unique, just like real leaves.  It took some experimenting, but the final product turned out great!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gingerbread Cookies

We had huge compliments on these cookies.  They are full of Christmas spice flavor are the perfect combination of crunchy and moist.  They are easy to use with cookie cutters, and keep very well for at least a week.  Tabitha preferred them with frosting on top, and Gibson like them with or without frosting.  I love the Triple Ginger Snaps from Trader Joe's - these have the same kick as those cookies do (while being completely different).

This recipe is from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion.  We have loved every single recipe we've made out of this book, with NO modifications (and that's really saying something for me!).  
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup (8 oz) packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp allspice
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
2 tsp cinnamon [we used Vietnamese cinnamon, which is stronger than the normal stuff.  Usually you would use less, but we used the full 2 tsp because we like spice!]
1 cup molasses
1 large egg
5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda dissolved in
1/4 cup water
Cream the butter, brown sugar, salt, and spices together.  Add the molasses and egg and mix well.  Stir in half of the flour and the soda dissolved in water, mixing until well combined.  Add the remaining flour.  Depending on the power of your mixer, you may need to add the last bit of flour by hand and knead it in.  Divide the dough in half and wrap well.  Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.  The dough changes over the resting period, making it easier to work with and adding flavor to the cookies.
Preheat the oven to 350.
Work with half the dough at a time on a well floured surface.  Roll the dough to 1/4 inch thick.  Use cookie cutters to cut the cookies into shapes.  [If the dough starts to stick, put it back in the refrigerator for a while to harden up.]  Transfer the cookies to ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 inch between them. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, being careful not to over bake.  The cookies will still be soft when done.  Let them rest on baking sheet to firm before transferring to a rack to cool.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pizza Dough

A few months ago we decided to start making our pizzas from scratch to save money.  It turns out that not only are we saving money, but home-made pizza is WAY better than 10968318_10206147660232830_9070452317044119695_nfrozen or take-out.  After experimenting with about seven or eight different recipes, we discovered that this was, by far, the absolute best recipe for crust.  We try to make our crust the night before, that way it has the most flavor.
Pizza Dough from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion (a book James and I highly recommend, and I'm not a person who bakes!)
3 c unbleached all purpose flour*
1 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 c water [we've found it helpful if the water is lukewarm]
*The recipe calls for 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour and 1 1/4 cup semolina, but says it is optional.   We've done both, and find that the semolina doesn't make much of a difference, especially given the price. Also optional, 2 Tbsp dough relaxer, which we've never used.
Mix and knead together all the dough ingredients - by hand or mixer - until you've created a smooth, soft dough.  Don't over knead the dough; it should hold together but look fairly rough on the surface.
Cover and let the dough rise for 45 minutes [I just use a dishcloth to cover it], the refrigerate it for 4 hours, or up to 36 hours; this step will develop the crust's flavor. [We usually try to make it the night before, and it's best that way, but we have made it three hours before, and it is still fine, but better if it can sit]
Divide the dough in half.  Shape each half into 9- to 12-inch round (thicker or thinner crust), and place each on a piece of parchment paper cut to fit. [tip: cut the paper after you've put the dough on it!]  Cover the dough and let it rest while you heat the oven (and baking stone) to 500 degrees. [We never cover the dough during this step.  I highly recommend using a pizza stone, just make sure you place it in the oven BEFORE you turn the heat on.  Place the stone on the bottom rack of the oven.]
After about 30 minutes, use a giant spatula or pizza peel to transfer the pizzas and parchment to your hot oven stone; or place the pizzas and parchment on a pan and place on the middle rack of the oven. [We cook one pizza at a time, and use a cookie sheet to place it on the stone.  While the next one is cooking, we prepare the toppings of the first one]
Bake for 4 minutes and remove from the oven.
Top the pizza with your favorite toppings and place directly on the lowest rack of the oven (not the stone or pan) for 8 minutes, until crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.
My favorite toppings - all amounts vary as to the size of the pizza, and the amounts we have on hand, so use what you are comfortable with.
BBQ Pizza
barbecue sauce
grilled chicken, shredded
smoked Gouda cheese slices
a little Parmesan cheese
onion and pepper mix sauteed until browned (I buy a frozen mix and always have at least one bag on hand)
mozzarella cheese
Chicken Alfredo (my absolute fave!!)
Alfredo sauce, topped with fresh ground pepper medley and crumbled dried tarragon
grilled chicken, shredded
Parmesan cheese
onion and pepper mix sauteed until browned
2 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
mozzarella cheese

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Savory Stuffed Acorn Squash

I wanted a savory stuffed squash that would be filling, so I came up with this recipe today and it was a huge hit.
Start the brown rice an hour before dinner:
1 cup brown rice
2 cups chicken broth (I make my own and don’t put salt in it, so I salt to taste)
1 tsp rubbed sage
salt & pepper to taste
Cook covered on stove at low boil for approximately 45 minutes, or until broth is soaked in.
While the rice is cooking, preheat oven to 350* and halve and seed 2 acorn squash.  Place the squash cut side down in a baking dish with 1/4″ water in the dish.  Cook for 30-45 minutes until fork pokes easily.
While these are cooking, peel and chop one apple.  When the rice is done, take off of heat, add apple, stir, and cover.  I let it sit for about 20 minutes, and this softened the apple a little.
After chopping apple, brown one half pound of ground turkey (if you use beef, make sure to drain any fat).  When meat is done, add about 2 tsp dehydrated or fresh onion (if using dehydrated onion, add some water), a pinch of cayenne powder, a little salt & pepper.  Cook until onion is transparent.
I browned 1/2 cup of corn in a separate pan, then added it to the turkey mixture after it was done.
When everything is done, mix the rice with the turkey & corn.  Taste to see if any salt/pepper need to be added.
Transfer the squash, cut side up, to a dish where they will sit upright without falling over.  Do not put water in the dish. Fill the cooked half squashes half way with the rice mix, top with shredded cheddar cheese, then continue to fill to the top with rice mix.  Top entire squash with shredded cheddar.  Broil on low for a few minutes until the cheese bubbles.
I sprinkled the tops of the finished squash with hot paprika to add some additional heat.

Another favorite is our Stuffed Acorn Squash

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Stinky Feet Syndrome

My 4-year old son is obsessed with stinky feet.
He takes off his shoes and smells his feet. And then he offers them to anyone nearby to see if they would like a sniff.
Last night, I had my daughter on my lap while I took off her shoes. Eldest was standing eagerly by my knees. At first, I didn't quite understand what he was so giddy about. Then I took off the first shoe, which he immediately grabbed out of my hand and stuck his nose in.
I kicked off my shoes the other night and he was at my toes burying his nose in my socks. He asked me if I would like to sniff my feet. I politely declined.
I love the innocence of children, the lack of social pressure. The 'adult' world says it is not couth to smell feet. The child just sees something fun to do and does it. I hope a little of that innocence can rub off on me.
But I'll still leave the foot sniffing to my kids.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Five Minute Difference

I have always struggled to keep my house in order. Even when I was living with my parents as a young adult, I was hard pressed to keep my room tidy.
The one place that I have really noticed a problem is my master bathroom. Nothing makes you want to clean your toilet like watching your baby crawl towards it. I took a good look at the floor around the toilet and scooped up my daughter fast.
I spent the next 30 minutes cleaning my bathroom. At the end of that time, it was still not spotless (the shower/tub was still needed a good scrubbing), but it was at least baby-presentable. I was a little discouraged. While I had a clean bathroom, I didn't want to spend 30 minutes cleaning it every week. Then I remembered the Fly Lady's philosophy: You can clean your house 15 minutes at a time. While I don't often have 15 kid-free minutes to clean the bathroom, I do have 5 minutes I can spare while the kids entertain themselves in their bedroom.
For the last two weeks, I have kept a timer in my bathroom set to five minutes. It stays on my counter to remind me to clean for five minutes every day. After a week of my quick clean, the bathroom is almost spotless! I'm able to clean different little bits of it every day, even places I would never get to on a 30 minute cleaning spree.
For instance, today, I noticed the toilet paper holder for the first time in months. It was covered with dust. I use it every day, but never seemed to notice the dust collecting on the silver fixtures. It took 30 seconds to wipe it off, and, while my husband likely won't notice, I think it makes the entire bathroom look better. The little things really do make a difference!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sick Day

My kids are sick, and I am exhausted. For some reason, when little kids are sick, they wake up a lot at night, and then wake up at their normal time, or earlier. They seem to have as much energy as usual, while I, who lost about 4 hours of sleep, can't manage to keep up with them.
It is horrible when your children are sick enough that they can't go anywhere, but they feel fine and are running around like nothing is wrong with them (in the morning, that is). Eldest has asked me the last few days where we are going to go, and I have to answer, "No where." He really wants to go to a park or playgroup, but since he might have pneumonia, we are not going anywhere that is not absolutely necessary.
Evenings are the worst: the fevers go up, the energy goes down, the appetites disappear, and the whining gets worse. Trying to get dinner going with two kids clinging to my legs, literally, is very frustrating.
I'm not looking forward to the rest of my day as exhausted as I am. At least tonight is pizza night!