Thursday, April 28, 2016

Saying "yes"

Sometimes, I feel like the "no lady" around our house.

"Can we play in the sprinklers" (60 degree weather) - No
"Can I go knock on the neighbor's door?" (again.  poor guy.)  - No
"Can we invite friends over to play right now?" (6pm and dinner time) - No
"Can we go to Disneyland / the beach / on an airplane?" - Not right now
"Can I sleep in the living room?" (school night) - No
"Can we roast marshmallows right now?" - No
"Can I have ice cream for breakfast?" - No

So the other afternoon when Little was napping and Middle asked me, "Can I bake a cake?" I said, "yes."  I'm trying to find opportunities to say "yes" when they ask me about some idea they have.  Even if it's not super convenient for me or will make a mess that I have to clean up, I don't want their childhood memories to be "and then, mom said no."

We baked this chocolate cake and I picked the recipe from a few I looked at online because the method was perfect for her to do this herself.  We talked about how to use measuring cups and that we should lower the measuring cup down in the bowl before dumping the contents (as opposed to dumping it about 6 inches above the bowl).  I let her do almost all of it herself and she was thrilled with the outcome and even took a piece to our neighbor.  I had a random can of white frosting in teh pantry and we used that to frost it when it cooled.

When I asked to take a photo with her and her piece after supper, the other two wanted their pictures taken also.

Middle's Chocolate Cake (makes 1 nine-inch round)

1.5 cups all purpose flour
3 T cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
6 T vegetable oil
1 T white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 inch round cake pan (an 8x8 pan will work as well).  Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl with a whisk.  Make 3 wells in the top of the dry mixture.  Pour vegetable oil into one, vinegar into the other, and vanilla in the third.  Pour the cup of water over the top and mix again with a whisk until smooth and combined.  Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely before frosting.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Loaded Baked Potatoes

While my mom was visiting my sister and new nephew, I had my dad over for dinner.  My husband was working late that night, so I decided to make something he doesn't enjoy:  baked potatoes.  I made bbq shredded chicken quite a bit and I usually serve it on little slider buns with melted cheese (and those pickled onions!  and jalapenos!) so this is a variation on that idea.  It was warm, yummy comfort food at its best!  I now want to try this with a buffalo chicken sauce and bleu cheese!

You can make the bbq chicken ahead in the crockpot.  I usually place breasts and thighs in the crockpot and pour about a cup of beer or chicken broth over it.  I cook it on low for 5-6 hours and then shred it with a fork.  At this point, drain off most of the liquid.  Then, add 1-2 cups of your favorite bbq sauce.  Keep it on warm in the crockpot until heated through (or remove and refrigerate until you're going to use it).  Alternately, you could cook the chicken on the stove until shreddable or you can use a rotisserie chicken (shredded and heated up with bbq sauce) or you can buy it all ready to go. 

Loaded Baked Potatoes (makes 4)

4 potatoes
2 cups shredded bbq chicken
shredded cheddar cheese
sour cream
chopped green onions
bbq sauce
olive oil

Scrub the potatoes, pierce them with a fork, brush with a light layer of olive oil, and sprinkle salt on them.  Place them on a piece of foil in a 400 degree oven for 40-55 minutes, or until they are have some give when you squeeze them (with an oven mit!).

Slice the top of the potato and squeeze the ends.  Scoop about 2-3 tablespoons of the potato filling and discard.  Place a heaping mound of bbq chicken in the potato and sprinkle with cheddar cheese.  The chicken and potato should be hot enough to melt the cheese, but if not, you can place them back in the warm oven for a few minutes. 

Serve immediately with a drizzle of bbq sauce, sour cream, and green onions.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

New Green Soup

It must be April!  We have California Golden Poppies in bloom, pictures of the caterpillars, chrysalis, and butterflies from Middle's classroom, Derby Days 5K (in the rain!), picking out plants for our garden, and library story time about rain and insects.  April showers have made for some cozy family time this past week.  

Our kitchen is the center of our house and when both big girls had a playdate last weekend, I found my kitchen taken over by a pretend cafe and lots of food preparation and serving.  I'm hoping this glimpse of life with older kids is accurate - I love having a house full of girls, being the house where friends come to play, and lots of action in the kitchen!

One of the other reasons I've been enjoying our cooler weather is soup!  I make my regular green soup recipe often, but my Aunt Sue sent me a link to this recipe because she had tried it at the Kettle and enjoyed it.  It's similar in the base (sauteed and blended kale) but a little sweeter with the apple and I liked the pancetta and creme fraiche quite a bit.  I didn't add quite the whole amount of kale called for in the recipe, and next time would increase it to make the soup not quite as thin.  Little and Middle ate it up . . . Big, not so much.

Kale and Apple Soup (serves 6)
Original recipe from The Kitchn

10-12 oz kale, chopped and thick stems removed
1/4 cup (2 oz) cubed pancetta (Trader Joes sells it diced like this)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, divided
2 T olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/4 tsp. salt
1 medium apple, cored and chopped (I used a Granny Smith)
Creme fraiche (or mascarpone or plain yogurt) for serving

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute pancetta for 1 minute or until just barely beginning to brown.  Add the kale and stir to coat with rendered fat.  Add a little olive oil if the pancetta didn't render enough fat to keep the kale from sticking to the pan.  Cook, stirring, until kale wilts, about 5 minutes.  Add 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock and lower heat to medium low, stirring occasionally, for about 5-10 minutes.

Puree in a blender or with an immersion blender, pour into a separate bowl, and set aside.

In the same skillet, over medium heat, heat the olive oil and cook onions and salt until the onions just start to soften up, about 3 minutes.  Add the chopped apple and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until the apples soften and the onions are translucent.  Stir in remaining broth.  Puree this mixture in a blender or blend with an immersion blender.  Combine the pureed apple/onion mixture and the kale mixture and stir to combine.  If it seems too thick (mine wasn't), you could add more stock or water.

Reheat if necessary, taste for salt and pepper, and serve garished with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pickled Onions

My husband and I often eat a big salad for dinner.  The kids aren't too into this idea, so on those nights, I make them grilled cheese or ravioli or warm up leftovers.  A few weeks ago, I made a batch of pickled red onions to use on the salad above (Salad:  Arugula, sprouts, hard boiled egg, green beans and mushrooms).  They were delicious and we also ate them on BBQ beef sandwiches, grilled cheese, and just about everything else we could think of until they were gone.

This recipe is for a quick pickle so you can have decent results in about a half hour but they can also stay in your refrigerator for a couple of weeks.  The original recipe I looked at said they can last several weeks but taste best the first week.  Ours didn't last longer than that!

Pickled Red Onions
1 medium red onion
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
5 black peppercorns (optional)
1 small clove garlic (optional)

Start a tea kettle of water and bring it to a boil.  Peel and thinly slice the onion.  Peel and slice the garlic clove in half.

Put the vinegar into the container you will use to store the onions and in the vinegar, dissolve the sugar and salt by stirring.  Add the peppercorns and garlic (if using) or any other flavorings (allspice berries, thyme springs, dried chilis . . . you can do many variations).

Place the red onion slices in a sieve over the sink and pour the boiling water over them (par-blanch).  Let them drain and add them to your container with the vinegar.  Stir or shake to evenly distribute the onions.  Store them in the refrigerator - give it between a half hour and a few hours before serving.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Strawberry Girl

How can I post about a strawberry recipe without some pictures of my strawberry girl?  Little turned THREE in February (maybe I haven't posted about her birthday because I'm in denial that my baby is so old!) and she is so sweet and good-natured.  If you remember, she was a strawberry for Halloween and has always loved strawberries - it's just one of the little special things about her.

Little and Middle also love cucumbers and I remembered this side dish to use up some extra berries that we had hanging around.  I was gifted this bottle of beautiful honey balsamic from Vom Fass in Claremont and it worked perfectly in this salad.

Strawberry & Cucumber Salad
from Trader Joe's Claremont

4 cups quartered strawberries
2 T thinly sliced basil
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
6 small persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl.  Toss gently to coat and cover and chill for 1 hour.

Combine the cucumbers and lemon juice and toss to coat.  Add cucumber, salt & pepper to chilled strawberries and gently toss together.

Top 10

What to make for dinner . . . the ongoing question.  I've been trying to be good about meal planning so I'm not faced with this dilemma every night but a couple of weeks ago, I asked my husband before he left for work what he wanted for dinner.  He said, "How about some scallops? And some arugula?"  I thought of a recipe from Cooking Light that I made a few years back and came up with some tweaks.  Instead of arugula, I bought a bag of baby kale from Trader Joe's instead and added the white beans and pancetta.  If you're not a kale fan, try baby spinach as a substitution.

Anyways, his idea and this dish turned out great.  So good, in fact, that my husband declared it one of the Top 10 meals.  I said, "top 10 that I've ever made?" and he said, "no, top 10 ever."  That is high praise from my husband!  I hope you like it as much as he did!  Another bonus (beside it being delicious and high in protein) is that it's really quick to the table so make sure you have everything ready to go when you start preparing the dish.

Scallops with wilted kale and white beans (serves 2)

1 pound scallops
1 cup chopped onion
4 oz diced pancetta
olive oil

1/4 tsp. red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. dry white wine
1 c. chicken broth (I used low-sodium fat free)
1 (19 oz) can cannellini beans (or other white beans), rinsed and drained 

8-10 oz fresh baby kale leaves
2 T fresh basil, thinly sliced (chiffonade)

Brown the pancetta in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon.  

Sprinkle the scallops with salt. Add them to the pan and cook for 2 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Add a little olive oil and the onion to the pan and saute for 2 minutes. Add pepper and garlic and cook for 20 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in wine and cook for 1 minute (most of the liquid will evaporate). Stir in broth, beans, the browned pancetta and cook for 2 minutes. Add kale; cook 1 minute or until wilted.  Remove from the heat. Stir in the basil.  Serve scallops over the kale mixture.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spring Rolls for Spring!

On the first day of spring, we took the new Metro Goldline extension from the end in Azusa to the South Pasadena Station where we had breakfast, met up with Dad, and found a used bookstore ("It's a library where we can pay for the books and keep them").

The 6th member of our family who has been sleeping this winter woke up and played in the sprinkler.

And, we had some yummy spring rolls for dinner.

Chicken Hoisin Spring Rolls (makes 12)

12 rice paper wrappers
1.5 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cup broccoli slaw
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1-2 T hoisin sauce
1 T rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil

In a big bowl, whisk together the vinegar and sesame oil.  Add the chicken, broccoli slaw, and other vegetables.  Stir until combined.  Add the hoisin, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix until it looks and tastes good to you.

Place each rice paper wrapper in warm water for 5-10 seconds.  Place on a flat surface and put a mound of the chicken filling in the middle.  Fold the right and left side in, over the filling.  Fold the top down and keep rolling until it's all rolled up.

Serve with additional hoisin or another dipping sauce of your choice.