Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer so far . . .

For weeks, Middle has been very concerned that it's not actually summer yet and she was so excited to learn that today is the summer solstice and technically the season of summer has begun.  Despite that, we've been on summer vacation from school for 2 weeks and have filled them with some local adventures.

A visit to the CA Science Center

S'Mores and a poolside movie

Wonderful tea at Chado Pasadena with a friend (and no kids!)

Our first visit to SkyZone in Covina

Picnic lunch

Floating in the pool and new pool toys

First week of Tennis & Mini Camp

I have never made cheesecake with great success but last week I attempted it again for a friend's birthday and hit upon a recipe that I really liked.  It's light and not too heavy and the lime flavor is more subtle.  A traditional graham cracker crust would work fine too but I thought the vanilla almond one here was delicious.  It takes some time so plan ahead - I put the cream cheese and eggs on the counter the night before and made it in the morning to serve the following day.  Juicing key limes can be a little tedious - I really like the "Nellie and Joe's Famous Key Lime Juice" which is just the juice and can be found at major grocery stores.

Key Lime Cheesecake (12 servings)
adapted from Bon Appetit May '06

1.5 cups finely ground Nilla wafers
1.5 cups finely ground almonds (almond flour)
1/4 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. melted butter

3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c. sour cream
3/4 c. sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup fresh key lime juice
2 tsp. finely grated key lime peel
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 inch springform pan with cooking spray (or butter).  Place 3 large sheets of heavy-duty foil on the work surface.  Place the pan in the center and wrap foil snugly around the side of the pan.  

With a fork, mix together the first 4 ingredients until well combined.  Press in the bottom and about an inch up the side of the prepared pan.  I used a measuring cup to press it down evenly.  Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth.  Beat in sour cream, then sugar.  Beat in eggs 1 at a time, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Beat in lime juice, lime peel, and vanilla.  Pour bater over the crust.  

Place the wrapped cheesecake in a large roasting pan.  Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the pan.  Cover the cheesecake pan (not the roasting pan) loosely with foil.  Place the roasting pan with the covered cheesecake in it (carefully!) into the oven.  Bake for 45 minutes.  Uncover and continue to bake until just set in the center when the cake pan is gently shaken, about 15-20 minutes more.  Turn oven off and open the door and let it cool for about 20 minutes.  Remove to counter (taking pan out of water bath) and cool for 30 minutes more.  Place uncovered in the refrigerator and chill overnight.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Strawberry Shortcake Skewers

So, this is the second new recipe I made for the flip flop party.  I saw these on Pinterest (where else?) and, like the pancake pops last year, thought, "Of course I can do that!"  They weren't as pretty as the Pinterest photo and a little messy to assemble, but I was happy with the end result and they were really tasty.  And let's face it - everything is more fun on a stick! I can imagine these being fun for a tea party or a summer dessert in addition to serving them at brunch.

A couple of notes:  I used the lollipop / cake pop sticks from Wilton instead of wooden skewers but I think either would be fine.  I made the biscuit rounds the day before and sealed them in an airtight container and they were fine the next day.

Strawberry Shortcake Skewers (makes about 20)

2 cans of biscuit dough (I used both Pillsbury & Trader Joes)
1 egg white
20+ strawberries
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 jar marshmallow fluff
3 T sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll a biscuit into a 5 inch circles.  Use a round cutter (mine was a biscuit cutter about 2 inches across) and cut out as many circles as you can get before re-rolling the dough (I set aside scraps until I had enough to make another circle).

Whisk together the egg white and water.  Brush on each biscuit and sprinkle with a little sugar.  Bake 10 minutes or until golden brown.

While the biscuits are baking, prepare the strawberries.  Cut two 1/2 inch slices from each strawberry.  I cut the top and bottom off and then cut the strawberry crosswise to make rounds.  

Once the biscuits are baked, transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before assembling the skewers.  

For the cream, use a stand mixer with a whisk attachment and combine the heavy cream and sugar and beat until firm peaks form.  Add half a jar of marshmallow fluff until just combined.  

Assemble the skewers - I put a biscuit, cream, strawberry, cream, strawberry, cream, and another biscuit on top like the photo above.  You could do more biscuit layers (every other) but I didn't have enough to make as many skewers as I wanted to.

Serve right away.  Mine lasted a couple of hours on the counter before getting soggy / runny.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pecan Roll Bundt

Last weekend, I hosted an annual Flip Flop Exchange and brunch for friends and their little (or not so little anymore!) girls.  We had a blast and I wish I had better / more pictures to share but I was busy enjoying the company and conversation.  I love making breakfast and having friends for brunch gives me an excuse to try some new recipe ideas.  Someday, if my dream of owning a bed and breakfast comes true, I'll get to do it all the time!  Anyways, I digress.  

This time around I made two new things  that I want to share.  The first is a pecan roll bundt cake.  It's like an easier version of monkey bread and I was initially skeptical about the method of using whole biscuits so I gave it a test run a few weeks prior when BFF and baby girl were here.  It turned out fantastic and really easy.  I love pecan rolls / sticky buns and everything of this genre so I ate waaayyy too much.  

Layered in the pan

Just out of the oven before inverting it

Pecan Roll Bundt 
original recipe here

1.5 cans refrigerated biscuit dough (I used Pillsbury Grands Original)
3 T butter, melted
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. chopped pecans

Spray a bundt pan with non-stick spray.  Combine melted butter and syrup in a small bowl and set aside.  In another bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, and pecans.  

Place about half of the syrup mixture in the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle about half of the sugar and cinnamon mixture on top.  Lay the biscuits in the pan overlapping the edges (like the photo above) to form a ring.  Sprinkle with the rest of the sugar cinnamon mixture and pour over the rest of the syrup mixture.  Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool for a minute or two in the pan before running a knife around the edges and inverting onto a serving platter. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gotta Lotta Happy

I'm so excited that this week marks the start of summer vacation from school.  I love not having to get the girls off to school in the morning, to a new kind of relaxing routine, to enjoying time and activities together . . . woohoo!  One fun summer tradition we've had the past few years is a summer soundtrack.  I make a playlist and burn it to a couple of CDs (I know - so old-fashioned of me) and save it to my iPhone and we absolutely wear it out listening to it all summer.  This is the start above.  A couple of additions have been "Nocturnal" by Billy Jonas, "You and Me" by Frances England, and "Pineapple Princess" by Annette Funicello.  Little already knows the words to a few of the songs and it makes me smile to hear her singing along in the back seat.  During the year, I think of and start a little list of songs to put on the list and the girls nominate some too (see Katy Perry above) and it's fun to put together and use all summer.

A few friends have asked me about my summer bucket lists of past years.  For some reason, it's felt a little overwhelming to me this year and I've decided that if it's not absolutely necessary, to stop doing things that make me feel overwhelmed.  However, we're revisiting favorites from old lists and things we didn't get to.  I have no definitive plan but I still want to take my kids to Sea World (yes, I know about Black Fish, so sorry) and I have tickets (thanks Aunt Jody!) to take Big and Middle to the Hollywood Bowl.

Okay . . . as a follow up to the last post about finding kid-friendly suppers, here is one that was super easy and a big winner at our house.  It's only 4 ingredients, only takes about 20 minutes and is nutritious and tasty.  You're welcome!

Chicken Caprese Bake (serves as many as you want)

Chicken breasts
Prepared Pesto (I like both the Kirkland brand and the Trader Joe's)
Roma tomatoes
Fresh mozzarella (you can buy shredded but I've been liking the fresh kind)

Spray a 9x13 pan with olive oil spray or other non-stick spray.  Place as many chicken breasts as you want to bake in the pan.  Spread some pesto over the top of each breast.  Top with a slice or two of roma tomato.  Grate some fresh mozzarella over the top of each one.  Bake at 350 for 15-30 minutes (depending not the thickness of your chicken breasts) or until the chicken is just cooked through and the mozzarella is melty.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Kid Friendly Meals

We have had an illness that's swept through our family for the past week and it's been a drag.  Since I was sitting at home with sick kids, I went through and organized some photos that I recently took and  I came across the ones below.  They made me think about one of the joys of parenting - the opportunity to sit back and observe my kids experiencing joy and the ability to experience the world through their eyes.  
Feeling the sunshine and breathing evening air
Interacting with nature

And exploring new places
Learning to do hard things
And gently touching tiny living things

I wouldn't classify trying to find food the whole family will eat as one of those "joys" but it's a great moment when I make something that everybody eats and enjoys.  This initially didn't sound great to me (maybe the name?) but it's a combination of fresh ingredients and familiar, favorite dishes.

When I took the picture, it was just ready off the stove.  The sauce thickened up as it sat a little bit  and coated the noodles more like macaroni and cheese.  I particularly liked that you can make it in one pot and it only takes about a half an hour.

One Pot Chili Mac & Cheese (4 servings)

1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced onion
8 oz ground beef or ground turkey
4 c. chicken broth
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
3/4 c. white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 c. kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp. chili powder
1.5 tsp. cumin
salt and pepper to taste
10 oz uncooked elbow / macaroni pasta
3/4 c. shredded cheddar cheese
2 T chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add garlic, onion, and ground beef and cook until the meat is browned, about 3-5 minutes.  Drain excess fat.

Stir in broth, tomatoes, beans, and seasonings.  Bring to a simmer and stir in pasta.  Bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat and simmer until pasta is cooked through, about 13-15 minutes.

Remove from heat.  Top with cheese and replace the cover until the cheese melts, about 2 minutes.  At this point, I stirred it up but you can leave it and serve it with the cheese on top.

Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Down on Amy's Farm

This spring I took a couple of months off of work to spend more time at home and with the kids.  One of the highlights of my time at home has been our "farm class" that I've taken them to on Monday mornings.  It's a parent-child class where we get to explore plants and animals on the farm and usually involves a craft, story time, and some songs as well.  When a friend first told me about it, I thought that I'd never have time to drive down to Ontario/Chino every week and do this but it's been awesome.  Jordyn has a new little friend that takes the class and it's been fun to watch the two of them together.  The farm also has a farm stand, tours, does field trips, and holds workshops.

 I think that the pictures will express the experience better than anything else I could write!

This mama and baby posed for their photo!
Hanging out in the garden - near Easter, we had an egg hunt in the rows
The kids usually got to feed an animal and learn about it - this week, we picked and ate carrots from the garden, saving the tops for the chickens.
There is literally nothing much cuter than piglets . . . 
The kids were encouraged to taste and try stuff - here, a variety of heirloom broccoli with edible flowers.  I saw my girls eat Rainbow Chard, Dinosaur Kale . . . all sorts of green delicious things!

She's an animal lover and natural farm girl - she loved every bit of her experience.
Before holding baby turkeys, the kids had to practice with little stuffed animals to show they could be gentle and not squeeze them to death.
Milking the cow!  We waited for weeks and this was one of our favorite days.
To visit Amy's Farm:
7698 Eucalyptus Avenue
Ontario, CA 91762

Here's a recipe for a healthy morning treat before farm class, school or any other adventure.  I've seen versions of this floating around on Pinterest and was intrigued by the concept - a cross between a pancake and a muffin with a decent amount of protein and fiber.  They're gluten free and filling.  I can see how they'd be easy to take and eat on the run.  The method in the original recipe called for putting all the ingredients in the blender but even with my VitaMix, I ended up with a lumpy mess at the bottom and the almond meal stuck to the blades wasn't fun to clean.

Almond Blueberry Pancake Muffins (makes 8)
original recipe on the Kitchenthusiast

1/4 cup Greek vanilla yogurt
2 T unsalted butter, melted
2 T maple syrup
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1.5 cups almond flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 eggs
1 egg white
1/3 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a muffin tin.  In a large bowl, combine yogurt, butter, syrup, and almond extract.  Whisk together.  Add the dry ingredients and stir until combined.  Add the eggs and egg white and stir until incorporated but do not over mix (the batter will be thick). 

Divide the batter among the muffin tin cavities until each one is about half way full.  I got 8 muffins from this recipe.  After putting the batter in, sprinkle blueberries onto each one (I left a couple plain).

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until slightly golden and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.  Cool 2-3 minutes in the tin, run a knife around the edge of each cup and carefully remove.  They're good warm but they'll also store in the fridge for 3-4 days.  I didn't mind them cold but you can reheat in a 200 degree oven for 3-5 minutes.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Spring Soup

When we had a brief interlude of cold(ish) weather and some rain recently, I was excited for the opportunity to make some soup.  I've made a version of this sausage & kale soup in the past and a pasta recipe that's similar (which you can read here and here) but this one was my husband's favorite by far.  He loved the swap of gnocchi for the usual potatoes and we both really liked the roasted red peppers.

I really recommend using the spicy (hot) Italian sausage because it gives the soup most of its flavor and spice.  With the half and half, potato gnocchi and broth, I didn't find the end result to be very spicy but well seasoned.  In fact, I added additional red pepper flakes and black pepper to up the spiciness, even with hot sausage.  I bought uncooked links of spicy chicken Italian sausage and squeezed the sausage out of the links.  I found the gnocchi with the dried pasta and used the DeLallo brand, which I liked.

Sausage & Kale Soup with Gnocchi (serves 4)

1 pound ground italian sausage (use the "hot" kind)
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 cups chicken broth
1 (12oz) jar roasted red peppers
1 bunch kale, roughly chopped
1 pound potato gnocchi
1/2 cup half and half
salt and pepper

Add italian sausage and diced onion to a large dutch oven and cook over medium high heat until the sausage is browned and crumbled.  While it's cooking, chop up the roasted red peppers.  Drain the grease.  Then add in the chicken broth and red pepper, bringing the mixture to a simmer over medium high heat.  Once it simmers, reduce heat and add kale and gnocchi and stir to combine.  Cook for 5 minutes or until the gnocchi are cooked through and tender (check the cooking time on the package of gnocchi).  Stir in the half and half.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.