Monday, September 15, 2014

The search is over

I love brownies and have made many mixes (my current favorite is the Trader Joe's Truffle Brownies) and many batches from scratch.  I've messed around with lots of recipes (as you can see if you click the label "brownie" or look at the index) but now, the search is over.  These were the best I've made so far.  They were a cake-like consistency on the edges and a fudge-like consistency in the middle.  I don't like them super sweet but if you want them sweeter, increase sugar to 1 cup.  You could also substitute melted butter for the oil for a richer flavor.  Alas, they were eaten too quickly for a photo!

Best Basic Brownies
from All Recipes

1/2 c. vegetable oil
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 c. flour
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 8x8 pan.  Mix oil, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add eggs and beat until combined.  In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Gradually add to the mixer while mixing on a medium speed.  When the batter is thoroughly mixed, spoon into the greased pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Cool before slicing.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ten Things About Big

SEVEN sounds so grown up and I'm getting a little emotional about my first baby turning that age.  So, instead of getting overly sappy on you all, I thought you might like to hear about my Big girl in her own words.  I just asked her what were ten interesting things about herself and this is what she said: 

Ten Things About Me

1.  My favorite color is blue
2.  I once had my thumb stapled
3.  I know lots of things about animals.  For instance, a koala can eat poisonous eucalyptus without dying and can digest it.
4.  For my birthday, I had a camping slumber party.  I made my own invitations and games
5.  I love science
6.  I want to be a fashion designer when I grow up and Lisa just taught me how to do a stitch

7.  I love love love joking around with my sisters and I love playing with my baby sister

8.  I don't like frosting so I'm not going to have a cake for my birthday
9.  I once made up my own recipe and you can read it here on my mom's blog
10.  One day until I'm SEVEN!

I love you and I'm so proud of the kind, smart person you are becoming.  I am constantly amazed by your ideas and creativity and you are one of the most fun people that I know!  Happy, happy birthday!!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Back to School

My girls start back to school tomorrow - after Labor Day like when we were kids.  It was an awesome summer . . . one of the best! (Do I say that every year?)  We checked some things off our previous summers' bucket lists like swimming with Dolphins, World of Color, camping in the backyard, the Hollywood Bowl and with our trips, the summer just flew by.  If the following quote is true, my girls got in lots and lots of research this summer!  Here are some photos from our trip to the Pacific Northwest a couple of weeks ago:

Here's something to help you out with the start of school:  An amazing pasta dish that the whole family liked.  What's unique is that you dump everything into the pot (uncooked noodles too) and from start to finish, the meal takes about 30 minutes.  The first time I made it just for my husband and I so I halved the recipe and used a spicy smoked sausage from Sprouts and added some red pepper flakes.  The resulting spicy broth that the spaghetti cooked in was amazing.  Last night, I made it again but for the whole family and I used an italian chicken sausage (a kielbasa or other smoked andouille is fine) and it was milder.  Make sure your sausage is fully cooked / smoked and don't skip the parmesan cheese - it gives a slight creaminess and thickens the pasta at the end.  It might look plain but it tasted outstanding!

One Pot Spaghetti (serves 6)

1 pound spaghetti
1 (12-15oz) package smoked andouille sausage, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 c. halved grape tomatoes
2 c. basil leaves
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 c. grated parmesan

In a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium high heat, add the spaghetti, sausage, onion, tomatoes, basil (I usually hold back about a 1/2 cup for serving), garlic, and 4 1/2 cups water.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until the spaghetti has cooked through and liquid has reduced, about 10-15 minutes.  Stir in parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

One and a Half

On the big girls' half birthdays, I've been posting a list of their favorite things as a way of remembering what they were like at certain ages and to see how they've changed.  At 1.5 years old, it's Little's turn!  The age between 1.5 and 2.5 is one of my favorites - so much learning and changing in that space between not quite a baby and not quite a kid.  Lately I've had her fall asleep on my lap or my chest and her heavy, warm weight against me is just the best.  I know that the number of times that this happens is somewhat limited with her age and mobility and I'm trying to cherish those moments where she still seems more of a baby than a girl.

Since it's not quite as easy to know what her favorite color and foods are, these are some of her likes and dislikes.

Little Likes:

Puppies (toys, books, pictures . . . she's a little scared of real dogs)
Music of any sort
Riding tricycles or in her little Fisher Price car
Imitating anything that Middle does  
(carrying a purse and wearing necklaces, headbands, and sunglasses)

Peanut butter
Playing in water - pool, bathtub, our bathroom sink
Remote controls, light switches, and pushing buttons

Wearing shoes
Going down slides by herself

Little Doesn't Like:

Sitting in a highchair, shopping cart, or carseat
Having her hair brushed
The feeling of grass on her bare feet
Saying goodbye to mommy or daddy
Being told "no"
Being left out

But let's be honest . . . who does??

With each of my girls, I was amazed at how much they talked and how early.  Little said her first sentence this week ("I see Daddy") and these are some of her words at 18 months:
Daddy, Mommy & her sister's names
Stop It
Hi, Hello, Bye bye
Cook-a (Cookie)
Nana (Banana)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Chai Tea Ice Cream

I think that I've finally landed on my absolute favorite ice cream that I've made to date.  I had the idea of taking the base of the Coffee Ice Cream that I made and adapting it to become chai tea ice cream by using tea bags instead of coffee beans and adding chai spices.  I love chai tea and prefer it spicy and not super sweet and this recipe was absolutely delicious.  Seriously, I cannot overstate how much I liked it and it completely affirmed to me why I own an ice cream maker and why homemade is the best.   Just like the coffee ice cream, it's not surprising that this much heavy cream, egg yolks, and whole milk makes for a creamy ice cream with a smooth texture.  While black tea doesn't pack the caffeine punch of coffee, it still might be a good idea to find a good quality decaffeinated black chai tea, especially if you're going to serve this to kids.

Chai Tea Ice Cream (makes one quart)
from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1.5 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
5 Chai Tea teabags (black tea)
pinch of salt
1.5 c. heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cardamom

Heat the milk, sugar, tea bags, salt, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, cloves, cardamom and 1/2 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan until warm and steamy, but not boiling.  At this point, cover, remove from the heat and let it steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

Put a medium sized bowl on top of a larger bowl filled with ice.  Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into that medium sized bowl.  Set a mesh strainer over the bowl with the cream and set aside.

Remove the teabags and squeeze them to get all the flavor into the mixture.  Then, heat the milk/tea mixture over medium heat until it gets hot and steamy again (but don't boil).  In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks together.  Temper the egg yolks by whisking constantly while adding a couple of tablespoons of the hot milk mixture at a time.  You don't want to cook the egg yolks, but raise the temperature.  Then, whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the tea & milk mixture and stir constantly.  Keep stirring over medium heat with a spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the custard thickens and coats the spatula.  You're looking for it to be thick enough that if you run your finger across the spatula, it won't run.  This took me almost 10 minutes.

Pour the custard through the strainer into the cream. Mix in the vanilla and stir until cool.  Chill completely in your refrigerator and then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to your maker's directions.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tastes of Summer

It seems like every summer, there's some salad or side dish that I fall in love with because it just tastes like summer to me.  This year, it's a spinach salad with watermelon, chicken, bleu cheese and balsamic vinegar.  I know that sounds a little weird but look at that photo - don't you want to eat that crunchy, sweet, salty goodness right now?  It's a fantastic combination and an easy supper to put on the table.  I bought grilled chicken strips from Trader Joe's the last time I made it but it also works with rotisserie chicken or leftover grilled or cooked chicken of any sort.  This is delicious . . . and summer is almost over so you should make it soon!

Balsamic Watermelon Chicken Salad (serves 2)
adapted from Pinch of Yum

1 cup balsamic vinegar
1-2 cups cooked chicken
4 cups baby spinach (or other baby salad greens)
1 cup watermelon (seedless, cut in small cubes)
1/2 cup bleu cheese crumbles
1/4 c. sliced almonds
olive oil

Pour the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the balsamic vinegar is significantly reduced and becoming syrupy.

Divide the spinach onto two plates and top with the chicken and watermelon.  Sprinkle with bleu cheese and almonds.  Drizzle the balsamic reduction to taste.  Top with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, also to taste.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mini Carrot Cupcakes

The garden . . . I don't have a green thumb and I'm not much of a gardener but I love reaping the benefits of the garden that my girls & husband plant.  The problem is, great intentions don't go far enough.  We pick out plants and seeds, prepare the soil and get them in the ground (by "we" I mean mostly them).  The girls check and water and report back.  On occasion, they even weed.  We have raised boxes to protect the plants from the turtle, a dripper system and sun - great combination.  Then, we start harvesting stuff.  It's fun and delicious and satisfying.  

Then, we go on vacation.  We didn't have anyone housesitting (my amazing neighbor got our mail and kept an eye on things) and when I returned home, it was to an arugula and tomato jungle.  Yeah, that sun and dripper did their work and it's a big mess.  We harvested carrots before we left and I have tons of chili peppers that look awesome but the lettuce, basil, tomatoes . . . not so much.  And now the task of ripping it out (which doesn't require a green thumb just some good old muscle) falls to me.  

So, here's a recipe based on the best crop we raised this year (Middle actually spilled the packet of seeds so they were all over between the beets and lettuce) - carrot cake cupcakes.  I made minis of these with cream cheese frosting for my sister's shower and they were delicious.  America's Test Kitchen is pretty reliable and I was very pleased with the results.

Mini Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting (makes 30 mini muffins)
from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
dash of cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
3/4 c. vegetable oil
1/2 lb carrots, peeled and grated
3/4 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees and lie a mini muffin pan with paper liners.  Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.  Whisk the eggs and sugars together in a large bowl until frothy and then sugar is mostly dissolved (about a minute).  While whisking, slowly add the oil until the mixture is thoroughly combined (about a minute).  Whisk in the flour mixture until no streaks of flour remain.  Stir in carrots and walnuts.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 13-15 minutes.  Remove and cool on a wire rack until completely cooled before frosting.


In the bowl of an electric mixer, process 4 oz softened cream cheese, 3 T softened unsalted butter, 1/2 T sour cream, 1/4 tsp. vanilla until smooth and combined.  Add 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and process until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl and blade as needed.  If it's not stiff enough to frost, add more sugar, about a tablespoon at a time.