Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Is it summer yet??

I know that Memorial Day marks the informal start of the summer season, but I have a week and a half left of work before summer vacation and it can't come quickly enough.  Although I don't like to be one of those people who is always complaining about work (I know I have it good and I appreciate my job), here goes:  My students are whining, slacking off and plagiarizing.  I'm tired of sitting at the cafe at our fitness club grading papers instead of working out.  This weekend, big sister asked me, "Mom, if you're the teacher, how come you're doing homework?"  Believe me, June 8th can't come fast enough.  Oh, wait, I guess it better not come before I get all this crap amazing student writing graded.

So, let's talk about summer.  I've been talking to anyone who will listen about all the things I want to do this summer:
have lots of friends over
eat vegetables from big sister's garden
swim every day
 run another half marathon (or maybe do a triathlon?) by the end of the summer
cook good food
take a road trip to Oregon
enroll little sister in swim lessons
go to the beach
invite family visiting from out of town (and cousins who live in So Cal) over
get back on a bicycle for the first time in almost 2 years
read books that have nothing to do with grammar or my classes
read more books aloud to my kids
walk to the park
go to farmer's market

How about you?  What's on your summer list?

Maybe you should put "get an ice cream maker" on your list.  Those cuisinart ones get cuter and cheaper every year and they don't take up that much room!  Come on, give it to the man in your life for Father's Day and then you can make your own ice cream . . . without all the yucky ingredients that you can't pronounce that are in a lot of store bought ice cream.

A few weekends ago, we had friends over for dinner.  This was before my "no sugar until Hawaii" idea and I made great homemade ice cream.  I hope it's the beginning of many batches . . . up next will be homemade Cherry Garcia ice cream!  I liked having a recipe that uses cocoa powder (easier and faster) but the texture wasn't the best I've ever made.  I added about 3/4 cup of heath bar chunks (my favorite ice cream add-in) but you could do nothing, nuts, chocolate chips, peanut butter cups or chips, white chocolate . . . lots of ideas!

Cocoa Ice Cream (about 1.5 quarts)

1/4 c. powdered unsweetened cocoa
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
1/4 tsp salt
4 c. half and half (or 2 c. whole milk & 2 c. cream)
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. chopped heath bar (optional)

Whisk the cocoa, sugar, water and salt together in a saucepan.  Heat over medium heat until boiling and then simmer for 2 minutes.  Whisk in the half and half and heat just until bubbles appear around the edges.  Temper the egg yolks with some of the cream mixture and then add back to the pan.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and will coat the back of a spoon.  Chill until cold (overnight is fine) and then put it in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

Okay . . . off to grade more essays.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

New Granola

It's been awhile since I've made dramatically different granola.  I make this version every other week or so but I was wanting a change.  One of the reasons I first started making my own was to avoid the oil & refined sugar in store bought stuff so making a recipe with oil is a bit of a departure.  But, on my quest to cut out sugar (again) for a few weeks before vacation, I was reading some stuff for motivation and was reminded of how our bodies need "good" fats and sometimes a lack of those can be perceived as a sugar craving.  So, this recipe has olive oil & maple syrup as the wet stuff.

Verdict:  Great texture and flavor.  I'd like to use some different nuts to change it up a little more.  Don't skip the teaspoon of salt - it balances the other flavors in the granola.

New Granola with Olive Oil 
makes about 5-6 cups

1/2 c. pure maple syrup
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom

2.5 c. old fashioned rolled oats
1 c. raw sliced almonds
1/2 c. raw pine nuts
1/2 c. unsweetened coconut (flaked or shredded)
1/4 c. ground flax seed

Mix the syrup, oil, and spices together.  In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, coconut, and flax.  Add the wet to the dry and stir.  If it seems too wet, add more oats.  If it seems too dry, add a little more syrup (or some agave).  Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 300 for about 40 minutes, checking and stirring every 10-15 minutes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Apple Cranberry Muffins

So, the other morning big sister took a picture of her oatmeal before eating it.  I was so proud.  I'll have to get her a shirt to match the one I have that says "I take pictures of my food" (thanks, Steph!).

The garden, which I can't take any credit for, is growing every day.  There might not be any carrots or radishes left when they're actually ready to eat because big sister "checks" their progress by pulling up a few very often.

The little one isn't so little!  She's standing up and very proud of herself for doing so.  She can't get back down (yet) but I'm sure she'll be walking before her first birthday!

I've been in a baking mood again . . . maybe the running I've been doing, maybe the rainy weather in May but this was the latest new recipe.
Apple Cranberry Muffins (1 dozen)

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1.5 cups old fashioned oats
1/4 cup melted butter
1 egg
1 egg white
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 cup peeled, chopped apples
1/2 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen)

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon and oats.  In a separate bowl, mix the melted butter, eggs, milk, and sour cream or yogurt.  Mix.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Then add the apples and cranberries.  Scoop into muffin liners and sprinkle the tops with a little brown sugar.  Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Flip Flop Party 2011

How to Host a Flip Flop Exchange:
1.  Invite lots of friends and their little girls over for brunch and the exchange.  I usually do it in the spring, before summertime
2.  Tell guests to rsvp with their shoe size and how many pairs of flip flops they want to exchange
3.  Check rsvps and hope people actually want to come.  Get a pedicure while you're waiting for the big day.
4.  Set a price limit per pair of flip flops (we did $15) and a week or two before, assign a size for everyone to bring.  Make it work out so that there will be a pair for each participant in their shoe size.  For the little girls, we did a direct exchange (like drawing names at Christmas time)
5.  Buy cheesy flip flop decorations and paper goods at Party City.
6.  Make brunch and have plenty of coffee (and mimosas!)
7.  Eat, talk, laugh, repeat.
8.  After brunch, have guests pick numbers randomly.  Start with #1 and let each person pick the pair of flip flops they like best to take home.  
9.  Post on your blog about your party or comment here and let me know.  

Thanks to everyone who came - I had a really fun morning and was so happy to see each of you.  I'll think of what fun we had when I wear my flip flops this summer!

Baby sister wishing she was old enough to wear flip flops

Here are two of the recipes I made for the brunch.  Both were great and I'm making the frittata again tonight for dinner.  I didn't realize until I was part way through the bundt recipe that it had a LOT of caffeine . . . and I had several pregnant friends and some little kids who might not have appreciated that fact!  But, it was delicious and I polished off the leftovers after the race I ran on Sunday.  

Potato Frittata 
I found the recipe on Gluten Free Goddess but I used Gruyere & added cooked chopped bacon

Cappuccino Bundt Cake
I found the recipe on the Food Librarian and followed it but I made a regular vanilla icing

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Italian Crockpot Chicken

I was trying to come up with a creative way to make potatoes and chicken for dinner.  Then, I realized that it was ballet night for big sister and roasting them would take too long so I put everything in the crockpot.  This is what I used:

Instead of using white wine and olive oil like I might have done, I used a prepared vinaigrette that was in the refrigerator and added some other seasonings.  Baby sister loved the cooked carrots and although this wasn't fanciest meal ever, it was tasty and filling.  

It might not seem like much liquid, but the chicken will render more as it cooks and you don't want it all floating in a lot of broth.  You can adjust the seasonings according to your taste (and according to how much herbs are in the dressing you use).  If you don't have a dressing you want to use, sprinkle a little olive oil, add a little red or white wine, and use more seasonings.

Italian Crockpot Chicken (4 servings)

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts (appx 3 large)
1/2 c. broth
1/4 c. italian dressing or vinaigrette 
8-10 small red or yellow potatoes
1 large shallot, chopped (or 1/4 c. chopped onion)
1 cup baby carrots
oregano, basil, bay leaf, salt pepper
Mozzarella or parmesan cheese (optional).

Put the potatoes and carrots in the bottom of your slow cooker.  Pour the broth on top of the vegetables.  Put the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables.  Sprinkle with the shallot (or onion).  Drizzle with the dressing or vinaigrette.  Sprinkle with the seasonings.  Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or until the potatoes are soft and the chicken is cooked through.  When you plate the chicken, sprinkle with mozzarella or Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Kalamata Artichoke Dip

I did it again . . . I invited friends over for dinner, planned the meal, went grocery shopping, and about an hour before they were going to arrive, I realized it might be nice to have an appetizer to snack on before dinner.  Up until then, I hadn't thought at all about making an appetizer so it was off to the pantry . . . I usually have chips and salsa but it wasn't a great choice with the Thai main course.  What I ended up making was not very Thai either but it was easy and super tasty.  I like salty olive dips and tapenades and I was pretty proud with how this turned out.  I served it with carrots, celery, and crackers (what I had on hand - more raw veggies would be good).

A couple of notes:  The more finely you chop the olives, artichokes and herbs, the smoother consistency you'll get.  You could also put the olives & artichokes in a chopper or food processor.  Taste before adding any more salt.  Other kinds of olives would probably work just fine.  You could easily substitute plain yogurt for the sour cream or maybe plain hummus.  Add more sour cream if the dip is too chunky or too salty for your taste.

Kalamata Artichoke Dip (makes about 1.5 cups of dip)

1/2 c. chopped kalamata olives
1/2 c. chopped artichoke hearts (canned or jarred, drained)
2T chopped cilantro
1T chopped green onions
1T chopped italian parsley
1/4 c. sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a bowl, mix well and refrigerate for a half hour or so before serving.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Easter recap

I know this is a little late but I still wanted to share some of our Easter 2011 memories.  Easter this year was marked with a significant amount of understanding of the true meaning of the holiday, thanks in part to big sister's bible teacher at preschool.  She came home with a "wordless book" and the words to a song explaining the gospel.  I wish you could hear her little voice sing this (usually quite loudly):
My heart was sad with sin
Until the Savior came in
His precious blood I know
Has washed me pure as snow
And in God's word, I'm told,
We'll walk the streets of gold
What a wonderful, wonderful day,
He took my sins away.

They're also learning about the second coming and big sister got it all a little mixed up - she kept thinking that on Easter Sunday when we celebrate the resurrection, Jesus was going to "rise again from heaven" and told me she would "probably feel a little shy" when she was Jesus on Easter.  Then, at our sunrise service, there was a cross behind the pastor and big sister turned to me with a loud whisper and asked, "Is that the cross where Jesus really died?"  and then "but were you there when he died?"  So cute.

We dyed Easter eggs with Grammy Judy: 

The girls had some pretty cute Easter outfits (no hats or gloves like when I was little):

An Easter egg hunt at Grammy Heidi's house with my niece:

And, of course, some Easter treats:
Empty Tomb cookies


I had heard about these Easter story / Empty tomb cookies for awhile and this year, I made them with big sister and my niece the night before Easter.  My photos of that cooking experience aren't great but it was complete with smashing nuts (almost to the detriment of my new countertops . . . two toddlers + meat mallet = not my brightest idea), whipping egg whites (almost injuring little fingers in my stand mixer), and reading bible verses together.  

I used this recipe:  Easter Story Cookies    

I also made coconut macaroons for the first time.  I have to admit, I ate way, way too much sugar and am still paying for it, but they were delicious.  I followed the recipe from Baked Bree except for using part unsweetened coconut and was pleased with the results.  (As usual, she has beautiful photos of all the recipe's steps).

Both cookie recipes are gluten free!