Monday, December 23, 2013

Early Family Christmas

We had our family Christmas early this year and it was such a fun day.  The kids got great gifts, we played games, had good food and just enjoyed hanging out with each other.  The nice part about doing it early is that there is still some Christmas left . . . it's not all over!  Here are some pictures from the day - it was hard to choose which ones to post here and as I look them over, I think about how I always wish I had more photos but in the moment, I want to enjoy it and not be constantly using the camera.  Anyways, these should give you a little taste of the day.  I love hanging out with my family!

Today's recipe is perfect for those instances where you are all done baking & making but you still need something to take to a neighbor, party, or friend.  This is the solution!  Easy, relatively quick (putting the pan in the refrigerator will help it to harden and set up quicker), and just 4 ingredients.  It turned out delicious!

You can use whatever chocolate you like - milk, dark, bittersweet, whatever is in the cupboard.  I used a 9x13 pan (but I think a larger pan would have yielded thinner pieces of bark in the end) and it made two small boxes of bark.

Peppermint Bark

1 lb chocolate chips
1 lb white chocolate chips
1/2 cup crushed candy cane
peppermint extract

Line a pan with parchment paper or waxed paper.  Melt the chocolate chips and spread evenly on the lined pan.  Let it cool and set (this will go quicker in the refrigerator).  Melt the white chocolate chips and add some peppermint extract (a few drops to start, taste it and add more if you want).  Spread the melted white chocolate in an even layer over the other chocolate.  Sprinkle with the crushed candy cane and press on it a little bit to make the candy cane stick into the white chocolate.  Let it all set up and then break it into pieces.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Baking Christmas Cookies

I love the Christmas season. . . the carols, picking out and wrapping gifts, the decorations, houses lit up . . . all of it!  And, not surprisingly, one thing I look forward to is making Christmas cookies.  This year, I'm getting together with a friend to bake (links to two of the recipes below).  Even though we're not doing rolled, decorated sugar cookies, I still wanted to share the recipe we used all through my childhood.  Our family would add a step between refrigerating and baking - brush the cut out cookies with a lightly beaten egg white and sprinkle with decorating sugar.  They turn out so pretty and yummy!
Since I don't have a photo of these (you can sneak a peek here), I'll share some pictures of our kids from when we picked out and decorated our Christmas tree.

What I'm baking this year:
Mary's Sugar Cookies (4-5 dozen)
from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book
1½ cups of sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. almond flavoring
2½ cups of flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
Mix sugar and butter. Add egg and flavorings; mix thoroughly. Sift flour. Stir dry ingredients together and blend in. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours.  Heat oven to 375°. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface and cut with cookie cutters. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until delicately golden!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fall Sangria

I made sangria for a girl's night a few weeks ago and it was yummy!  This version is more of a fall recipe with the pomegranate and is fairly tart, which is how I prefer it.  If you want it sweeter, add a few tablespoons of simple syrup.  You could substitute cranberries and unsweetened cranberry juice for the pomegranate seeds & juice to make a holiday version if you're doing some entertaining in the next few weeks.  The recipe doubles really easily and you should get 8 decent glasses out of a double batch.

A couple of notes:  Other fruit would work well too - depends on how much fruit you like in your glass of sangria (I like a lot!).  I also think it works best to start with your wine and juice chilled.

Fall Red Wine Sangria (about 4 servings)
adapted from Bobby Flay

1 bottle dry red wine
1/3 c. pomegranate juice
1/3 c. orange juice
1/2 c. brandy
1/4 c. triple sec
1/2 of an orange, diced (pith, peel and all)
1/2 apple, diced
1 c. blackberries
1/2 c. pomegranate seeds (optional)

Dump it all in a pitcher, stir, and refrigerate for several hours to let the flavors combine.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Winter in Claremont

Winter has finally come to Claremont!  It's been beautiful in our town and I took these photos recently while I was out for a run.  I'll add a couple of recent ones of the girls - they've all three grown a ton recently and I can't believe how big they're getting!  The baby is starting to crawl and pull herself up - time to babyproof again and put away all the tiny lego pieces that are all over the house.

Today's recipe is from a book that I recently read and loved: "Bread & Wine" by Shauna Niequist.  In fact, I told one of my friends that this book was the type that I envisioned myself writing some day but she did it so well, that I'm off the hook and I don't need to write it.

I've made a few recipes from that book with good results and this one did not disappoint.  It's originally from Real Simple and it takes a little while to cook but there's not too much hands on time.  With the cold California winter weather we've been having, this dish was perfect.  For those of you who are gf, Shauna says that she makes this with gf breadcrumbs for her family.

Real Simple's Winter Cassoulet
serves 6

1 T olive oil
1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed (I used a chicken sausage)
1.5 cups chicken broth
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 carrots, diced
3 parsnips, diced
8 oz diced tomatoes (I used canned)
2 15oz cans of cannelini beans (or great Northern), drained and rinsed
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
2 T unsalted butter, melted

In an oven proof dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat on the stovetop.  Cook the sausage until well browned, breaking it up with a spoon.  If there'a a lot of oil in the Dutch oven, drain it at this point before the next step.  Add the chicken broth, vegetables, beans, salt, pepper, and garlic and mix well, scraping up any brown bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally about 1 hour (until the sauce has thickened and the vegetables are tender).

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, parsley, and butter.  Sprinkle evenly over the cassoulet and place in the oven.  Bake uncovered until the crust is golden brown (about 10-15 minutes).  

I haven't tried it yet, but the recipe says you can make it ahead and freeze it with out the breadcrumb topping.  Then, when you want to bake it, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top and bake, unthawed, for 45 mins - 1 hour at 400 degrees.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pumpkin Soup

One of the fun parts about having this blog is that it keeps me in touch with people who don't live nearby.  I hear that my husband's aunt often checks for pictures of my girls and now and then I get emails and notes from other people who read the blog.  My cousin Carol lived nearby while I was growing up and we went to church together.  Now that she lives in Illinois, I don't see her often but I love hearing from her.  She recently emailed me this recipe that she thought I would like.  She was right - it was delicious and much more flavorful than the pumpkin soup I usually make.  When we had this soup, I made a half batch and served it with a salad, but I wished I had made the whole amount so we could keep on eating it!  Adjust the curry to your preferences but I wouldn't recommend leaving it out altogether - it really adds to the overall flavor.  Thanks, Carol!

Pumpkin Soup (makes appx 8 cups)

1/4 c. butter
1 c. onion, chopped
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1/2 - 1 tsp curry powder
1.5 tsp. salt
3 cups chicken broth
1 (15oz) can pumpkin
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1.5 c. half and half

Saute onion and garlic in butter.  Add curry powder, salt and broth.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.  Whisk together pumpkin, cream of mushroom soup, and half and half.  Add to broth mixture and bring it to barely a simmer.  Serve.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Report: Black Beauty

I've had a really busy week, and I'm giving the reins to Big who has another book report to share:

What was this book about?
It was about a horse named Black Beauty.

Who was your favorite horse?
Black Beauty because she is the main character and I liked her.  My second favorite was Ginger because she was Black Beauty's friend.

What part did you like the best?
When Ginger and Black Beauty saw each other again.  Black Beauty was in a nice stable and Ginger came in but she was hurt.  I was sad when they first were taken away from each other so I was happy when they got to see each other one more time.

Who was your favorite person?
I liked John Manley because he was good and kind.

What did you learn about animals from this book?
I learned that you should treat them nicely and never do things to hurt animals.

What is your recommendation to other readers?
You should read this book because it's a good story that teaches you a lesson.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pumpkin Gingerbread Pie

I love to make a twist on traditional recipes but I come from a family big on making the traditional dishes.  This year, I'm excited to be making my grandma's sweet potatoes and a turkey for the Thanksgiving meal that we'll be having at my mom's.  But, before the big day and all the traditional fixings, I decided to make one of my favorite combos:  a gingerbread pumpkin pie.

I found this recipe years ago in a Better Homes & Gardens magazine and have made it a few times.  It calls for a gingerbread mix, pretty readily available this time of year, and one of these days, I'd like to experiment with making a "real" gingerbread base instead of the mix.  But, right now easy is good!

Hope you have a blessed holiday!

Past Thanksgiving Posts with Recipes:
2012 part 1

Pumpkin Gingerbread Pie (serves 8)
from Better Homes & Gardens

1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 slightly beaten egg
1/2 cup half and half
1 (14.5 oz) package gingerbread mix
whipped cream for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a 10  inch pie pan with baking spray (or butter) and set aside.  Combine pumpkin, sugar, pumpkin pie spec and egg and sit with a fork until just combined.
Add half and half and mix well.

Prepare gingerbread mix according to package directions.  Spoon into the pie plate and spread evenly.  Lightly spoon the pumpkin mixture over the top and swirl gently using a table knife.  Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a pick inserted in the gingerbread portion comes out clean.  Serve with whipped cream.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Butternut Squash, Pancetta & Gorgonzola Galette

Look at that title - if those ingredients aren't MFEO, I don't know what is.  A friend of mine posted a picture of this on Instagram and I was sold.  It was a bonus that I had pie crust dough in the fridge from making the apple galette the week before and a container of gorgonzola cheese.  The smells in my kitchen of the butternut squash were so amazing.  I love, love butternut squash and normally just make soup or something but this dish was perfect.  I'm imagining little tartlet versions of this as appetizers for the holiday season - yum.

Recipe note:  You can add 1 T each of chopped fresh thyme and sage like the original recipe.  I didn't have it so I substituted the dried thyme.

Butternut Squash, Pancetta & Gorgolzola Galette
from Bash & Farmhouse Table

1 medium  butternut squash (neck only) peeled and sliced into half circles
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp. dried thyme

1 T minced fresh rosemary
salt & pepper
pinch red chili flakes
2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1/3 c. ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 oz. gorgonzola
3 slices pancetta

Preheat oven to 350.  Toss squash slices in a bowl with shallots, herbs and red pepper flakes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Heat butter and olive oil in a skillet and briefly saute squash slices, until just barely tender.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Whisk egg into ricotta cheese.  Transfer pastry circle to baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Spread ricotta egg mixture on pastry circle, leaving a 2-3″ border.  Arrange squash slices on top.  Crumble gorgonzola and scatter on top of squash.  

Fold an edge of the pastry over the filling to form the crust.  Continue around the crust, pleating the edges as you go. Drape pancetta loosely over the filling.  Bake in middle of oven for about 45 minutes, until pastry is golden, cheese is bubbling and pancetta is crisp.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pumpkin Blondies

You should know by now that I love to make pumpkin desserts . . . I usually start in September or October and it doesn't stop until well after Christmas.  I keep a stockpile of pumpkin puree and recently, bought pumpkin pie spice after all these years of mixing up my own (fresh spices are key to good flavor!).  Now blondies are a recent thing for me - I only started baking them the past two or three years.  I had always associated them with butterscotch (a flavor I'm not super fond of) but this is the third version that I've made and really liked . . . maybe it's because I've only made coffee-ish or pumpkin variations!  Check out the Mocha Blondies and the Irish Coffee Blondies here on the blog.

Pumpkin Blondies (Makes 2 dozen)
from My Baking Addiction

2 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 T pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 (15oz) can pure pumpkin puree
1.5 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease the bottom of a 9x13 pan.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt and set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.  Mix in the egg and vanilla. Mix in the pumpkin (it might look curdled but it's ok).  Reduce speed to low and stir in the flour mixture until just combined.  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a tester comes out with some moist crumbs.  Cool completely in the pan before cutting and serving.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Slow Cooker Potato Soup

First, a little Mini update.  Mini girl is now 8 months old.  She weighs in at about 13.5 lbs and is still wearing 3-6 month clothes.  She can sit up and wave, she recognizes her name and the names of people in our family, and loves to be outside.  It's amazing to see similarities between my girls at this age and I've been feeling sentimental about my girls as baby lately, so here are some photos of all three at 8 months.

First, the youngest (and the most recent photos):

Next, middle when she was 8 months old (and already crawling everywhere):

And finally, from back in 2008, Big at 8 months old:

This is a super easy crockpot soup - you chop some stuff, put it in the crockpot, and turn it on.  There might be more depth of flavor if you browned the onion and leek first (maybe with garlic and olive oil?) but I threw it all in there raw and it turned out great without the extra step.

How big you chop the pieces depends on whether you plan on blending the soup or not . . . if you're going to leave it chunky, dice the potatoes, carrot, celery, and onion smaller.  Make sure you wash the leek well before adding to the soup.  I found that with low-sodium broth and the milk, I needed to add some salt before serving it.

Cream of Potato Soup (serves 8)

2 lbs red potatoes, cut into pieces
1 carrot, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 leek, sliced
1 onion, diced
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups water
2 tsp salt (more to taste)
pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
1 cup evaporated milk

Optional garnish:
cooked chopped bacon
fresh parsley
grated cheese

Put everything but the evaporated milk in the slow cooker.  Cook for 3-4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low (I did 2 hours on high and then turned it to low for 3 more hours).  Add the evaporated milk and mash up the soup with a potato masher (or for a smoother consistency, use a blender).  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Bring it back to a simmer (the milk & blending will have cooled it off) and serve with bacon, chives, parsley, and cheese to garnish (if you want to).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Salsa Verde Poached Eggs

I love spicy egg dishes for breakfast like huevos rancheros or chilaquiles.  While we're on the topic, my favorite Huevos Rancheros are at Cafe Verde in Pasadena . . . yum!!  Anyways, a few weeks ago I dreamed up this version of fake chilaquiles, made it for brunch with friends, and loved the result.  I'm looking for an excuse to make them again!

Some recipe notes:  Poaching eggs is a healthy way to enjoy them and doing it in salsa brings a lot of flavor (and is easier than poaching in boiling water which I don't quite have down).  You could make your own salsa verde but I love the Trader Joe's version.  I make these tortilla strips for tortilla soup and for taco salad and it works great here too.  Baking the tortilla strips omits the frying part of most chilaquiles recipes which turns me off from making the more authentic version.  You can use cotija cheese for a more authentic flavor but really any shredded cheese will do.  I used pepper jack to make it spicier.  It's easy to do several batches in the same salsa (add a little to it after scooping out the first batch of eggs) to feed a larger group.  If you're GF, check the ingredients on  your corn tortillas.

Salsa Verde Poached Eggs (2 servings)

4 eggs
2-3 cups salsa verde
2 corn tortillas
1/2 - 1 cup shredded cheese
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
olive oil spray

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  With a pizza cutter, cut corn tortillas into thin strips and then cut in half.  Spread them in one even layer on a cookie sheet that's coated with olive oil spray.  Sprinkle with salt if you want to (I did but the salsa was pretty salty too so next time, I'd omit the salt from the tortilla strips).  Bake for about 10 - 15 minutes or until the strips and crispy and light brown.  Set aside.

In a skillet, heat the salsa verde until barely bubbling.  Depending on the thickness of the salsa, you might want to let it simmer until it's thickened up.  If the salsa is too thin, the eggs won't hold their shape as well while poaching.

Make little wells in the salsa and pour a cracked egg into each well.  Cover and simmer over medium heat until the egg is poached to your preferences (I like the whites to be firm and the yolks to be a little runny).  Right at the end, sprinkle the cheese on top of the egg.

Put some tortilla strips on a plate.  Spoon an egg and some salsa verde on top.  Garnish with cilantro and serve.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pumpkin Tiramisu & Kids in Costume

Halloween was so much fun!  It was our first year trick or treating in Claremont; we went to the village in the afternoon and after supper with friends, around our neighborhood.  My mom made the adorable octopus legs for the baby and her costume was a huge hit . . . there's something about babies dressed like animals that's adorable.  Little kids would come up and squeeze her legs to see if they were real and one kid asked if she was a spider.  I guess we could also have done 8 black legs and made a spider!  Middle was so excited to see other costumes and when she saw another Disney princess (which happened quite a bit) she would say "Oh, look, you're my friend!"  She's convinced that the Disney princesses are all friends and hang out together somewhere (maybe Disneyland?).  Big told me it was "the best day ever" because of all the candy . . . but without being asked, she counted out her 10 pieces this morning and handed over the rest.  I let her "trade" her candy to me for a new DVD.  

On to today's recipe - "Tiramisu" is being used very loosely here - there is no espresso or coffee flavor - but the structure is similar with layers of lady fingers with a whipped mascarpone filling.  When I saw boxes of lady fingers at Trader Joe's, I was inspired to make something with them and this was the result.  It turned out delicious and I'll be making it again.  A bonus was that by substituting apple cider for the traditional espresso or rum, it's kid-friendly.  I used the Spiced Apple Cider from Trader Joe's and if you opt for plain apple cider, consider adding a half teaspoon or so of pumpkin pie spice to the cider as well.  The dessert has to set up overnight, so it's a good option to make ahead for a holiday gathering!

Pumpkin Tiramisu (8-10 servings)
adapted from Bon Appetit 11/06

1.5 cups chilled whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 (8oz) container mascarpone cheese
1 (15oz) can pumpkin puree
3/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 (3oz) packages lady fingers
1/4 cup apple cider
2 oz crushed ginger snaps or amaretti cookies

Beat whipping cream and sugar until peaks form.  Add mascarpone cheese, pumpkin, and pumpkin pie spice; beat just until filling is smooth.

Line bottom of 9 inch diameter springform pan with 1 package ladyfingers, overlapping and crowding to fit.  Brush the ladyfingers with half of the apple cider.  Spread half of the filling over the lady fingers.

Repeat with more lady fingers, remaining apple cider, and remaining filling.  Smooth the top.  Wrap tightly in plastic, then foil and chill overnight.

To unmold, run knife around the inside edge of pan.  Release the pan sides; sprinkle with crushed cookies.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pumpkins: A Retrospective in Photos

Last year I did a little retrospective where I shared pictures of the kids in their costumes from every year.  I was thinking about that post this morning when we carved pumpkins and took pictures in the same spot that we had since we moved to Claremont.  There are certain occasions and times of the year when you take pictures of the kids and it's fun to compare them.  So, this year, the photos are of us carving pumpkins or visiting pumpkin patches since Big was a baby.  I will post costume photos from this year but I'm going to make you wait for it - Mini's costume is amazing and I'm excited for Halloween!








Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tomato Tortellini Soup

I love soup for dinner and it's nice when the weather cooperates with my menu planning.  Recently, I've just gone ahead and made it on 90 degree days because it's October.  This recipe is a good middle ground between opening a can of soup and heating it up and making a soup from scratch with a lot of ingredients.  It involves cans of soup but jazzes it up a little and tastes "fresher" with adding additional flavors and fresh tortellini.

For the sundried tomatoes, you can take the dried ones and soften them up by soaking them in boiling water, use the packaged soft sundried tomatoes (TJs sells julienned sliced ones this way), or the kind packed in oil if you drain the oil.  If you want a little kick, add some ground pepper or red pepper flakes.  If you like it richer and aren't as concerned about fat content, use 2% or whole milk and add a dash of heavy cream.  I added some fresh basil and fresh parmesan cheese to top the soup before serving.

Tomato Tortellini Soup (6 servings)
adapted from Taste of Home

9 oz package of cheese tortellini
2 cans condensed tomato soup (undiluted)
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups milk (I used nonfat)
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup softened sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried basil
Parmesan cheese and fresh basil (optional)

Cook the tortellini according to the package instructions.

Meanwhile, in a large pan or Dutch oven, combine the rest of the ingredients (except for the parmesan cheese, if using).  Heat through until simmering, stirring frequently.  Add the cooked, drained tortellini.  Stir.  I served it with graded fresh parmesan cheese and fresh basil on top.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Rustic Apple Raisin Tart

I can't believe October is more than halfway over . . . we've been enjoying beautiful, hot weather into the fall and we're getting into the swing of things with Big in Kindergarten and my maternity leave being over.
Mini literally in the swing - her new favorite activity
She can sit!  Playtime has improved by leaps and bounds
Lots of bike riding on the cul de sac
A trip to Disneyland for Daddy's birthday
And a highlight was Big being the rebel spy in Star Tours
I also made a new apple dessert for Daddy's birthday - the Rustic Apple Tart below.  Middle helped me be the "cooker" and she chose to add the raisins.  We served it with vanilla ice cream and I thought it turned out great!

Rustic Apple Raisin Tart (serves 6)
adapted from Fine Cooking

One pie crust, unbaked
4 cups thinly sliced apples (I used Granny Smith)
1T - 1/4 c. sugar (depends on the tartness of your apples - I used about a tablespoon)
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 T flour
big pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
2 T turbinado sugar (or white sugar)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix together the apples, raisins, vanilla, cinnamon, flour and salt.  Roll out your pie crust into a big round and put it on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Heap the apple filling into the middle of the pie crust.  Fold an edge of the dough into the middle over the apples.  Work your way around the tart, pleating the dough as you go.

Using a pastry brush, evenly coat the exposed dough with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the sugar.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the dough is lightly brown and the apples are soft.  Cut into wedges and serve.