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.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas

These enchiladas are delicious - a favorite meal around here and something I often make for company.  If you don't like the canned enchilada sauce, a good salsa verde works well in place of it.  You can adjust the ingredients to your liking (more spice, no onions, etc).

Bec's Chicken Enchiladas (serves 4-6)

3 cups of chopped cooked chicken (I often use a rotisserie chicken)
1-2 cups shredded cheese (monterey jack, a mexican blend)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. sour cream
1 (4.5 oz) can chopped green chiles (or jalapenos if you want it spicier)
1/3 c. cilantro, chopped
1/3 c. green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
8 (8 in.) flour or corn tortillas.
1 10 oz. can green enchilada sauce

Stir together all ingredients except tortillas and enchilada sauce. If you're using flour tortillas, you can spread a big spoonful of chicken mixture in the middle of each tortilla and roll up. If you're using corn, heat them in a hot skillet or in the microwave briefly until soft.  Then, spread a spoonful of the chicken mixture in the middle and roll it up.  Place tortillas, seam side down, in a 9x 13 pan lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Top with enchilada sauce and some of the cheese. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Kale Bandwagon

I think it's interesting to see how kale has become the chic, uber-popular superfood of the moment.  I've read some funny articles online, written both by people who love and hate this occurrence.  For all the bloggers and people with strong feelings one way or the other, I'm sort of in the middle.  I like it when it's prepared well or an accent.  Two of my favorite recipes that I've tried are this kale soup and this kale pasta.  The other night, I made a salad that I loved out of what was leftover in my fridge.  It turned out pretty awesome, I have to say.  My husband ate it willingly but said he didn't care if I never made it again.  

Massaging kale with olive oil helps to make it softer and take away the waxy exterior that makes it such a hearty leafy green.  You don't need to massage it much; just a minute or so with some good olive oil and then let it rest for awhile to soften up.

Massaged Kale Salad with Oranges & Beets

Take a bunch of Tuscan or Dino Kale and tear it into small pieces, discarding stems.  Put it in a bowl and drizzle a little olive oil over.  With clean hands, start massaging the kale until it's evenly coated with the oil.  Set it aside at room temperature for a half hour or so.  Cut up some beets (mine were roasted and cooled), some oranges (no peel or pith) and coarsely chop some almonds.  Add to the kale.  Sprinkle some salt, pepper, and white wine or red wine vinegar over the top.  Toss.  Taste and adjust to see if you need any more vinegar, oil, salt or pepper.  Shave some parmesan cheese over the top to serve.

Monday, October 7, 2013

New granola bars

Since I first tried this recipe, I've made a batch every week.  My husband and one of his co-workers are big fans, my kiddos like them (although they're not great in school lunches because they're a little crumbly when they're not right out of the fridge), and it's my latest grab and go breakfast.  I've had several attempts and recipes for granola bars over the years, but for right now, this one's the best!  You can play with the sweetness and use honey or brown rice syrup (or a combination) instead of the agave nectar.  You can also substitute different nuts.  I like these two because the shapes & sizes of them whole work well in the bars (cuts out a chopping step).  Let me know what you think if you try them!

No Bake Granola bars 
adapted from Bash & Food 52

2.5 cups rolled oats
1/2 c. pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 c. sunflower seeds (shelled)
2/3 c. natural almond or peanut butter
1/2 - 2/3 c. agave nectar
1/2 c. raisins
1/4 c. mini chocolate chips (optional)

Whisk together the almond butter or peanut butter and the agave nectar.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Spread in a foil lined 9x13 pan.  Press down really well (I put another piece of foil or a piece of plastic on top and then press with my hands.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Remove from the pan and cut into bars.  Wrap the granola bars and keep them in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ravioli Ideas

Ravioli is a super easy meal - boil it, put some sauce on top and there you have it:  dinner.  I like to use it in a couple of different ways - as a base for other pasta preparations and as a lasagna short cut.  The other night, I made the Lemon Shitake Basil Pasta recipe with ravioli (the arugula ravioli from Trader Joe's) instead of noodles.  It added a good flavor and some extra protein from the ricotta.  I've also made this tortellini recipe with ravioli in a pinch.

For lasagna, you have to decide if you want meat (either meat-filled ravioli or cooked sausage or beef between the layers) or spinach (again, spinach ravioli or sauteed spinach between the layers) or just a cheese, noodle & sauce lasagna.

Frozen ravioli works better but if you don't mind it not holding its shape as well (the slices of finished lasagna), fresh is fine too.  You basically layer the ravioli in place of the lasagna noodles and make sure the top layer is sauce and mozzarella cheese.  If you want, between the ravioli layers, you can add vegetables like spinach or meat (cooked sausage or browned ground beef / turkey).

It's easy to keep a bag of frozen ravioli in the freezer or the containers of fresh ravioli usually keep for awhile in the refrigerator!  What other meals have you made using ravioli as a base?