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.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

When your neighbor gives you lemons

One of the things I love about where we live is having great neighbors . . . the kind that say "hi" to my kids and put up with their antics, the kind that stop while out walking their dog to chat, the kind that have your back.  I'm not sure what the residents of our quiet cul de sac thought originally when we moved in with the kids, but we love it and are here to stay!

Our next door neighbor has been giving us citrus from her trees and I made a third variation on the lemon crinkles I've been making recently.  This time, I found a recipe that uses almond paste which is one of my favorite things ever.  You really do have to crumble or grate it from the tube or else the dough will be pretty lumpy and the cookies will be uneven.  I made a double batch  in my stand mixer and baked half of them the first day and refrigerated the dough for 2 days and then baked the rest to give some to my book club friends.

The verdict:  These Almond crinkles are my favorite but the cardamom ones are a close second!  Even though there's no photo of the end result, here's the almond paste you're looking for:

Lemon Almond Crinkles (4 dozen)
recipe from Odense website

1 (7oz) box almond paste
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 T grated lemon rind (1 large lemon)
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. Confectioner's sugar

Put the sugar, butter, egg, lemon rind and lemon juice in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Crumble or grate the almond paste over the top.  Beat together until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Mix until well-combined.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  The original recipe said the dough would keep well in the refrigerator up to 5 days.

Line  baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll dough into balls and roll in confectioner's sugar.  Place 2-3 inches apart and bake for 10-12 minutes or until puffed up and lightly colored on the edges.  Cool on wire racks and store in an air-tight container.