Monday, April 30, 2012

An Ode to the Monkey

This post is dedicated to Matthew's friend, companion, and favorite toy - a little raggedy puppet simply known around here as "the monkey."

The monkey was given to Matthew as a gift for his first Christmas by his Aunt Amy.  From the moment he laid eyes on that thing, it has never left his side.  When he was learning how to crawl, he would drag the monkey along with him.  He would refuse to sleep at night unless the monkey was snugly tucked under his arm.  The monkey even had to be perched within eyesight on a nearby table or counter-top while he ate a snack in his high chair.  When he is tired, he will snuggle with it on the couch, kissing its face and nuzzling its nose.  When we tuck him in at night, he insists that Paul and I also kiss the monkey goodnight.  That monkey has been an essential part of his life for almost a year and a half and the novelty of that little stuffed creature has yet to show signs of waning.

Can you locate him in all the pictures?

Making a latte with Daddy on Sunday morning.

Matthew was thrilled that HE got to enjoy a cup of coffee too!  Really, it was just a glass of hot cocoa.

Paul and I have gone to great lengths to ensure that the monkey remains safe despite being dragged literally everywhere with Matthew.

One time, Matthew and I set out on an 8-mile hike and he insisted on bringing the monkey along to clutch while I pushed him in the stroller.  I did not think any harm could come from the monkey tagging along, so I agreed.  At the completion of our hike, I noticed that the monkey was no longer with us.  I began to panic - Matthew would be so devastated if he were to lose the monkey!  I had no choice but to retrace our entire hike in search of the monkey.  The 8-mile hike turned into a 15-mile quest.  But, we successfully found the monkey laying in a ditch on the side of the trail and Matthew was overjoyed to be reunited with his friend.

A few months later, I was staying at my parent's house and was preparing to lay Matthew down for his nap.  He began to look around for his monkey, but could not find it.  With four of my younger siblings, I formed a search party and dangled the prospect of rewards of ice cream and candy in front of them to keep the momentum moving.  Our efforts proved fruitless.  After a couple hours of tearing the house apart, the monkey was nowhere to be found.  I began to cry (I know...ridiculous...but I knew how much Matthew loved that stupid little toy).  I silently began praying to Saint Anthony, begging him to help me find that monkey.  Immediately after I finished my prayer, I had an idea.  The one place I had not looked was in the laundry basket in our guest room.  I went searching through the pile of clothes and at the very bottom of the basket was the monkey.  Thank you Saint Anthony!  It was probably one of the happiest moments of my life (pathetic, no?).

As I have mentioned earlier, Matthew has been attending my physical therapy appointments with me.  He usually brings that Monkey along and tosses him around (he's rather abusive towards his little friend).  One day, we were getting ready to leave when Matthew suddenly asked me:  "Where's the monkey?!"  I looked around and could not find it.  Then, I heard Matthew laughing.  I looked at him and asked with suspicion:  "Matthew...what did you do?  Where did you put the monkey?"  He ran over to one of the weight machines and pointed at a little opening and said, while giggling:  "The monkey's in there!"  And sure enough, it was.  The problem was that there was no easy way to extract the monkey.  The physical therapists and I had to get a tool kit and take apart the machine in order to rescue the monkey.  We dubbed the project "Operation Save the Monkey."  Unfortunately, Matthew threw the monkey back there no less than five more times in the subsequent weeks.  Then I got smart and just refused to let him bring the thing in with us.  I probably should have done that sooner.

Why go to such lengths for such a homely little toy?  Frankly, I owe a lot to the monkey.  The monkey is the reason Matthew started to sleep so well at night.  The monkey helps calm Matthew down when he is angry or hurt.  Honestly, I do not know where we'd be without it.

I do not know how long Matthew's love affair with the monkey will continue.  All I know is, for now, the monkey will continue to accompany him wherever he goes.

Pushing the monkey around in his Thomas the Tank Engine chair!  Who says chairs are only for sitting?

The following is a simple recipe for corn muffins.  Slightly sweet with a wonderfully nutty texture from the cornmeal, these are wonderful to eat slathered with jam in the morning or as an accompaniment to a bowl of chili.  They are a cinch to put together and one of my favorite go-to recipes whenever I feel like serving a meal with a piping hot, fresh carbohydrate (which is pretty much all the time!).

Simple Corn Muffins
adapted from Dorie Greenspan

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, placing the rack in the center of the oven.  Fit the molds of a regular, 12-cup muffin pan with paper cups.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In another bowl, whisk the buttermilk, melted butter, egg, and yolk together until well blended.  Make a little crater in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the center.  Using a rubber spatula, stir gently but quickly to blend.  The batter will (and should) be lumpy.  Stir in the corn kernels, if using.  Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before carefully unmolding.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Big, Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies for the Kids

Whenever Matthew's little friends come over, I try to have a cookie recipe in mind to make with them.  Both Matthew and his friend Isabella are fascinated with kitchen utensils of all shapes and sizes; Bella's older sister Sophie is at the age where she loves to help with little tasks in the kitchen, such as measuring out the flour and scooping the cookie dough.  It has become a little bit of a tradition to make cookies with these kids after they have finished eating their lunch and it is something that we all look forward to.  

Bella and Matthew get so excited when I turn on the mixer to beat the butter and sugar to a creamy consistency.  They ALL get excited when the chocolate and butterscotch chips are pulled out of the pantry (I had to re-measure the chocolate three times because our sampling got a little out of control!).  The hardest part for everyone was waiting for the cookies to be done baking and cooling.  But I think the wait was well worth it.  After I served them their cookies and tall, chilled glasses of milk, the room went completely silent except for the low sound of the children humming in approval:  "Mmmmmmmmm....."

I love this recipe because it uses a hefty amount of oats to make these cookies some of the heartiest I have ever tried.  I've been trying to make a batch of these at the beginning of every month to freeze so Paul can have a treat in his lunches.  But then Paul put himself in an attempt to lose the small pouch that has been steadily growing beneath his chin since the day we got married and since then I have not been baking cookies for him.  It's funny how he's so convinced that the cookies are what is causing him to plump up and not the processed cheese dip he eats by the jar full with buttery crackers on a weekly basis.  I'm sure if I leave a plate of these babies out on the counter, he'll forget all about his diet and gobble them down before kissing me hello.

Chunky, Chewy Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
from The New Best Recipe

2 sticks unsalted softened butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (I used a combination of chocolate and butterscotch)

Adjust the oven racks to the middle and lowest positions and preheat the oven to 350 degress.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until it is creamy.  Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl as necessary.  Add in the eggs, one at a time, and beat until completely incorporated.  Using a spatula or a sturdy wooden spoon, stir in the flour until completely incorporated.  Fold in the oats and the chocolate.

Using 2 heaping tablespoons of batter, form into 2-inch balls and place on the baking sheets.  You should be able to get about 16 huge cookies.  If you want to make them smaller (I do), feel free.  Keep in mind that the baking time will change significantly.

Bake in the preheated oven for 22-25 minutes, rotating baking sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking.  Let cool on the baking sheets 2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack with a wide spatula.  Let cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Italian Sausage, Red Pepper, and Mushroom Risotto

If I had to choose one dish that Paul and I could both eat over and over again for weeks on end, it would be risotto.  Paul and I read an article about risotto together shortly after we were married that included a basic recipe.  We tried the recipe later that day and were instantly hooked.  I was never a huge fan of rice in any form (except maybe when topped with Chinese takeout), but the creamy, cheesy risotto instantly stole my heart and became one of my favorite dishes.  So passionate are we about risotto, that we have it about once a week and keep a large bin full of arborio rice in our pantry.

Most risotto recipes we make are meatless, however Paul has been longing to try a sausage variation for a long time.  This recipe has been on the "To Make Soon" list for months and we finally got around to it last night.  It did not disappoint.  The savory, spicy sausage pairs beautifully with the mushrooms and red pepper.  We served it with a glass of red wine that paired just perfectly with the meal.  It would have been the most perfect, relaxing dinner except for the fact that Matthew decided to have a meltdown at the table, causing Paul and I to inhale our food like rabid wolves and guzzle our wine like nomads who had been wandering the desert sans water for a few days.

Risotto takes quite a bit of stirring, but it is worth the effort.  Just pour yourself a big glass of wine and savor it while standing over the oven stirring.  Plus, it is totally a cardio workout.  Which means you can eat more risotto.

Italian Sausage, Red Pepper, and Mushroom Risotto
as seen on Brown Eyed Baker

5 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces hot Italian Sausage, casings removed
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

In a small saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a simmer.  Turn the heat to low, cover, and keep warm until ready to use.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat.  Add the sausage and cook, stirring to break it up, until it is golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms and cook until tender, stirring often.  Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any browned bits.  Season with the salt and pepper.

Add the rice and stir to coat.  Add the wine and simmer until it is all nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Add in 1/2 cup of chicken broth and stir constantly until almost completely absorbed.  Add another 1/2 cup of broth and repeat.  Repeat this process until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy  This will take approximately 25-30 minutes.

Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and parsley.  Serve immediately.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Family Favorite: Apple Pie Bars

I cannot believe that I have not yet shared this recipe!

I have made these bars probably no less than 100 times since Paul and I have been married.  They are Paul's single favorite cookie/dessert/snack/breakfast.  I have brought them to potlucks, work parties, birthday celebrations, and church functions.  They are always met with rave reviews.  

These bars are a cross between a blondie and a slice of apple pie.  A bounty of apple pieces are folded into a basic cake batter that has been spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.  After the batter has been spread into the pan, butterscotch pieces are scattered throughout, serving to intensify the apple flavors.  The aroma that fills the kitchen is warming, comforting, and mouth-watering.  The bars are delicious served warm or cold - with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or as an accompaniment with your morning coffee.

Paul and I made another batch of these babies to bring to a dinner being hosted at a friend's house tonight.  And I confess that we ate about 1/4 of the pan for "lunch."  After Paul finished his piece, he declared:  "Let's make more!"

And we will.

Apple Pie Bars
adapted from The Runaway Spoon

1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and finely diced
1 cup butterscotch chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 13x9 baking dish.

Using a stand mixer, beat the oil, sugar, and eggs until fully combined (about 2 minutes).  The mixture should be thick and pale yellow.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and spices.  Add to the sugar mixture in the mixer and beat until completely combined.  Using a sturdy spoon or spatula, fold in the apples.  The batter should be very thick.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and scatter the top with butterscotch chips.  Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes - 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out with only a few, moist crumbs attached.  Be careful not to over-bake.  Let cool slightly on a wire rack.  Serve the bars warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Most Embarrassing Day of My Life

Today was the most embarrassing day of my life.  So far.  And it all was thanks to Mr. Matthew.

For the past two months, Matthew and I have been going to physical therapy to correct the neck and back pain that has been plaguing me since I began lugging around a certain 30-pound little boy.  The therapy sessions are an intense 2 1/2 hours where I am performing all sorts of stretches and weight-bearing exercises to properly strengthen my core and correct my posture, all with the goal of alleviating unnecessary strain on select muscle groups that are causing me pain.  At first, I tried to arrange for a babysitter for Matthew during these sessions, but the frequency of the appointments made that difficult.  When the therapists learned that I had a small son at home, they encouraged me to bring him along.  So, I did.  I am so blessed that the therapists love kids so much because they spend a lot of time entertaining him while I am  doing my exercises.  They help him jump on the trampolines, bounce balls, feed him candy, and show him how to use their industrial-sized coffee machine.  He absolutely loves going and is usually so well-behaved.

However, that all changed today.

I was going about my stretches as usual while keeping an eye on my little man.  Matthew was preoccupied with tossing a ball about the room.  I turned away for another minute to complete another set of chest curls when suddenly I heard the deafening sound of a fire alarm resonating throughout the entire room.  Instantly, the other patients in the room jumped up to grab their things and head outside.  The pool where some of the more elderly patients were performing aquatic therapeutic exercises was instantly emptied as the patients jumped out (despite their bad backs, knees, and hips), grabbed their towels, and headed for the doors.  They were all pretty alarmed.  Amid all the chaos, Matthew came running towards me, his hands slapped over his little ears, scared to death by the sudden noise that he had caused.

Even though I did not see him do the deed, I knew what had happened.  Matthew had bounced his ball into the corner where the fire alarm was anchored to the wall, at a federally-mandated reachable level of 2-feet off the ground.  Apparently, the urge to pull the lever proved to be too great for him.  So he pulled it.  And chaos ensued.

See?  Another lever to pull.  He's a curious little guy.

The therapists were madly racing around trying to get everyone to calm down by explaining that the alarm had been accidentally pulled.  Unfortunately, nobody could really hear anybody else talking because the alarms were still blaring (nobody knew how to reset the alarm).  After a minute or two, everyone calmed down and another 3 minutes after that, the fire department came racing in, the alarm on their truck blaring.  Three firemen completely outfitted in all their firefighting glory came marching into the building.  The head PT explained what had happened and the firemen reset the alarm for the building and finally we could all hear ourselves think again.

However, they were not finished with Matthew.

"Where's the little boy that pulled this alarm?"  they asked.

Matthew meekly walked forward, looking very ashamed of himself.  Even though he did not completely  understand the situation, he knew that he was in trouble.

The fireman picked him up and asked him:  "Have you ever seen a firetruck before?"

Matthew just stared at him (I said a silent prayer that he would not take this opportunity to start picking his nose, as often happens whenever he gets quiet).

"Would you like to see our truck?"  the fireman asked him again.
"Oh yeah!" Matthew responded, while pointing at the fire truck through the window.

So, the fireman took my little troublemaker on board the firetruck.  Matthew thought it was the greatest thing ever.  I was a little worried that this little field trip might prove to be an incentive for him to pull the alarm again in the future.

It all ended well, but I was pretty embarrassed.  I could not help but think that the other patients must think I am a horrible mother who cannot keep track of her son.  I kept apologizing for everyone for the inconvenience and everyone assured me that it was alright and that they actually had found the whole situation quite humorous.  I hope so.

The recipe I want to share today is one of our favorite weekday breakfast foods.  In an effort to save money on buying cereal, I have been making baked oatmeal in large batches at the very beginning of the week and keeping it in the refrigerator for us to use for breakfast all week long.  Paul loves having this option available because he can just cut off a slice, microwave it if he wishes, and head out the door.  Matthew absolutely loves baked oatmeal.  It is normally a struggle to get him to eat the stovetop version, but for some reason he eats caveman-sized portions once the oatmeal is baked.  I have made a lot of different varieties, but this pumpkin one is probably my favorite.  I love anything pumpkin, as does Mr. Matthew.  Who says pumpkin is just for the fall?  I buy so many cans of it just for the purpose of using it all year round in dishes such as these.  This is a delicious, warm, and comforting breakfast - give it a try!

Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal with Caramelized Bananas
adapted from Annie's Eats

1 cup steel-cut oats
4 cups very hot water
2 large bananas, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
2 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Place the steel-cut oats in small bowl.  Pour the boiling water over the oats and cover.  Let stand for 20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the bananas, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the bananas are caramelized.  Set aside to cool.

Once the steel-cut oats have softened, mix them with the old-fashioned oats, maple syrup, salt, nutmeg, and remaining 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.  In a small bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, milk, and vanilla.  Add to the oat mixture, stirring well.

In the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish, spread the caramelized bananas in an even layer.  Carefully pour the oat mixture over the top.  Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the center is set.  Enjoy served hot or cold!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Visitor for Matthew

This weekend, Matthew was very excited to have a little friend over for a sleepover.

Meet Skittles, a cute little Pekingese we were entrusted with for the weekend while her owners were out of town.  Matthew squealed with delight when we welcomed this little 10-pound ball of fluff into our home.  And she loved Matthew.  She followed him around wherever he went (to her detriment on a few occasions when he would suddenly decide to jump backward, crushing one of her tiny little paws).

Most of all, Matthew enjoyed having someone he could boss around.  Matthew loved playing tug-of-war with Skittles, waving her little pink rope in front of her face while instructing her to "bite! bite! bite!"  He also would follow her around with her food bowl telling her authoritatively:  "Eat, Puppy!  EAT!"  He would also "shepherd" Skittles from one room to the other, by opening his arms up wide and forcefully pushing her in the direction he wanted her to go.  One time, he shoved her back in her cage and closed the door:  "Shhhh...SLEEP!"

The whole weekend was puppy themed for Matthew's enjoyment.  Not only did we play with the puppy all day long, but Saturday night we planned a special family movie night.  We popped popcorn, made Kool-Aid and cuddled together on the couch while watching Homeward Bound.  I think we might have found Matthew's new favorite movie.  He was in heaven and could not tear his eyes away from watching the adventures of Shadow, Chance, and Sassy.  Plus, he had his very own puppy sleeping by his side on the couch.  We tucked a very happy little boy into bed that night.

When we took Skittles out for a walk around the neighborhood, she did quite well, despite being at an extreme disadvantage with her stubby little legs.  However, her enthusiasm for the leaping besides us waned as we approached the half-mile mark.  Eventually, the little ball of fluff just decided she had had enough and collapsed on the side of road.  We could not get that dog to move for anything.  So...she ended up hitching a ride with Matthew.  Lazy dog.

Eventually, she decided the basket of the stroller was beneath her.  Matthew readily welcomed her into his arms for the rest of our journey home.  This move definitely made us the best parents ever in his eyes. 

We were all sad to see Skittles go home, but promised Matthew that she would come visit again soon.  He gave her a kiss when she was ready to leave, and she licked his face in return.  "EWWWWW!  YUCK!" Matthew cried, as he began spitting phlegm out of his mouth in disgust.  At least he has some standards.

The recipe I want to share with you is a strata we made for dinner this weekend.  We actually had a lot of French bread leftover from Easter and it staled so quickly that I immediately pulled this recipe up to make with it.  I also had the rosemary and plenty of potatoes so this was a nice way to use up some of those items as well.  This was incredibly delicious and a nice meatless meal.

Breakfast Strata with Potatoes and Rosemary
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

7 ounces day-old French or Italian bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus a little more for greasing the pan
12 ounces Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium onion, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh Rosemary
1/2 cup dry white wine (I just used some white cooking wine)
6 ounces Colby Jack cheese, shredded
1 3/4 cups whole milk
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Grease a 8x8 glass dish with butter.  Set aside.

Bring a saucepan filled with 1 quart of water to a boil.  Add 1 teaspoon of salt and boil just until the potatoes are tender and can be pierced with a paring knife, about 4 minutes.  Drain.

Melt the butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the potatoes and cook until they are just starting to brown, about 10 minutes.  Add the onions and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until they are translucent.  Add the garlic and rosemary and cook/stir until fragrant, about 1 minute more.  Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Return the skillet to the heat.  Increase the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine.  Stir to deglaze the pan and continue to cook until the wine is reduced to 1/4 cup.  Remove skillet from the heat and set aside to cool.

Whisk together the milk, eggs, parsley, 1 teaspoon of salt, and some pepper to taste.  Whisk in the reduced wine mixture.

Layer 1/2 the bread cubes in the bottom of the prepared pan.  Sprinkle with half the potato mixture and then with 1/2 cup of cheese.  Add the remaining bread cubes.  Sprinkle with the remaining potatoes and cheese.  Gently pour the egg mixture evenly over everything.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place a couple canned vegetables or beans over the top to weigh down the strata.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Remove the casserole from the fridge and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.  Remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.  Bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes, or until the edges and center have puffed and the edges are starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Paul's Favorite Salad

As I have alluded to in previous posts, my husband is not a salad lover. He bemoans the fact that I make him eat one for nearly every meal. It's not that he truly hates eating salad; He just hates that the salad fills him up before he can completely gorge himself on the main course. He oftentimes will eat the main course first, ignoring his salad completely, before complaining about being "too full" to finish the salad. And, as if he were three years old, I make him sit there until he can muster up enough gumption to finish the loathed greenery. I half expect him to point an accusing finger at young Matthew, nibbling happily away on Macaroni and Cheese in his high chair, and whine: "How come HE doesn't have to eat any?!"

However, this salad, which I served as part of our Easter feast, changed everything. Paul enjoyed not one, not two, but THREE servings of this salad on Easter Sunday. He declared it his favorite part of the meal. As we were cleaning up after dinner, Paul scooped the leftover salad fixings into a Tupperware container, declaring: "Now THAT was a good salad!"

Pretty high praise coming from that guy.

Pear and Pistachio Salad with Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrette
adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

For the Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrette:
1 medium shallot, peeled
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup canola oil

For the Salad:
8-10 ounces mixed greens (we love Arugula and Spinach)
2-3 cups red grapes, halved
2 pears, diced small
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup shelled salted, roasted pistachios
2-3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese

To make the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients except the oil into a blender and mix until the shallot and garlic clove are completely broken down and everything is blended. Scrape down the sides of the blender if necessary. With the blender running, slowly stream in the oil and continue to mix until completely emulsified. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Toss the salad greens with the grapes, pears and cranberries. Toss with just enough dressing to coat and then scatter the cheese and nuts on top. Serve!

This makes 10 side servings and about 4 main-dish servings. Unless of course, everyone has as many portions as Paul - then you might need more salad!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How to Trick Your Toddler Into Eating Vegetables

When Matthew first started eating solid foods, he was so adventurous. I was so proud of how he would try relatively everything we gave him to eat without complaint. However, for the last few months, getting him to eat anything new has been a major pain. Normally, if he does not recognize the food put in front of him, he will put up the biggest fuss and refuse to even taste it. This usually results in Paul holding Matthew's arms down while I shove a sample bite into his open, screaming mouth. After realizing that the food actually tastes good, he will then proceed to clean the rest of his plate happily while proclaiming: "MMMMMM!!!"

However, I have never successfully been able to get Matthew to eat vegetables. He will eat fruit like a monkey but the only vegetables he eats are carrots. Anything green is particularly offensive to him. Broccoli just plain freaks him out. When he first took a bite of broccoli, he immediately began spitting and gagging until every last bit of it had been regurgitated.

One of Matthew's favorite breakfast treats are smoothies. I normally will make him a smoothie a couple times each week. I decided to try to sneak a little spinach into his diet by adding it to the smoothie - you really can't taste the spinach at all once it is all blended together. However, the smoothie does turn a disturbing shade of green. Nevermind - Matthew has a bunch of drink cups that mask the color of the liquid inside! I poured a generous glassful, screwed the lid on tight, and handed it off to Matthew who was jumping in excited anticipation of his treat. I was just about to congratulate myself on being so clever when I saw Matthew take a big swig of his smoothie, convulse slightly as he swallowed it, and then glare at his cup suspiciously: "Heyyyy......!"

He immediately handed it back to me, wanting no more of the spinach smoothie.

After the failure of the spinach smoothie, I decided to try sneaking vegetables in by adding them to Matthew's favorite food of all time: pizza! I had seen a recipe for a Spinoccoli Pizza on one of the food blogs I read regularly that looked interesting. The pizza consists of a creamy garlic-paremsan sauce, tiny pieces of broccoli, torn spinach leaves, and a mixture of cheeses. It was worth a shot. Paul was super apprehensive about it. He kept stating that spinach had no place near a pizza.

Did the experiment work? Matthew loved this pizza. He ate so much of it for dinner. And then raided the fridge right before lunch the next day to pull out the Tupperware containing the leftovers. Ha!

And Paul loved it too.

Spinoccoli Pizza
adapted from Annie's Eats and Cook's Illustrated

For the crust:
3 cups (16 1/2 ounces) bread flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/3 cups ice water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 large clove garlic, smashed
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
Salt and Pepper to taste

For the toppings:
1 cup packed spinach leaves, torn
2 cups very, very small broccoli florets
4 ounces shredded mozzarella
4 ounces shredded cheddar

To make the crust, combine the flour, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine (about 2 seconds). With the machine running, slowly stream in the cold water through the feed tube until the dough comes together and no dry patches remain (about 10 seconds). Let dough rest for 10 minutes.

Add oil and salt to the dough and process until dough form a satiny, sticky ball that clears the sides of the work bowl. Remove dough and knead briefly on an oiled counter-top for about 30 seconds. Form into a tight ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.

When ready to use the dough, remove from the refrigerator, divide in half, form each half into a smooth ball, and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Space the dough balls at least 3 inches apart. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before shaping. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees with a rack placed in the upper third of the oven with a pizza stone in the center. While the oven is preheating and the dough is resting, prepare the sauce and toppings.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in the saucepan over medium high heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine until the mixture turns golden brown and bubbly, about 1 minute. Gradually add the heavy cream, whisking well to combine. Add the garlic clove and continue to cook and stir until the mixture is thick and bubbly. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the cheese. Salt and Pepper the sauce to taste and set aside.

After the dough has rested one hour, flatten one dough ball into a 8-inch circle. Continue to pull/stretch the dough into a 12-inch round. Transfer the dough at this point to a sheet of parchment and continue to carefully stretch into a 13-inch round. Top with half the white sauce, leaving a 1-inch border. Top with half the torn spinach leaves and broccoli pieces. Sprinkle with half the cheeses. Using a large cutting board, carefully slide the pizza onto the preheated pizza stone and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the crust is browned.

Repeat with the second ball of dough and the remaining sauce and toppings. Enjoy!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to all our family and friends! He is risen - Alleluia! How blessed we are!

We enjoyed a wonderful day together as a family on Easter Sunday. We got up super early for the 7:30 AM Mass so we could dress in our Easter best. Matthew wore an adorable little sweater vest that had been my brother Bruce's at one time. The baggy khakis we paired with it made him look like a such a tiny little grownup. He was very well behaved at Mass and actually payed attention to the majority of it, even joining in with the congregation to loudly proclaim "AMEN!"

A few funny moments did occur that made the group of people sitting behind us chuckle...

1. When Father Jason was blessing the altar with the Thurible and sending large puffs of incense smoke into the air, Matthew started pointing and saying, with a very desperate and concerned tone: "Hot! HOT!"

2. Later, immediately before Communion, Matthew was watching very carefully while Father Jason held up the large Host, declaring: "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, happy are we who are called to this meal." After the congregation stated the response ("Lord, I am not worthy to receive you..."), Father Jason then bent down to consume the Host. Matthew then decided to loudly proclaim, on behalf of Father Jason: "MMMMMMMM...IT TASTES GOOD!! Yummy!"

Despite those outbursts, he was a very well behaved boy.

When we got home, we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of Polish sausage, scrambled eggs, and blueberry buckle. I then took Matthew upstairs to distract him while Paul hid a bunch of little plastic eggs all around the first floor. Inside each egg, we had placed a couple M&Ms or marshmallows since we knew our little candy monster would probably gobble the contents of each egg down before continuing the search for the rest of them. When it was time to bring Matthew back downstairs, he was greeted with an Easter bucket filled with a single egg. Once he saw that the egg contained candy, he instantly was up and searching all over our living room for the any egg he could find. He was pretty good about finding them! Periodically, he would stop to stuff his face with some more goodies but then continue the search until his little bucket was filled to the brim with colorful eggs. At the end of the game, he discovered a hollow chocolate bunny sitting in his high chair. He grabbed the chocolate bunny, turned to me with a big smile and said: "Ohhhhh....he's sooooooo cute!!"

I thought the cuteness of the bunny might dissuade Matthew from consuming it. However, when I turned my back to him for a single minute to wash some dishes, he quickly tore open the packaging and bit the head right off that bunny. So much for that.

We enjoyed some time outside as a family before Paul and I buckled down to make our Easter feast. We were having guests over for a French-themed Easter dinner - complete with Coq au Vin, Pommes Anna, Roasted Asparagus, and a Pear Gorgonzola Salad with a Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrette. Everything came together easily and Paul was a master chef when it came to helping prepare the Coq au Vin. We had a lot of fun teasing each other and joking around in the kitchen while getting everything ready. And it was all so delicious!

My favorite part of the whole meal was the Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp. This particular recipe includes crystallized ginger in the crust that contributes a pleasant, underlying spiciness. It was a delicious and wonderful addition that really complemented the sweet strawberries and the tart rhubarb. The other unique thing about this crisp is that the fruit filling is sandwiched between two layers of crust. Served slightly warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was a perfectly refreshing and wonderful way to end our meal.

Matthew even helped me make it. In between gobbling down more candy, he helped pat the crust into the bottom of the pan and sprinkled the cut rhubarb over the top. It took him about 10 minutes to put all the rhubarb in the pan because he had to take frequent breaks to eat more candy, but it all made it in there eventually along with a few M&Ms that had to be picked out before the strawberry filling was added.

Matthew enjoyed a piece of the leftover crisp for breakfast. There are oats and fruit in it...that makes it a health food right?

Strawberry-Rhubarb Double Crisp
from Baking: From My Home to Yours

For the Crisp:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
3/4 cup old fashioned oats (NOT quick cooking)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
A pinch of salt
A small pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup very finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 stick of butter, melted

For the Filling:
1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and peeled
3 cups sliced strawberries (about 12 ounces)
1/2 cup cold water
3 tablespoons corn starch
1 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the crisp, combine the flour through ginger in a large bowl with your fingertips, making sure to break up any clumps. Add the melted butter and stir everything together with a fork until no dry patches remain. Press half the crisp mixture into the bottom of an 8x8 glass pyrex pan. Set the other half of the crisp aside.

Cut rhubarb into 1/2 inch wide pieces and scatter then over the prepared crust in the pan. In a saucepan, combine the strawberries, sugar and ginger. Mash the berries with a potato masher and then set the pan over medium high heat. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Mix the cold water and the cornstarch together and add to the strawberry mixture. Return mixture to a boil, continuing to cook and stir for about 3 minutes or until the mixture is no longer opaque and has become thick and syrupy. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Immediately pour the strawberry filling over the rhubarb in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining crisp mixture over the top.

Place a baking sheet under the pan (it will bubble over a bit!) and slide it into the oven. Bake for 60 minutes or until the top is browned and the fruit is hot and bubbly.

Remove from the oven and serve once it has cooled a bit. Top with vanilla ice cream and enjoy!