Monday, April 27, 2015

Perfect Irish Soda Bread

I know that I'm really late for Saint Patrick's Day, but this loaf of bread is a treat that should be made more than once a year anyway! I found this recipe in an article I read while waiting for a work meeting to begin about six years ago - before I had my children! I copied the accompanying recipe down and made it for Saint Patrick's Day as a treat for my co-workers. We loved it so much - and so does everyone who eats it - that we have been making it ever since! It's something that Paul and I look forward to snacking on together for breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night snack, etc.

This is not a true "soda bread" because it is more cakey and sweet than most traditional Irish recipes. That's probably why, in my opinion, it is the best version of soda bread you're going to find. Paul and I have always "enhanced" the recipe by soaking the currants and caraway seeds in Irish Whiskey overnight to incorporate just a mild amount of that luxurious flavor throughout the loaf. Of course, this step is optional - but it's so good. Also, the caraway seeds may seem like a weird, savory component to be putting in a sweet bread, but their flavor compliments the currants very, very well so I would recommend trying the recipe with them first. If you're hesitant about the amount of caraway in the recipe, feel free to cut back on them by 50% or so. I always added less caraway the first couple times I made this recipe because it scared me, but now I am obsessed with caraway and add the full amount.

Also, be sure not to overbake this loaf. It is huge, gigantic, and takes a while to bake. However, it goes from being "just underdone" to "overdone" in a manner of minutes so be sure to keep an eye on it towards the end. You want the interior of the bread to be very moist and not at all dry.

Irish Soda Bread with Currants and Caraway
from an article seen in the New York Times 2009

Optional: Place the caraway seeds and currants in a small bowl and pour over about 3-4 tablespoons of good Irish whiskey. Allow the mixture to sit, covered, at room temperature overnight, tossing occasionally. When ready to use, just fold into the recipes as instructed.

5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups raisins
3 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Generously butter heavy ovenproof 10- to 12-inch-diameter skillet with 2- to 2 1/2-inch-high sides. Whisk first 5 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add butter; using fingertips, rub in until coarse crumbs form. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend. Add to dough; using wooden spoon, stir just until well incorporated. The dough will be very, very sticky.

Transfer dough to prepared skillet. Smooth the top, mounding slightly in center. Using a small sharp knife dipped into flour, cut a 1-inch-deep X in top center of dough. Bake bread for about 65-70 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Begin checking at the 1 hour mark and if the bread is over-browning, cover the top lightly with foil. Cool bread in skillet 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely. Leftovers may be stored, wrapped very tightly in plastic, at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the freezer for one month.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Picture Day Failure

Oftentimes, I wonder what Matthew's preschool teachers thinks of me as a parent. I have been a bit late to pick him up on a few occasions and I often look really frazzled when dropping him off because getting my child to eat his lunch before school starts is always, ALWAYS a struggle. Also, my son is not the neatest child in the world and is often wearing half his lunch on his face, hands, shirt, etc. when I drop him off. I normally unload him from the car, grab a diaper wipe from the stash I have in the center console, and attempt to scrub his face as best I can while simultaneously embarrassing him in front of his friends. Multitasking!

"Mom STOP! My face is CLEAN!" he growls at me. Matthew's definition of clean means only three tablespoons of peanut butter are smeared all over instead of four!

There have been a few occasions where he has walked into school with a dirty face and his pants unzipped because I did not notice until we were halfway up the steps and had nothing to rectify the situation. This always makes me feel like a winner of a parent: "Hi there! Here's my filthy child! I never bathe or wash him and it shows!! If you have a lice outbreak in the classroom, it's probably from us!!"

Granted, it's not every day that I drop him off looking so disheveled. Some days he actually looks pretty well put together - a nice crisp polo (crisp as in freshly laundered not ironed - who has time for that?), pants that actually fit and are neither drooping down his skinny little backside nor six inches above his ankles, shoes tied and on the correct feet, and combed hair with a little gel worked in. Unfortunately, I have a knack for choosing the wrong days to not keep a close eye on his appearance.

The other day, Matthew came home with a package of spring school pictures in his backpack. I was completely unaware that they were having these pictures done - even though I'm sure a note had come home at some point about it (Mom for the win!). Having missed the memo, I had unknowingly sent him to school the day the portraits were being shot looking like a homeless child. It must have been a very frazzled morning for his hair (in desperate need of a trim) was sticking up, his shirt was too big and sported some pretty prominent spaghetti sauce stains, and he had marker stains on his face. Had the picture been a full-length portrait, I'm sure we would have seen him wearing pants that are too short and his rubber rain boots that are beginning to come apart at the soles. The photographer obviously tried his best to make my poor child more presentable by having him cross his arms to hide his stained shirt and combing his hair down a bit. It was all a failed attempt - the portrait was abysmal.

The photographer did not touch the marker stains on Matthew's face. This was probably an attempt to encourage us to opt for the "retouched" portrait option when ordering these fine works of art and have the stains removed digitally as we would acne or rosacea. A nice advertising ploy, but we still won't be ordering these pictures. No amount of retouching could save them. I also do not wish to preserve such a fine moment of parental failure.

However, I wish I could share them with you. They really were hilarious. Paul and I laughed for a good while when we saw them.

And it could have been worse. Like what happened to this kid.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Whole Grain Cherry Almond Cookies

I have been on a kick with sneaking whole grains into our cookies. Whole grain cookies - cookies made completely from whole wheat flour and flax seed meal - sounds like something you eat only if you are on a diet. Or starving to the point of craving cardboard. However, I assure you that this recipe is absolutely delicious and one that the entire family raves about. The kids love them and Paul is obsessed with them.. I've posted the recipe for the basic Cinnamon and Fruit Whole Grain Cookies last summer, but this version is equally fantastic. The main difference is that it utilizes almond paste in place of part of the butter, adds in dried cherries (or cherry flavored craisins - whatever works!) and toasted almonds, and omits the oats. A great flavor combination!

I should stress that whole grain cookies lack visual appeal. They are a little darker, chunkier, and - frankly - uglier than a standard batch of chocolate chip cookies. However, don't let their humble appearance fool you - what they lack in the looks department, they make up for in leaps in taste! They are not dry and are plenty sweet. They just have a more wholesome, substantial taste thanks to the addition of flax seed meal and whole wheat flour. I'm not going to lie, these are definitely one of my favorite cookies ever. If you are an almond lover, you will find these especially appealing. The almond paste has such a wonderful flavor. We had some leftover from making this Whiskey Pear Tart, so into these cookies it went!

As you can see, Emma was very frustrated that I wanted to take a picture of the cookie plate. She honed in quickly and claimed a cookie. I should probably point out that this was her third cookie. She probably would have finished the entire plate if I did not put it out of her reach. Also note that she is doubling-up on her snacks by alternatively taking bites of cookie and chewing her way through a cupful of goldfish crackers. Eating is her favorite pastime.

Whole Grain Cherry Almond Cookies
adapted from Wegmans Menu Magazine Holiday 2014

1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup ground flaxseed meal
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 *heaping* teaspoon salt
1 can (8 ounces) almond paste
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sweetened dried cherries or cherry-flavored craisins
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk together the flour, flaxseed and baking soda in a small bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the almond paste. Gradually add the water until well-blended and smooth. Add the butter and brown sugar and mix until very creamy and well-combined. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for another minute or so. Gradually beat in the flour mixture, then switch the mixer to the lowest speed and add the cherries and nuts. Mix until just combined.

Drop the cookie batter by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookies sheets. I pressed each cookie down with the bottom of a drink glass to flatten evenly. Bake 10-12 minutes or until done - the centers will still be very soft and the edges will be a very light brown. Be careful not to overbake!!

Let the cookies rest for 1-2 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Don't Steal My Baby Name!

Baby Emma on the beach in September 2013

A few days ago, I was in the grocery store with the kiddos and began chatting with a really sweet older lady after we reached to grab the same apple (for the record, I let her have it!). She commented on how well behaved the kids were (I didn't tell her it was a rarity) and asked me a couple questions about the pregnancy. When I told her we were expecting a girl, she quickly asked: "Do you have a named picked out yet? If it's a secret, you don't have to tell me!"

This really struck me. I told her that of course it was not a secret and that we would be naming the baby Lucia Therese (aka Lucy). She then went on to explain that her son and daughter-in-law were always really big on keeping the name choices a secret until the precious bundle's arrival in order to prevent their name from being "stolen" by other, jealous, less creative parents-to-be.

Baby Matthew on top of Mount Helena July 2010

This reminded me of an incident I experienced a couple of years ago while attending a work event with Paul. At the formal dinner, we were seated next to another couple I had never before met - the husband occasionally worked with Paul and his wife was eight months pregnant with their first child. At this point, Matthew was about two years old so I thought that I would actually have something to talk about with this woman, especially since Paul's work events normally involve a bunch of engineers with stellar conversational skills sitting around staring at one another, perhaps occasionally discussing their latest projects, while I nod and smile awkwardly. But kids, pregnancy, childbirth - these were all subjects I could chat about! However, my enthusiasm soon waned when the gal presented a pretty standoffish front to my attempts at conversation. Granted, they weren't the most creative conversation starters, but I was really hoping to flesh out more than the one-word responses I received.

"How have you been feeling?"

"Do you know what you're having?"

"Ok. Well, that's good. Is the baby a Boy or Girl?"

"What an exciting time for you guys!"
*Silence and a blank stare*

Her husband was much more eager to jump in and fill in the gaps to this delightful conversation. Thank goodness for him! But then came the kicker. I asked the ultimate question.

"Do you have a name picked out for your little girl?"
At this point, the husband interjected: "Well, honey, we do have a name picked out."
To which she replied: "Yes, but I don't want her stealing it!"

Okay, at this point I was not even expecting. And these people do not even run within our close circle of friends so even if I was inspired by their name choice and decided to copy it by naming my own future daughter the same, they would not even know the difference! In case you're curious, we found out a month later that the special, super-secret name was "Norah". And as you all know, that's just the name I've been itching to name my daughters. Darn it, now it's claimed.

I honestly don't understand why people get so uptight about naming children. Unless we're going to go the Gwyneth Paltrow route and decide to name our children after fruit, odds are that our name choices are not going to be super-unique or personalized. My kids have pretty generic names, but we named them not for the uniqueness of the name but rather simply because we liked it! The uniqueness of each and every child comes from their individual personalities, souls, and expressions - not the name by which they are called. Maybe we're weird, but Paul and I really enjoy naming our child around the time of the anatomy scan and calling the baby by name for the duration of the pregnancy - and also sharing this news with others. Then, on the day of the birth, all we need is to see the sweet little face of our newest child! And we are so looking forward to meeting our daughter Lucy any time now!

But don't steal my baby name!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Strawberries & Cream Cake

For Emma's birthday, I could not envision making anything short of a strawberry cake for my little sweetie. She loves strawberries and whipped cream so I had originally planned on making this French Strawberry Cake for her.

However, when Paul came back from his European adventure, he brought the plague with him. Within 24 hours of being back, I suddenly had one of the worst respiratory viruses I have ever had in my entire life. Here we are, nearly a month later, and I still have not fully recovered from it! Luckily, neither of the kids was affected but I was so sick and burnt out by the time we were ready to celebrate Emma's birthday that I just did not feel like making a labor-intensive cake.

Thank goodness for cake mix! My Mom and I had a discussion about how useful cake mix can be as a quick base that can be "dressed up" to make some pretty darn good tasting desserts. Mom says she always feels a little "ashamed" to admit to using a cake mix - but I think if it tastes great and people love eating it, who cares?

Now, you certainly could use your favorite white or yellow butter cake recipe and make this same cake, but it is so easy to just open a bunch of boxes, dump all the ingredients into a mixer, let it whip a couple minutes, and then pour into cake pans. It took me about 5 minutes of work and then I went back to lying on the couch with my mountain of tissues.

After the cake has been baked and cooled, a simple whipped cream frosting is made - using a bit of cream cheese to help stabilize - and lots of chopped, sweetened strawberries are hidden between the layers. I added a little heart shaped strawberry patch onto the very top of my cake and garnished the sides with additional strawberries. Simple, elegant, and the birthday girl was very pleased!

The cake was delicious! The cake itself had a bit of an "angel food cake" taste to it thanks to the addition  of the white chocolate pudding. Of course, this combination was great when combined with the whipped cream and fresh strawberries. It was a lovely, not-to-sweet taste of spring! Paul and I both loved how it did not feel "heavy" or "painfully sweet" like some cakes can. I will definitely be making this again - I think it's a crowd-pleaser!

Strawberries & Cream Cake
adapted from Let's Dish Recipes

For the Cake:
1 box white cake mix
1 box (3.4 oz.) instant white chocolate pudding (I used Hershey's White Chocolate Pudding)
5 egg whites
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Frosting:
3 cups heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla

For the Filling:
3-4 cups chopped strawberries, plus more strawberries for garnish
1-2 tablespoons of sugar, depending on the sweetness of your berries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine cake ingredients. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes before turning onto wire racks to cool completely. After the cake layers are cooled completely, they can be wrapped very tightly in a double layer of plastic and frozen for up to a month.

When ready to decorate, place the chopped strawberries into a medium bowl and sprinkle with enough sugar to taste. Mix everything together and then set aside, tossing occasionally, while preparing the whipped cream frosting.

For the frosting, beat the heavy cream in a medium bowl until very stiff peaks form. In a separate large bowl, beat the softened cream cheese with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and vanilla to the cream cheese and beat until well combined.

Place one cake layer on a cake stand. Top with half of the macerated strawberries and then top with a generous portion of the whipped cream. Spread the whipped cream gently to the edges. Place a second cake layer on top and add the remaining macerated berries. Press down gently onto the strawberries to make sure that they are firmly adhered to the cake layer, then add another generous helping of the whipped cream frosting. Place the third and final layer on top. Generously spread the remaining whipped cream up and down the sides of the cake. Smooth the top and sides and garnish with additional strawberries. Place in the fridge until ready to serve!! The cake is best served a couple hours after assembling to give all the flavors a chance to really meld together.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Happy Birthday, Emma Rose!

To my beautiful Emma Rose,

You turned two a few weeks ago. I know every parent says it, but I cannot believe how fast time has flown. You have grown from a tiny infant into a precocious little girl in the blink of an eye! You bring me joy every single day - even when you are at your crankiest - and I treasure every moment I get to spend with you.

We love you Emma Rosie. We love you, it's true!! Here are ten things that we love about you!

1. You melt our hearts when you sing to your baby dolls. You rock them back and forth gently while singing "Little Daughter.....Little Daughter"over and over in a tune only you seem to know. It melts my heart because you picked that phrase up from me. Whenever you fall down or hurt yourself and need some consolation, I wrap my arms around you and tell you: "It's alright, my little daughter." It's so touching to see you imitate me while interacting with your own "children".

2. Like your brother Matthew, you scorn all things potato (with the exception of french fries or tater tots) but you eat pretty much everything else. Including cat food. And if there is gum on the underside of a pew at church, you'll find it.

3. You love to dress up in pretty dresses, complete with sparkly shoes. However, you insist on wearing your shoes on the wrong feet and are so rough-and-tumble in play that your dresses all are doomed to be stained!

4. Ever since the snow thaw, you have been begging me to spend every second outdoors. You love to play, to run, and to dance in the sunshine. You also love to take walks with me around the neighborhood.

5. You talk to animals as if they are people. All animals seem to love you too. You charmed the ancient German Shepherd up the street into coming down the sidewalk to receive a pat from you while you were on your tricycle. I have never seen that animal move in the three years we have lived here.

6. You copy everything your big brother does. You think he is the funniest guy and laugh heartily at everything silly he does. You drive him a bit crazy when you mispronounce words, call every cat you see "a Riley", read a book upside-down, refer to magpies as "penguins", color over his art projects, and destroy his block towers. However, you almost always say "Sorry Matthew!" and win him over once more. He loves you so much too.

7. Your favorite animal is a ducky. Your favorite color is pink (followed closely by purple). Your favorite cereal is "Honey Bee Cereal" aka Honey Nut Cheerios. Your favorite drink is orange juice. Your favorite fruit is an apple. Your favorite snack is cheese.

8. Your favorite bedtime stories feature pigs. Your favorites are the Little Pookie books and the Olivia books. You still fall asleep only once wrapped in your Pooh blanket, stroking the tassels with your hands and with your baby doll wrapped up in her own blanket next to you.

9. You are so friendly to other children on the playground. You go right up to any kid of any age and say: "Hi! My name Emma!" Most of the time, the kids just stare at you blankly, but you don't seem to care. You also always seem to adopt an older child to act as your "maid servant" while at the park. Normally, this is a little girl about the age of 7 or 8 who follows you around wherever you go, helping you up and down stairs, slides, and bridges. You love it.

10. You always have ChapStick in your pocket to keep your lips hydrated. You normally stole this ChapStick from your mother's pocket while she was distracted.

Emma Rosie, you are so loved! Your laugh and smiles are contagious. You are adored by all who know you because of your sweet temperament, your spunky personality, and hilarious facial expressions. What a blessing you are in our lives.

Happiest of birthdays to you, my sweet little daughter.

Linking up for Tuesday Talk over here!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Texas-Style Potato Salad

This post is going to be short and to the point. The sun is shining and I'm going to spend the weekend outdoors!

Bottom line: if you want to add a little heat to your basic potato salad recipe, this version is an awesome way to do it! The gist is that you pickle your own onions and jalapenos while the potatoes cook. I could have eaten the pickled onions straight - they were so good! The hot potatoes are tossed with a bit of the pickling liquid and allowed to cool for 20 minutes to absorb the flavor completely. Then, the pickled peppers, onions, potatoes, eggs, and celery (if you like celery) is tossed together with a mustard-heavy sauce to coat and allowed to chill in the fridge until ready to eat!

I have written before about how every single pregnancy I have experienced an intense craving for all things vinegar. This has caused me to crave eating mustard and ketchup by the spoonful with a side of pickles and a cider vinegar shake. Gross,but oh-so-good at the same time. I think this is the reason both my kids are huge ketchup eaters. They also will just eat ketchup by the spoonful. Anyway, this potato salad - with the huge punch from the pickling juices and mustard sauce - was a dream come true for this pregnant gal. I kept sneaking bites of it from the fridge. Delicious!

Paul also loved this salad. Not surprising since he is always trying to add jalapeno to everything we make. The kids, of course, would not touch it. There was definitely a little too much heat for them. A little too much "Texas." However, Emma made up for her inability to eat Texas-style potato salad by dressing like a cowgirl for story time.

Texas-Style Potato Salad
from Cook's Country

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 small red onion, sliced thin
2 jalapeno chiles (1 sliced into thin rings; 1 stemmed, seeded, and minced)
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
6 tablespoons yellow mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large hard-cooked eggs, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 celery rib, minced (We omit because Paul cries if I put celery in anything)

Combine vinegar, sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and mustard seeds in bowl and microwave until steaming, about 2 minutes. Whisk until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add onion and jalapenos and set aside until cool, 15 to 20 minutes. Strain onion and jalapenos through fine-mesh strainer set over bowl. Reserve pickled vegetables and vinegar mixture separately.

Meanwhile, combine potatoes, 8 cups water, and 1 tablespoon salt in Dutch oven and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are just tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Drain potatoes thoroughly, then transfer to large bowl. Drizzle 2 tablespoons reserved vinegar mixture over hot potatoes and toss gently until evenly coated. (Reserve remaining vinegar mixture for another use - like a vinegar shake - kidding!) Refrigerate until cool, about 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through chilling.

Whisk mayonnaise, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and cayenne together in bowl until combined. Add mayonnaise mixture, reserved pickled vegetables, eggs, and celery to potatoes and stir gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate to let flavors blend, about 30 minutes.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Batter Fried Chicken

We chose to make some fried chicken for Easter because we never, ever eat or make fried chicken. It's just not that appealing to pour 4 quarts of oil into a pot. I can almost feel my thighs getting bigger as I listen to the glub glub glub of the oil leaving the plastic container. If someone else made fried chicken (or fried anything) for me, I would gratefully accept and wolf down a couple pieces because I'm more removed from the process. However, making it myself is a different ballgame. Paul has been itching to deep fry something for a long time and since I would not let him deep fry our turkey at Thanksgiving, he had his chance when it came to the chicken for our Easter dinner.

Nothing sexier than a man in an apron.

We chose to use the Batter-Fried Chicken recipe from Cook's Country as our starting point. We seasoned the batter differently because we didn't care for the seasonings they used in the original recipe. We've been really hating paprika lately - don't ask us why! Basically, you first brine our chicken for an hour. During that hour, you make up a really thin batter of cornstarch and water. The batter was the consistency of a crepe batter and it made Paul nervous. After the brining period, the chicken pieces are removed, patted dry, and placed in the batter. The gigantic pot of oil is preheated to 350 degrees exactly - carefully monitored through the use of a heavy duty candy thermometer - and the chicken is then added and allowed to fry away for a good 12-15 minutes. Once the first batch is cooked, it is placed in a preheated 200 degree oven to remain warm and crisp up just a bit more while the rest of the chicken is cooked. Seriously, this was easy peasy!

The best part about using a candy thermometer to monitor the oil temperature? We avoided splattering. Because the oil was always around the optimal temperature for frying, we did not have to dodge spurts of oil haphazardly shooting out of the pot. I actually boast a couple scars on my arm from earlier in our marriage when we tried to fry something without the proper knowledge and equipment. This might also have something to do with why I never fry anything! However, using a really good thermometer to keep an eye on the oil temperature is a huge lifesaver. That and we also finally invested in a grease splatter shield.

Emma was already digging in at this point. She could not be troubled to turn around for the picture!

The chicken turned out so well! We loved it, the kids loved it, and it went pretty perfectly with the potato salad we made (I'll post that recipe soon!). If you're going to make fried chicken, the recipe better be good - and this one was awesome. It made a delightful crust on the chicken that was perfectly crispy, not too thick, and seasoned to perfection. Paul actually ended up frying off cakes of just the batter after the meal was over because he loved how much the breading tasted. I balked at this and told him he wasn't allowed to eat it. I want him around for a little while longer.

It might not look pretty, but if you're craving some delicious fried chicken, this recipe is pretty hard to beat!

Batter-Fried Chicken
adapted from Cook's Country

For the Brine:
1 quart cold water
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces

For the Batter:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
5 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cups cold water
3 quarts vegetable or peanut oil

To make the brine, whisk the quart of cold water, salt, and sugar in large bowl until sugar and salt dissolve. Add chicken and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To make the batter, whisk the water, flour, cornstarch, pepper, paprika, baking powder, salt, and cayenne in large bowl until smooth. Refrigerate batter while the chicken finishes brining.

Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. A heavy duty candy thermometer, preferably one that can be attached securely to the pot, is highly recommended. As the oil comes to temperature, remove the chicken from refrigerator, pour off brine, and pat dry with paper towels.

Re-whisk the batter and transfer half of the chicken to batter. One by one, remove chicken from batter (allowing excess to drip back into bowl) and transfer to the prepared oil. Fry chicken, adjusting burner as necessary to maintain oil temperature between 300 and 325 degrees, until deep golden brown. White meat pieces should register 160 degrees and dark meat pieces should register 170 degrees. This will take about 12-15 minutes.

While the chicken is frying, preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Drain chicken on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet. Place in the preheated oven to keep warm while the second batch of chicken is fried. Bring the oil back to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining chicken.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Easter Sunday 2015

Easter Sunday began with gloomy, ominous-looking cloud coverage and a light splattering of chilly rain. My first thought when I woke up was: "There goes any chance of an outdoor egg hunt." However, Matthew excitedly bouncing into the bedroom already fully dressed for Mass in his button-up shirt, vest, and khakis swiftly made my somber thoughts dissipate.

That is, until I had to dress myself for Easter Mass and shed a few tears over how gigantic I've become. This is how we know we're getting close to our baby's due date - I cry about once a day over my rotundness. Vain.

We all cleaned up pretty nicely and headed to Mass. The kids gave us the best Easter Sunday gift by being incredibly well behaved throughout the entire Mass. I actually listened to every reading, clearly heard the homily, and sang every song. I can't tell you the last time that happened! Normally, Emma needs to be taken out at least once because she has no volume control and usually chooses the most quiet times to suddenly yell: "I a dinosaur! ROAR!!"

We headed back home and banished the children to the upstairs to change while Paul prepared the Easter hunt and I slid the blueberry buckle into the oven. When the eggs were all hidden, the children were handed their Easter baskets and told to start searching in our living room first. Matthew went tearing into the room like a tornado and quickly found 90% of the eggs while Emma proceeded to try to wear her bucket as a hat. Paul and I had to majorly encourage her to find at least one egg in the room: "Here Emma - what's this behind the couch? Matthew, we know you see it, let your sister find one!!!"

The egg hunt continued throughout the rest of the house and Emma gradually picked up speed once she discovered there was candy inside the eggs. Suddenly, she became a pretty good little egg hunter. We still had to keep Matthew at bay from sweeping the entire room clean. He was on a mission. He did not even really care about the candy inside the eggs - he just liked the hunt! This was clearly illustrated after we declared all the eggs found. Emma sat down and began to enjoy eating her loot while Matthew continued to aimlessly wander throughout the house with his basket looking for more eggs even though we had explicitly assured him several times that all eggs had been found. At least this pointless mission kept him occupied out of the kitchen so I could finish preparing our breakfast.

We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of blueberry buckle, hard-boiled eggs (the kids ate about 5 each...gross), fresh fruit, yogurt, and granola. Oh, and the best coffee in the world - Peet's Coffee!!

Speaking of hard-boiled eggs - they were the ones we dyed on Saturday with the kids. Paul was pretty stressed about them spilling the multiple teacups filled with dye, but the kids did great! They only cracked eight of the two dozen eggs in the process.

After a quick clean-up, we saw that the temperatures had risen and the rain, while still threatening, had stopped. We asked the kids if they wanted to go outside for a walk and they quickly agreed as long as they could bring their umbrellas. They had been waiting for an opportunity to use them! So, we headed outdoors and enjoyed a relaxing stroll. Matthew loved puddle jumping (thank goodness for rubber rain boots!) while Emma conked out halfway through, exhausted from all that candy eating!

Both kids enjoyed some "quiet time" once we arrived back home while me and Paul called our parents. Then, it was time to make some fried chicken! Paul was in charge and I was happy for him to handle the task. He did a beautiful job - the chicken turned out perfectly crispy, juicy, and moist. The kids loved it as well and gave us Easter gift #2 by eating so well for dinner! There was no complaining!

After dinner and cleanup, we just enjoyed coloring pictures with the kids and enjoying time together as a family. It was really low-key but we rarely find the time to simply be present with the kids without distraction from other worries, concerns, or tasks. It was a pretty perfect ending for the day.

From our family to yours, here is wishing you a very blessed Easter season!

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Sweet Little Ones