Thursday, February 25, 2016

Jumbo Mall-Style Soft Pretzels

Another child of mine has fallen victim to the atrocious stomach bug. Poor Matthew never got to do the reading at the school Mass because he fell ill early this morning. The poor little guy was really sick. Despite getting up several times throughout the night to throw up, he still woke up at his normal rising time in the morning and started to pull his school uniform on. I intercepted him and ordered him back to bed. "But Mom!" he argued, "I need to do the reading for liturgy!" When I told him that he was just too sick, he burst into tears. He had been so looking forward to it. However, he was easily consoled with the promise of television while he rested. 

I have Matthew quarantined in his room in an effort to hopefully not infect the other two kids. Since we are chained to the house, Emma and I entertained ourselves with dolls, books, games, and a little Princess Sofia. When Lucy went down for a nap, I asked Emma what else we should do. Her answer was to make muffins. Emma loves muffins, but unfortunately they fall in the "dessert" category and we are trying our best to give up sweets for Lent. I liked the idea of making some sort of snack and the idea of soft pretzels popped into my head. Emma loves soft pretzels. Both her and Matthew can easily polish off a whole, large pretzel from Auntie Anne's in the Mall. Matthew likes to eat them plain or with a cinnamon sugar. Emma loves dunking hers in cheese sauce. Paul and I have made soft pretzels for football game watches and birthday parties before, but I realized that I have never made them with one of the kids which is a major oversight since they are relatively simple and quick!

Emma and I got down to business. Within a couple minutes, I remembered why I don't ask Emma to do a lot of baking with me. For one, she eats all the ingredients. Every single one. When I brought the flour container out, she immediately popped the top and ate a scoop of raw flour. When I took out the baking soda and then turned my back for a second, she had her hand stuck inside the box trying to force a fistful of the white powder out for a taste. She took a bite out of the butter, but I really should have seen that coming. Every time I stopped the mixer to scrape down the dough, Emma would quickly stick her finger in there to grab a scrap of dough to munch on. It's stressful trying to keep her from eating the ingredients before we can actually make what we set out to make!

Despite her snacking, Emma was actually remarkably helpful. She loved adding everything to the mixer for me and then helping with the final kneading of the dough. She had fun helping me shape the pretzels, delightfully chanting "We're making snakes" as we rolled each piece of dough into long ropes before flipping and twisting them into that familiar pretzel shape. We were blasting Disney tunes while working away and singing together. I really enjoyed the company of my wild little girl.

We sprinkled the tops of our pretzels with a mixture of coarse salt and sugar in the raw (again, Emma would not stop eating the topping!!). We also made our pretzels thicker because that's how I prefer them, almost as thick and fluffy as a roll. However, if you just make your "snake" a little longer during the shaping process, you will produce a thinner pretzel with a chewier crust.

The pretzel-making was a fun little distraction from the illness in the house and made a great snack for the healthy members of the family. I think the biggest fan of the baking project was Lucy. She was obsessed with chewing on the pretzels - I think it's the salt!

If you need a fun, semi-quick baking project, look no further! Soft pretzels are infinitely adaptable - you can make either sweet or savory pretzels. Instead of coarse salt, top the pretzels with cinnamon sugar, shredded cheese, or everything bagel toppings. Serve with a savory or sweet dip of your choice. Make your pretzels thicker during the shaping process and then split them in half and top with slices of deli ham, Swiss cheese, and good mustard. You really can't go wrong with this recipe.

Mall-Style Soft Pretzels
adapted from Food Network Magazine

1 cup whole milk
1 package active dry yeast
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/3 cup baking soda

Warm the milk in a saucepan until it's about 110 degrees, then pour into a medium bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let the yeast soften, then stir in the brown sugar and 1 cup flour with a wooden spoon. Dice 2 tablespoons butter and stir into the mix. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cups flour and the fine salt to make a sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if needed, until smooth but still slightly tacky, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a large baking sheet. Punch the dough to deflate it, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. (If the dough seems tight, cover and let rest until it relaxes.) Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Roll and stretch each piece with the palms of your hands into a 30-inch rope, holding the ends and slapping the middle of the rope on the counter as you stretch. Form each rope into a pretzel shape.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Sprinkle with the coarse salt. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.

Melt the remaining 8 tablespoons butter in a shallow dish. Dip the hot pretzels in the butter, turning to coat. Place on a wire rack to let excess butter drip off. Serve with cheese sauce, mustard, or sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

(We skipped the butter dipping step, but Paul would have insisted we do it had he been here. Personally, I think the pretzels are delicious as is straight out of the oven. No additional butter necessary!)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Apple Walnut Baked Oatmeal with Date Butter and Cranberry Crumble

Matthew has developed this really strange habit where he will come home from school, change out of his uniform, and come downstairs wearing only a single sock. Every day, without fail, this happens. When I question the whereabouts of the missing sock, he will look in horror at his naked foot as if he had nothing to do with its disappearance and say, "I think it just got lost!" If I were to go upstairs and peek inside his room, the sock will be sitting in the middle of the floor all by its lonesome. Oh, it's always the sock from his right foot that is removed. It's driving me nuts. Little boys are strange creatures.

Besides his inability to keep his socks on his feet, Matthew has been thriving at school. His reading skills are coming along quickly and he has shown a sudden interest in reading music as well. He has impressed me with his knowledge of basic music theory. He and Emma both love singing the hymns from church around the house as they go about their business. Matthew especially loves to serenade the household while standing in the shower or using the toilet. There's just something amusing about listening to him sing "Behold the Lamb of God" while doing "God's work" on his porcelain throne. Now, if only he would be inclined to sing his hymns while we are actually at Mass, then we might have something! Speaking of Mass, if you get the chance, please say a prayer for Matthew that he does an excellent job reading at the school Mass this coming Thursday. The kindergarten class gets to fill all the roles for the School Mass that day and Matthew was chosen to read. While he knows his lines and appears fairly confident while practicing at home, I'm a bit worried that he might wig out in the moment when he realizes that all eyes are on him and act inappropriately by making facing, acting silly, or pretending to faint - the usual stuff he does in public that drives me crazy. Then again, Matthew loves attention so I should have more confidence that he will relish this opportunity to show off in front of the whole school. We shall see how it goes.

With our morning routine being a bit chaotic because of Matthew's school schedule, we have been eating a lot of cereal. We stick to pretty boring cereals, mainly cheerios or (if we're really feeling wild) Original Life, but the kids are more than happy to eat their fill each morning. So, when I do manage to plan ahead and prepare a baked oatmeal, the kids always surprise me with their enthusiasm. They will easily scarf down a couple bowls of oatmeal and sing my praises. I often forget how much they love this stuff. Baked oatmeal is probably my favorite breakfast too because it's healthy, filling, warming, and delicious! I have loved experimenting with many different variations over the years, and this latest recipe for Apple Walnut Baked Oatmeal with Date Butter and Cranberry Crumble is my latest version to try. This version is exceptionally good - it might have claimed the top spot! There are a couple components to this dish that really set it apart from the other baked oatmeal recipes I have made in the past. For one, the date butter is a sweet, sticky spread that is used both to sweeten the dish and bind the oats and apples together. Dates are a marvelous flavoring for oatmeal, so I knew this would be fantastic. Second, the fresh cranberry crumble adds a bright, fresh, slightly tart finish to the dish and is a fantastic pairing with the fresh apples, cinnamon, and dates. 

Don't let the couple extra steps stop you from adding this dish to your breakfast routine. None of the extra steps are difficult and can all be done in about the same amount of time that it takes Matthew to find his missing sock! The little bit of extra effort is worth it, for this is truly a great dish to wake up to on these cold winter mornings! 

Apple Walnut Baked Oatmeal with Date Butter and Cranberry Crumble
barely adapted from Vanilla and Bean

For the Crumble:
3/4 cup Fresh Cranberries
1/3 cup Walnuts, toasted
3 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon, ground
1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg, ground

For the Date Butter:
1 cup Medjool Dates, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and drained
1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil, virgin cold-pressed
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon, ground
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/8 teaspoon Sea Salt
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1/4 cup Water
2 1/2 cups apples, peeled and diced medium

For the Oats:
3/4 C Walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 C Rolled Oats
2 teaspoon Cinnamon, ground
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg, ground
1/8 teaspoon Cloves, ground
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 1/2 cups Water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make the Crumble:
In a food processor add the cranberries, 1/3 cup toasted walnuts, maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pulse until a rough crumble forms. Scoop out into a bowl and set aside.

Make the Date Butter:
Wipe out the food processor and add the dates, coconut oil, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and lemon juice. Pulse a few times just to get the mixture going. Scrape down the bowl. With the processor running, add a steady stream of water. Scrape down the bowl and process again until smooth. The mixture should be thick but spreadable. Mix this up with the apples.

Mix the Oats:
In a medium mixing bowl, add the 3/4 cup walnuts, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, anise, salt, and baking powder. Mix well. Mix the vanilla extract and water and pour over the oat mixture. Stir well.

Putting it all Together:
Grease the bottom of a 8x11" or larger casserole dish. Spread the date/apple mixture in the bottom of a casserole dish. Pour the oat/water mixture over the top. Spread evenly. Use your fingers to sprinkle the crumble mixture evenly over the top of the oats.

Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Smashed Chickpea Sandwich

Thankfully, everyone is healthy once again. At least physically so. Emma is still emotionally bit out-of-sorts because she was so incredibly spoiled during her brief battle with that stomach bug. Paul and I were so worried about her that we catered to her every whim and fancy and we are now paying dearly for it because she has been acting like a spoiled, whiny, entitled despot ever since. Needless to say, she has spent a lot of time in the thinking corner over the past couple of days.

During her illness, Emma proved to be a pretty terrible patient. At first, she was extremely uncooperative when we told her that under no circumstances could she eat cheese puffs or gulp milk. She wasn't even keeping down small sips of water, and yet she was begging us for corn dogs. During the first night of her illness, I woke up to the sounds of her being sick around 1:00 AM. After she was done, she asked me for a drink of water. I said she could only have a small sip and that was it until her stomach had settled. She took her sip and I tucked her back into bed and then headed to my bedroom. Shortly thereafter, perhaps no more than 45 minutes, I awoke to a strange scraping sound coming from downstairs. I headed downstairs and into the kitchen to find that Emma had shoved one of the dining chairs to the counter top and climbed to the top so she could reach the cabinet that held the drinking glasses. When I arrived, she had just finished filling the glass with some water from the dispenser on the fridge. When she saw me, she froze but then quickly began gulping the water down before I could reach her and take the glass away. The poor thing really was thirsty. Unfortunately, she did end up getting sick again within 15 minutes and we had to re-explain the rules to her. Like I said, she was not the best patient in terms of cooperation.

All this talk about getting sick is probably a great time to transition into the recipe I would like to share. As an apology for the not-so-appetizing tales of sick Emma, how about I share a few pictures I just found on my computer that were taken on my Mom's phone last summer. They're too cute and really made me realize how much my kids have grown over the past few months!  I just realized while adding the pictures here that a lot of them feature us with dinosaurs for some reason.

Transitioning onto the recipe, Paul often makes fun of my crazy love of all things vegetable. While I am not a vegetarian by a long stretch, my heart really does gravitate towards plant-based meals. I have had the recipe for this Smashed Chickpea Sandwich bookmarked for a very long time and used Lent as an excuse to finally make it. I can't believe I waited so long - it is so good! I know chickpeas can be an acquired taste for some people, but the flavor of them works so well with the fresh dill, the diced pickles, and the mustard. The flavors are very reminiscent of a good tuna salad sandwich, only I found this much more filling! I made a big batch and used it for my lunch every day last week and it was something I looked forward to eating each day. I made it into a sandwich the first day I had it, but ended up serving it over lettuce with some accompanying carrots, sprouts, or hard-boiled eggs the remaining days. It was great either way. This will definitely become a part of my regular lunch rotation.

Smashed Chickpea Salad Sandwich
adapted slightly from Vanilla and Bean

1 can Chickpeas, drained and rinsed (aka Garbanzo)
1/4 cup + 1/2 tablespoon Dill Pickles, finely chopped
1/4 cup Purple Onion, finely chopped 
2 tablespoons Mayo
2 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons Lemon Juice
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoons Salt
2 teaspoons Dill Weed, fresh-chopped
8-10 grinds of fresh Black Pepper

Optional add-ins:
Shredded Carrots
Hard Boiled Egg

Using a potato masher, rough-mash the chickpeas until most is smashed but there are still some whole chickpeas left. Add the pickles, onion, mayo, mustard, vinegar, salt, dill, and black pepper. Mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Pile onto a good, sturdy whole grain bread or serve atop a pile of arugula with shredded carrots, tomatoes, and a hard boiled egg.

Monday, February 15, 2016

An Unconventional Valentine's Day

Paul and I had a pretty well-laid plan for Valentine's Day. Or so we thought.

We were to enjoy a wonderful Valentine-themed breakfast with the kids, spend some time in the morning playing racquetball together, and then games and activities with the children. We would serve them pizza for dinner (their favorite) and then whisk them off to bed an hour early and then enjoy some ordered-in sushi, wine, and cheese while watching a romantic film together. It sounded fun, low-key, and pretty perfect.

Things did not go exactly as planned.

First, since Valentine's Day fell on a Sunday this year, we had to get up at 6:00 AM to rouse the troops and head over to church for Mass. Matthew and Lucy were both in excellent moods and awoke without an issue. Emma, however, was an ogre from the start. She was just in a nasty, nasty mood. She awoke with great difficulty, and we tried to be sensitive to the fact that our middle child really enjoys her sleep. We initially opened her door so she could hear the bustle of us getting the other two kids ready and perhaps feel motivated to get out of bed. It motivated her alright....she climbed out of bed, marched across the room, and angrily slammed the door so the room would once again be enveloped in darkness, and then climbed back into bed for more sleep. So, we had to be a bit more aggressive with our tactics and dragged her out of bed, took her to the bathroom, put her in dainty lace dress while she kicked and complained. and then wrestled her into the car. She was pretty awful during the entire Mass and had to be taken out on more than one occasion. We figured she was just tired.

The bad behavior continued. While Matthew was a perfect cherub, all Emma did was whine and complain. The night before, I had decorated the table with a red tablecloth, heart-shaped plates, heart straws for the kids' cups, Hershey Kisses scattered across the tablescape, and a personalized valentine for each child (and the husband) at their plate. As I worked in the kitchen to prepare a breakfast of Eggs Benedict and Nutella-Stuffed Red Velvet Pancakes, Emma whined and complained that she only wanted to eat the chocolate on the table and nothing more. When we sat down to eat, Matthew dug into his breakfast with glee while Emma sulked. When Matthew declared happily: "Mom is the best cook in the whole wide world", Emma contradicted him by saying: "No she's not...she's the worst cook in the whole wide world!"

That did it for Paul. He whisked Emma away upstairs to her room while scolding her, "You don't speak to your Mom that way!" He sentenced her to a time-out in her bed until she was ready to be more pleasant.

As Emma's window-shattering screams could be heard overhead, Paul noticed a tiny card peeking out from under his breakfast plate. He pulled it out and found a My Little Pony Valentine that Emma had picked out for him. "Ahhh look. A valentine from Satan!" Paul remarked, as another angry shriek emanated from upstairs.

We were really bewildered as to why our normally pleasant child was choosing to act so ridiculously unpleasant. We should have seen what was coming.

Paul and I played about 90 minutes of racquetball, during which time I let him win each match. Anyone aware of my racquetball skills know that statement is a bald-faced lie, but I did perform better than I expected. We came home, played a few games, and then I took Lucy upstairs for her nap. While I was trying to get the baby asleep, Emma apparently started throwing up everywhere. Paul, who had been working on something in another part of the house, found Emma lying on the floor in a heap with a trail of puke leading from the kitchen to the living room behind her. He cleaned her and the floors up and then set her up with a bucket in front of a movie. I came downstairs to find a very pale Emma calmly throwing up into her bucket while Paul made Matthew, who was completely unphased by the plague developing around him, some dinner. Emma continued to fill her bucket time and time again over the course of the next few hours. We tucked Matthew into bed and continued to monitor Emma. We decided to set her up on the floor of the family room where she would be in front of the television and less likely to soil her bedspread or her stuffed animal collection. She was happy with that decision and cuddled right into her sleeping bag and fell asleep.

By the time Paul and I finally managed to get Lucy to sleep (at around 9:30 PM), we were a little hard-pressed to find a place to enjoy our romantic Valentine's evening. Our appetites were pretty much shot and the entire main floor smelled of Lysol. We did not want to awaken or disturb our patient, so we ended up constructing a makeshift table in our bedroom using the piano bench. We then sat cross-legged on either side of the piano bench, set some mood lighting using the dim lights of our closet, and enjoyed a sushi feast together while listening for sounds of wretching from our ailing daughter through the baby monitor we had set up. We had to laugh at how our plans always seem to take unexpected turns now that we are parents to three little ones.

The Patient.

Yet, through it all, I would not trade a moment of this life we have built together. I mean, sure I would have preferred to spend a romantic evening out with my husband, enjoying some fancy food and toasting our relationship. However, I treasure being a mother and having the privilege of being able to lovingly hold back my daughter's hair during a moment of illness or rocking her and telling her she will feel better in the morning. It is one of the greatest expressions of love I can give her, simple as it sounds. Watching my husband wipe up vomit from our floor with a cheery smile makes my heart swell with joy and affection for him, for I know what an expression of true love and commitment that chore is. True love is not about the fancy presents, the five-star restaurants, or the fleeting thrill of a stolen kiss. It is about the commitment to remain dedicated to one another in the not-so-glamorous times, to suffer through the drudgery of the day-to-day together with a smile. One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies played through my head as I thought through what had happened that evening. If you have ever seen the Yours, Mine, and Ours (the original, not that silly Dennis Quaid remake), you probably distinctly remember the scene where Frank Beardsley(played by Henry Fonda), while helping his very pregnant wife down the stairs to head to the hospital to deliver their 19th child, calmly explains what love is to his teenage daughter:

"If you want to know what love really is, take a look around you...It's giving life that counts. Until you're ready for it, all the rest is just a big fraud. All the crazy haircuts in the world won't keep it turning. Life isn't a 'love in,' it's the dishes and the orthodontist and the shoe repairman and... ground round instead of roast beef. And I'll tell you something else: it isn't going to a bed with a man that proves you're in love with him; it's getting up in the morning and facing the drab, miserable, wonderful everyday world with him that counts."

So even though our evening did not quite turn out the way we expected it to, we really did have a very wonderful Valentine's Day together and I hope you did too!

If we look tired, it's because we are!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Pancakes for Peter

The elusive "Twin Uncle" made his appearance in our neck of the woods last week. It was a rather spur-of-the-moment visit, but the children were so excited when they heard that Uncle Peter would be in town. "He can sleep in my bed!" Matthew cheerily volunteered.

"Ummm...hopefully not with you in it," Paul mumbled under his breath, always one to smirk at his son's innate generosity.

To Matthew's delight, we did put Peter up in his bedroom and made up a sleeping bag for Matthew on the floor of the baby room. This proved to be a bit of a mistake, for Matthew somehow interpreted this to mean that he would be permanently moving in with his baby sister. After I tucked him in for the night and headed downstairs to feed Lucy, I heard much commotion coming through the floorboards overhead. Chained to my nursing infant, I was unable to investigate immediately but at the first golden opportunity (aka when Lucy finally came up for air), I headed upstairs to find a sleeping Matthew curled up on the floor surrounded by 95% of his possessions that had been precariously transferred from his bedroom to Lucy's. This not only meant that Matthew had some major cleaning to do in the morning but also that I would most likely trip over something when the time came to lay Lucy in her crib for the night.

We very much enjoyed Peter's company for the weekend. Nothing momentous was planned, other than the annual Twin Dinner, a tradition that started a couple years ago during another visit. Basically, Peter and Paul plan something (usually fondue) to make for dinner and it almost always turns out a little less edible than planned. Thankfully, this time fondue was not on the menu. The twosome decided to try searing scallops on Paul's slab of Himalayan pink sea salt that he had received for Christmas. Basically, the salt block was heated for about 30 minutes on our gas stove in order to get it as hot as possible, and then Peter and Paul seared scallops and asparagus stalks to a perfect golden brown. It was pretty dang delicious and I was very thankful to be enjoying some awesome seafood rather than choking down curdled cheese.

Mounting excitement for the eating of the scallops.

Paul also made pancakes for Peter on Sunday...from scratch. Pancakes that do not emerge from a blue bag of Krusteaz are a foreign concept for our beloved California hippy, so Paul was eager to show off his standard pancake recipe that has become probably our family's favorite. The recipe is so incredibly foolproof because Paul has managed to churn out hockey pucks with every other pancake recipe we have used with the exception of this one. He has now made these no less than a dozen times and they have turned out perfectly light, fluffy, and buttery every single time. It's a keeper.

Give them a try for breakfast. Jazz them up for Valentine's Day by adding some red food coloring and chocolate chips. Fill with white chocolate and blueberries. Bananas and toasted walnuts. Pistachios and lemon zest. Grated carrot, walnuts, and raisins. Oh the delicious possibilities!

Paul's Foolproof Pancakes
from Allrecipes

1 1/2 cups milk
4 tablespoons white vinegar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine milk with vinegar in a medium bowl and set aside for 5 minutes to "sour".

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk egg and butter into "soured" milk. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and whisk until lumps are gone.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray. Pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the skillet, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Flip with a spatula, and cook until browned on the other side.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sri Wasano's Infamous Rice Salad

Today marks the official beginning of the Lenten season. The kids were not too happy when we informed them last night that there would be no more candy consumption until Easter Sunday. "But....but....I still have candy in my Halloween bucket!" Emma whined. I assured her that she would be able to snack on that candy again with the arrival of Easter. I just didn't tell her that some of those pieces might possibly be recycled into her Easter basket.

In anticipation of Lent, I have been gathering an arsenal of meatless dishes to use for meals throughout the next 40 days. Catholics normally go meatless on Fridays during Lent, but we try to cut down on our meat consumption in general during this time. Thankfully, my sister-in-law and mother-in-law sent me three wonderful vegetarian cookbooks that I have been eagerly poring through at night while Paul nervously watches. He's really going to miss his meat and fears that I will make him eat tofu or something equally horrific. He really has nothing to worry about since I am not much of a tofu lover myself and definitely not inclined towards making him eat something I certainly wouldn't!

I love a good rice salad, so when I saw this recipe in The Moosewood Cookbook (thanks Amy!), I instantly bookmarked it as the very first recipe to try. Full of vegetables dressed in a slightly sweet dressing with an Asian flair - what's not to love? If you must have some extra protein - because that's what Paul claimed to be the only thing missing from this dish - a piece of seared tuna or chicken would be a fine accompaniment. The recipe makes enough to feed n army of vegetarians, but the leftovers were very much enjoyed for lunch in the days that followed.

Sri Wasano's Infamous Rice Salad
from The Moosewood Cookbook

For the Rice:
2 c. brown rice
3 c. water

For the Dressing:
⅓ c. peanut oil
3 Tb. Chinese sesame oil
½ c. orange juice
1-2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
2 Tb. soy sauce
½ tsp. crushed red pepper (to taste)
2 Tb. rice or cider vinegar
1 c. chopped fresh pineapple (also ok to use canned-in-juice crushed pineapple)

For the Salad:
3 scallions, finely minced (whites and greens)
1 stalk celery, finely minced
1 medium-sized red or green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 8-oz can water chestnuts, drained & thinly sliced
½ lb. fresh mung bean sprouts
½ c. (packed) raisins or currants
1 c. coarsely chopped, roasted and salted cashews
Fresh snow peas

Place rice and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until tender (35-45 minutes).

While the rice cooks, combine the dressing ingredients in a large bowl.

Add the hot rice to the dressing. Mix well. When it has cooled to room temperature, cover tightly and refrigerate until cold. Shortly before serving, stir in salad mix-ins.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Bourbon Blondies with Coconut, Chocolate, and Pecans

A momentous thing happened the other day.

After months of thought, contemplation, and deliberation, Emma has finally chosen a name for her baby doll. The process was a bit arduous. When she first received her doll, Emma asked me "What her name is?" To which I replied, "You have to give her a name! You're her Mommy." I was wrong for thinking that she would find this task delightful and fulfilling, for her quick reply was: "No thank you. You do it."

So, for months the poor plastic infant was simply referred to as "baby doll" and although Emma has proven to be a decent pretend mother, the idea of bequeathing a name to her child was still too difficult a task for her to manage. Then, one day we went to the library and checked out a book about another little girl who received a baby doll from her grandmother and spends hours and hours thinking of the perfect name before deciding on "Rose". Emma liked this story very much and demanded that I read it to her over and over. After what seemed like the 200th reading of this story, Emma quietly told me: "I need to name my baby doll. She's very special to me."

"I know you will think of the perfect name," I told her.

She pondered names for quite a while, just like the little girl in the story, until one day she announced the perfect name she had chosen.

"Her name is Roseberry!" she said proudly, holding up her baby doll.
"RoseMary?" I asked, sure that I had misheard her.
"No. RoseBERRY!" she insisted. And so it came to pass, that Emma's baby doll received the very unique name of Roseberry. Of course, she has gotten quite good at naming things and has since decided to name all her stuffed animals, among them a pooch named "Maggie" and a ballerina bunny named "Annabelle" and a cat named "Vanessa". She even tried to give Baby Lucy a new name, but I put a stop to that nonsense.

Speaking of Lucy, the poor dear is still teething and we have yet to see anything poking through her thick gum line. She continues to whine and moan and drool and gnaw on anything and everything, but mostly me. I went to an event at Matthew's school yesterday wearing a black, long-sleeved shirt that I thought was decent looking. While speaking with his Principal and holding Lucy, I suddenly realized that I had a combination of drool, spit-up, and snot smeared all over my shoulders, arms, and chest. The color black only served to enhance this grotesque addition to my ensemble. The poor dear is a slobbery mess and I'm blaming those incognito little teeth that are taking their dear sweet time to charge through to the surface.

Thankfully, Lucy found a perfect teething toy in the form of these blondies. I first made a batch of these back in December for Christmas. Basically, Christmas is my excuse to bake every cookie recipe that I have had bookmarked for months even if it's not necessarily a "holiday" cookie recipe. If anything, these blondies would be a fitting addition at a celebration for the Kentucky Derby since the combination of ingredients reminds me so much of the famed "Thoroughbred Pie" recipe - something that I also think you should try since it is so incredibly delicious. These blondies have all the flavors of that pie without the hassle of actually making pie. They are incredibly chewy with just a hint of that vanilly-bourbon flavor that I adore. Bourbon and chocolate are a match made in heaven.

After baking my first batch of these, I froze about half the blondies in an attempt to get myself to stop eating them. I was unwilling to give them away because I loved them so much, but figured that freezing them to a solid chunk of ice would deter me enough to make them last a bit longer than...say...24 hours. For the record, they taste just as awesome frozen as they do you at room temperature. Lucy agrees with me on this point. A chunk of these, fresh from the freezer, has been the perfect solution to her teething problems. That little girl will sit and gnaw on one of these frozen blondies until it begins to melt and coat her hands, mouth, shirt, legs...pretty much until a wardrobe change is required. She probably adores the feel of the cold on her swollen gumline, but I also think she legitimately loves the flavor as well. That baby has great taste, because I am pretty sure this is my new favorite cookie recipe. I just made another batch to bring with me to a Girl's Night this weekend, but I made sure to leave a couple pieces in the freezer for my baby Lucy.

Oh, and in my opinion, the only bourbon to use here is Buffalo Trace. It's good stuff.

Bourbon Blondies with Coconut, Chocolate, and Pecans
from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups light brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons bourbon
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted
¼ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13-inch pan and line with parchment paper, allowing the ends of the paper to hang over the sides.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and sea salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar until all of the butter is incorporated and there are no lumps of brown sugar. Add the eggs, vanilla extract and bourbon and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. Add the flour mixture and stir until almost completely incorporated, then add the chocolate chips, coconut and pecans, stirring to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer. Bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool completely before cutting into squares and serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Chocolate Cupcakes with Whipped Chocolate Buttercream

For his birthday, Matthew had the honor of bringing in a treat to share with his entire Kindergarten class. Unlike the selection of his birthday cake, Matthew had no hesitation whatsoever in deciding on chocolate cupcakes for his class treat. Actually, his first choice was strawberry, but I convinced him that the strawberries just did not taste all that great right now and he switched to chocolate.

Matthew has been really into Star Wars as of late. His obsession has spurred him to spend hours teaching his sister all the correct Star Wars jargon. Emma has proven to be a worthy young padawan, patiently and quietly listening to Matthew page through his Star Wars books while pointing out each and every character, weapon, and starship, explaining their role and then requesting Emma to repeat the information back to him. I have to admit, it's pretty funny to hear Emma talk about "R2-D2" or "Chewy the Woooookie" or "the little green troll named Yo-DA!" So, I was really excited to find these cute Star Wars muffin liners and some Yoda and Darth Vader sugar decorations for the tops. They certainly made my decorating job much easier! I hid the decorations from Matthew so that he would not be able to see them until I dropped them off at school for him. He loved the decorations and was so excited to see the Star Wars theme! I asked him if he chose a "Yoda cupcake" or a "Vader cupcake" to eat and he replied: "A Darth Vader one, of course!!"

If you are looking for a great chocolate cake, this recipe is fabulous. It originally comes from Ina Garten and it can easily be made by my six-year-old. Only the bowl of the stand mixer and a few measuring spoons and cups are dirtied and the cake batter is ready in less than 10 minutes. The result is a fluffy, moist, and rich chocolate cake - and I think this is due to two essential ingredients: real buttermilk and strong coffee. This was probably my fourth time making this recipe and it has come out absolutely perfect every single time. The whipped chocolate buttercream that I paired with this cake was a new recipe that I had bookmarked for some time. For the cupcakes, I wanted something a little lighter than a typical chocolate frosting and this did the trick. It has a light and airy texture, pipes beautifully, and is not-too-cloyingly sweet. It was perfect for the cupcakes, but really would make a great frosting for any layer cake or even brownies! The only thing that would make it better would be the addition of a bit of instant espresso powder to enhance the deep, rich notes of the chocolate flavor. However, I didn't think the Kindergarten teacher would appreciate sneaking even the most remote amount of caffeine to an already rambunctious class. The sugar high from the cake was probably enough fun for her to deal with.

And what did the birthday boy think? Matthew hopped into the car at school pickup and declared: "Those Star Wars cupcakes were the best cupcakes you ever made, Mom!"

He knows how to make my day!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Whipped Chocolate Buttercream
from Ina Garten and I am Baker

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed strong, hot coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with liners, if making cupcakes. If making a layer cake, butter and line the bottoms of two 8x2-inch round cake pans with parchment.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans

Bake for 18-20 minutes, for cupcakes, or 35-40 minutes for cake pans. The cake layers and cupcakes are done when it springs back when lightly pressed in the center. Let cupcakes cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before removing them from the pan to cool completely. Cake must be completely cool before frosting.

Whipped Chocolate Buttercream

1 1/2 cups butter, at room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch table salt

In a the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with whisk attachment whisk butter and sugar on medium-high speed until very pale and fluffy or about five minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed.

With the mixer off, add in cocoa powder, vanilla and salt. On low, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the heavy cream, one tablespoon at a time. Once all cream has been added and mixture is mostly combined, turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Now turn the mixer onto medium-high to high and whisk for 3-5 minutes or until mixture is lighter and fluffier.