Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Egg & Cheese Hash Brown Waffles

Matthew started the second grade this week and while I will miss having him around the house, it was definitely time for him to begin. I really like the routine that comes with the school day. Our family is forced to get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, and leave the house at an early hour. I like the sense of accomplishment that comes with having run all my errands, performed my morning chores and finished my workout routine all before 10:30 AM! While I do not especially enjoy getting up super early - even earlier this year since school stars quite a bit earlier than before - I appreciate the benefits of a structured life, especially after living such an unstructured one this summer! The girls miss their brother, but the house has been remarkably more quiet without the constant bickering between Matthew and Emma. I've also enjoyed being able to go about my chores without hearing a never-ending string of animal facts and trivia from my little chatterbox. He seems to be having a good year so far and has some great kids in his class. He has enthusiastically headed to school each morning. Let's hope that enthusiasm continues!

Having some extra time in my morning means I've had a bit more time to test recipes and I've got a simple and delicious one for you today!

I had heard of making perfectly crispy hash browns using a waffle iron before and had bookmarked several recipes for it but the moment to make them never seemed right; my laziness always got in the way. When you're too lazy to make hash browns, especially when they involve pre-shredded potatoes, you have a problem. Then, I stumbled across a recipe for these Egg & Cheese Hash Brown Waffles and the pictures made me want to jump through my computer screen and eat one immediately. The time had arrived!

The recipe is stupid simple to prepare. Whisk, add, mix, and your potatoes are ready to be cooked. Now, cooking them was a little bit more tricky. My first "waffle"was a complete failure. The stupid thing wouldn't come out of my waffle maker until I took a fork and practically dug out each piece, leaving a heap of super-appetizing broken up potatoes on the serving plate. I began to despair that perhaps I had spent too much time away from the kitchen. I couldn't even make some stupid hash browns with my waffle iron! However, the subsequent batches of waffles turned out much, much better - they held their shape, were easy to remove, and were deliciously crispy.

A couple tips I learned:

1) Every waffle iron is different, so the setting that worked for me (medium-high) might not work for you with the make and model of iron you own. Do not be afraid to play with the settings as you cook these!

2) Liberally oil your iron with vegetable or canola oil. I kept a little ramekin of oil nearby and brushed a new coat on between batches. The oil is essential to ensure that these do not stick and turn out crispy!

3) I found that I had to leave these in my waffle iron long past when the sensor claimed they were done. This ensured optimal crispiness and ease of removal.

4) To ensure that all diners be served at once, keep the finished batches of waffles in a 200-degree oven until you have used up all your potato batter.

Do give these a try! My kids loved them, but really they love any meal centered around eggs. I don't know any kids who eat more eggs than mine. Breakfast for dinner is a major hit around here. I enjoyed these hash brown waffles for both lunch and dinner in one day, which shows how much I like them!

Egg & Cheese Hash Brown Waffles
from Yellow Bliss Road

1 20-ounce package Shredded Hash Browns (I weighed mine out of a 32 ounce bag)
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar Cheese
1/4 cup fresh chopped chives, plus some for garnishing
Salt & pepper
Fried eggs, for serving

Heat waffle iron on the medium-high setting. Coat each side liberally with canola or vegetable oil.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Stir in potatoes, cheese, chives, salt, and pepper.

Depending on the size of your waffle iron, scoop a layer of the potato mixture onto the surface (for the round waffle maker, I used about 1 cup of the mixture). Spread to about 1/2 inch from the edges and close the waffle iron. Cook for about 5 minutes, checking every few minutes to avoid burning. I found that mine took much longer to get brown and crispy. When the entire waffle is golden brown in color, carefully remove from the waffle iron with a fork. Transfer to a warm (200 degree) oven while you make the remaining waffles.

Serve with some fried eggs over top and a sprinkling of extra chopped chives.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Overstuffed Blueberry Muffins with Sugary Tops

Emma has a history of being benevolent towards God's creature and a penchant for rescuing them from certain death. A star example of this is her rescue of the frog from the clutches of a hungry snake while on a hike last summer. She had the opportunity to rescue a few more pathetic creatures this summer only this time they were baby mice on the verge of being disposed of by her father.

Paul and I had been doing some chores in the backyard when we noticed several baby mice scattered throughout the lawn. They were extremely tiny and docile, not even attempting to flee when we came close by. Paul, harboring a fairly substantial vendetta against rodents due to the numerous tunneling by moles throughout our lawn, immediately announced that he was going to drown the baby mice and headed to the garage in search of a bucket. I balked at the idea as did Emma who had come outside to see what we were looking out. She immediately found the mice so cute and begged for Paul to spare them. I joined her, urging Paul to trap them and release them in the woods not too far from our home. Paul, who was certainly not looking forward to killing them, agreed to the idea. He scooped up the mice into the bucket and then he and Emma headed off to the woods to find the baby mice a new home.

They found a spot that Emma thought suitable for the mice and then set the bucket on its side. Emma watched the mice slowly make their way out and began talking to them about how much they were going to like their new home. The mice didn't seem too interested in exploring their new digs and just continued to sit there sniffing the air and Paul began to grow impatient. He urged Emma to say goodbye so they could leave. She started to follow him back to the car but then asked, "Daddy, can I go say one last goodbye to the baby mice?" Paul agreed and Emma went running back to where they had left the mice.

Only she sort of forgot where they were and accidentally trampled them during her search.

Paul found her staring confusedly at the ground and came over to find that she had somehow managed to squish every single one. Fortuitously, Emma did not seem to notice what had happened and thought the mice were all sleeping. The reality would have saddened her, so Paul agreed that the mice were "just getting some rest before finding their new home." As she headed back to the car, Emma was already making plans to visit the mice at some point in the future.

When they got home, Paul whispered what had happened to me and concluded with, "Well, I guess that permanently solves the problem."

Emma would be so heartbroken if she truly knew what happened!

These blueberry muffins are guaranteed to be a bit more successful than Emma's rodent rescue attempt. I found this recipe on the King Arthur Flour website. I stumbled across it really because I was not really in search of a new blueberry muffin recipe because I like the one that I have been using for years just fine. However, the amount of blueberries called for in the recipe as well as the promise for a crunchy, sugary top made me convinced to run to the kitchen and bake up a batch. I had just been back to the blueberry patch for one last visit before the season ends to gather my favorite variety of all - the sweetest, tiniest blueberries of the season! Unfortunately their tiny nature make them much more tedious to pick and gather but they are the absolute perfect size for muffins, scones, and buckle. Leave the giant berries for cobblers and pancakes!

But back to the recipe. The recipe for these muffins comes from the Boston-based department store Jordan's whose doors were shuttered after being bought out by Macy's. They used to be famous for their large blueberry muffins which they served in their dining room on the top floor of the store. I had never heard of them and was thus completely unaware of their reputation for baking up delicious blueberry muffins but after having made their recipe I completely understand why. These muffins are delicious. I love how every bite is absolutely bursting with blueberry flavor. The crunchy, sugary tops are also highly addictive. At first I was a little unsure about scattering an entire teaspoon of sugar atop each and every muffin but after having eaten approximately half a dozen of these muffins I beg and plead for you not to skip it. That bit of sugar makes these muffins sparkle and shine - literally and figuratively.

And yes, I used Halloween-themed cupcake liners because that's all I had - NOT because I'm looking forward to Halloween. Heck no. I never make cupcakes and muffins without liners because they always stick no matter how much I grease the cups.

Make these before the blueberries disappear!

Overstuffed Blueberry Muffins with Sugary Tops
from King Arthur Flour

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh preferred
1/4 cup sugar, for topping

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin; or line the tin with papers, and grease the papers.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl and beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, beating gently just to combine. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.

Mash 1/2 cup of the blueberries. Add the mashed and whole berries to the batter, stirring just to combine and distribute.

Scoop the batter by the heaping 1/4-cupful into the prepared muffin pan.

Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon granulated sugar atop each muffin, if desired.

Bake the muffins for about 30 minutes, until they're light golden brown on top, and a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean.

Remove the muffins from the oven, loosen their edges from the pan, and after about 5 minutes transfer them to a rack to cool.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Creamy Gnocchi with Mushrooms

Matthew conquered two major milestones over the past month, one good and one not-so-great. Let's start with the good. After watching nearly every person in his first grade classroom gradually enter the pirate phase by dropping teeth out of their mouths, including one poor girl who lost two during lunch while biting into an apple - Matthew has finally joined them by losing his first baby tooth. Matthew started teething really late as a baby - after his first birthday - and I'm guessing that's the reason his mouth has been equally slow to lose them in favor of his adult teeth. But, one day at lunch, Matthew began complaining that his mouth hurt when he bit into his sandwich and after closer inspection I verified that one of his lower incisors was in deed on the verge of being evicted by an emerging adult tooth. I offered to pull it for him right then and there but he squealed at the thought.

So, Matthew sat and wiggled it for the remainder of the day until it was basically hanging on by the tiniest bit. Sick of watching him constantly put his hands in his mouth, I told him I just wanted to inspect it and then yanked it out with barely any effort. Matthew didn't even notice until he saw that I was holding it in my hand. "My tooth!! I lost my first tooth! YIPPEE!!"

He then proceeded to run a victory lap around the house and find every neighbor on our street to show them his accomplishment up close and personal by shoving his bloody tooth into their faces while peeling back his gums to proudly display the tiny little crevice left behind. It was a very big deal for him.

That night, Matthew left his tooth on his nightstand in anxious anticipation of a visit from the tooth fairy. After he had fallen asleep, Paul sneaked into his room and replaced the tiny tooth with a conglomeration of coins adding up to one dollar since neither of us actually had any paper cash on us. When he came back into our room with the tooth, I told him that I wanted to put it in Matthew's baby book as a keepsake and for some reason Paul took that to mean that he should have a mini seizure right at that moment. For no reason whatsoever, he lost his grip on the tooth, bobbled it for a few seconds in a vain attempt to catch it, and then dropped it onto our shag carpet where it became lost among the fibers. We searched and searched for it for about 20 minutes but there was no trace of it. I even vacuumed the next morning in the hopes of finding it that way, but no luck. And that's how Matthew, and his parents, lost a tooth.

The second milestone has to do with the ever-so-common but completely-horrifying instance where children decide to test out their skills as a hairstylist. Usually on their younger siblings and almost always with less-than-stellar results. I had so far survived only one minor incidence of Emma cutting her own hair and ever since then have been pretty careful about keeping scissors out of reach. Matthew does keep a pair of crafting scissors with his art supplies but that's because I was positive I didn't have to worry about him using them inappropriately. Well, we live and learn because Matthew decided to cut a family member's hair this morning only it wasn't Lucy or Emma's. Poor Peyton was the victim.

I walked into the family room and nearly jumped at the discovery of several large clumps of reddish-golden fur. At first I thought Peyton must be going through a major shedding phase and began to panic at that thought, but then I noticed that the hair was clumped in clusters that seemed as if they had been deliberately cut from his mane - the edges were perfectly clean. Then, I took a good look at Peyton's back and sure enough there was evidence that someone had completely hacked off the longer parts of his fur, leaving him with a choppy, unsightly-looking coat. I was sure it was Emma, but when she instead pointed her finger at Matthew, he quickly owned up to it, claiming that Peyton "needed a haircut to stay cool". Matthew was then ordered to clean up all the hair, apologize to Peyton (yeah, I know, like he cares!), and instructed that he would be banned from scissors at home for the next few weeks.

I still thank God that Matthew was inspired to cut Peyton's hair rather than Lucy's...

These kids keep me on my toes which is why when it comes to mealtime I need to make something that is quick, easy, filling, and enjoyable. Here is a great meal that takes less than 30 minutes to get on the table: Creamy Gnocchi with Mushrooms. The recipe uses par-cooked potato gnocchi found in the pasta section of your grocery store so you don't have to worry about making your own (gnocchi is historically quite difficult to get right!). The gnocchi is seared in butter before being set aside to make a creamy mushroom-based sauce that is infused with just a bit of cream to make a velvety accompaniment to the soft gnocchi. Finished with a quick simmer and a handful of chopped fresh basil and you've got a dinner that can be great for company or as an easy, weeknight family meal. The gnocchi is creamy and rich without being too heavy. Serve with a beautiful green salad and some Italian bread for a complete meal.

Creamy Gnocchi with Mushrooms
from Cook's Country

Note: I almost always double the mushrooms because I love them. Vacuum sealed gnocchi found in the pasta aisle works best, but frozen or refrigerated gnocchi will also work in a pinch. And don't be afraid of the nutmeg! It adds authentic Italian flare to this dish.

1 1/4 cups vegetable broth
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound vacuum-packed gnocchi
1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn

Whisk broth, Parmesan, cream, nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together in bowl; set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add gnocchi and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes; transfer to plate.

Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth mixture and gnocchi and bring to simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and serve.