Tuesday, July 31, 2012

birthday boys...

Today I'm crafting- another love of mine- so I'll share some pics from a while back.

Both the boys this year had pretty specific ideas for their birthday cakes (I wonder where they get that from!).  I'm not much of a cake decorator, so I was pretty happy with how these turned out.  This is the first time I have used food coloring gel, you can get it in the cake decorating section at Michael's.  I highly recommend it!

Here is Kyle's Lego Ninjago cake.  This is the main character- Kai, you can find it all over the Lego website.  For the party I made all the boys ninja headbands and they played ninja warrior games.  I was able to find inexpensive Lego Ninjago backpacks for each boy to take home and they each also got a small ninjago brick set in the backpack.

Trevor has been into Super Mario Bros. lately.  I made 1up cupcakes and dressed the rest of the table with Super Mario themed toys.  The take home gift is the brick coin box.  It's just a white box from the craft store.  I printed and glued the brick picture onto each side.  I filled them with assorted toys and chocolate coins, of course!  The boys played pin the mustache on the Mario for their game.

We have had birthday parties at fun houses and at home.  The years we have them at home I always wonder if hope that my boys will have as much fun.  When all is said and done the home parties always get the biggest smiles and hugs.  All the work is definitely worth it!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sweet Potato Pancakes

My kiddos do not love potatoes, or sweet potatoes for that matter (what is wrong with them I say!) Never-the-less I had left over baked sweet potatoes from dinner the other night.  As my tummy grumbled this morning I was thinking about what I should do with them.  Plop them in the freezer where they'd likely be forgotten about?  Nope. Warm up in the microwave for my own lunch?  Maybe, but that doesn't sound like much fun.  Sweet potato fritters?  Now I'm going somewhere.  At last, sweet potato pancakes.  Yes, please!

I've never made sweet potato pancakes, so this is a new one for me.  I began research in my usual way, by looking up sweet potatoes in the index of my favorite cook books.  Didn't find much there.  Next I went to a favorite blog- Tastespotting.com -and did another search for sweet potato pancakes.  There were several recipes there.  As I read through the recipes they either called for pre-made pancake mix or looked like standard pancake recipes with mashed sweet potatoes added.  So instead of using a new recipe I decided to use my old standby buttermilk pancake recipe.  Here's how I tweaked the recipe to add sweet potatoes:

Begin with 2 small or 1 large sweet potato, baked and cooled.  Peel the skin and place in a bowl.

Mash with a fork.

Add eggs, melted butter and buttermilk.  Set aside

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  I also added 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice.

Add wet ingredients into dry and mix with a fork.  Just mix til moist, do not over mix.  Spoon onto buttered griddle.

These are ready to flip.

These pancakes were delish!  Moist on the inside, with bits of sweet potato and very filling. The orange color is beautiful! Serve with a pat of butter and warm maple syrup and enjoy:)

I didn't tell my boys what kind of pancakes they were until they had almost fully devoured them.  As the 10 year old cleared his empty plate from the table (no more than 2.5 seconds after he began eating) he let me know that just knowing it was sweet potato spoiled it for him.  To which I'm thinking "yeah, I can see just how much you hated it!"  (insert sarcasm here;) )

Friday, July 27, 2012

Beef Brisket

I had planned on making beef brisket this week, which takes a loooooooong time.  Here's the dilema- in the summer, how do you plan on staying home for an entire afternoon to let a brisket cook low and slow? My problem was solved when my husband told me the cable guy would be coming on friday afternoon.  Thanks honey:)  Brisket just seems like summertime food and you don't need a bbq pit to pull it off either.

Oven-Barbecued Beef Brisket
from Better Homes and Garden Cook Book

1 3# brisket, trimmed of most fat
3/4 c water
1/2 c onion, chopped
3 T worcestershire sauce
2 T cider vinegar
1 T chili powder
1 t beef bouillon (I like Better Than Beef)
1/8 t red pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c chili sauce
2 T brown sugar
1 T flour

Preheat oven to 325F.  Prep meat, place in a 9x13 pyrex baking pan and salt and pepper well.  In a small bowl stir together water, worcestershire, vinegar, chili powder, beef bouillon, red pepper and garlic.  Set aside.  Chop onion and place on top of meat. Pour sauce over meat, cover pan with foil and place in oven for 3 hours.


Remove meat from the pan to a cutting board, let sit for a few minutes.  Pour the pan juices (add water to equal 3/4 c if needed) to a med saucepan.  Add chili sauce, brown sugar and flour.  Cook and stir over med-high heat til thick and bubbly.  While sauce is thickening slice the meat thin against the grain of the meat.  Serve the meat with the sauce, fresh corn on the cob and a baked sweet potato.

enjoy, beth

Slow Cooker Italian Sausage in Marinara Sauce

Slow-Cooker Saturday

I never know what my weekends are going to look like, especially in the summer time when there's no real schedule (which I love by the way!).  So lately I'm using my crock pot on the weekend. It's so nice to not have the stress of what to feed the family, yet go with the flow of what everyone wants to do for the day.  If, like last weekend, we decide to take a drive up to the mountain the crock pot can manage itself and we'll have dinner for Sunday ready to warm up in just a moment.  Here I made italian sausage in a simple marinara sauce.  You can serve over pasta or, like I did, on a hoagie roll.

Italian Sausage in Marinara

Marinara Sauce
from Ina Garten

olive oil
1 c onion, chopped
1 1/2 t kosher salt
1 1/2 t minced garlic
1/2 c red wine
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 T flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 t freshly ground pepper

I doubled this recipe and placed the second portion in the freezer for dinner another night.

Place chopped onions in a large saute pan with the olive oil and saute over med heat.  I always salt my onions right when I put them in the pan, this helps to soften quickly.

While the onions cook put the tomatoes, parsley & pepper in the crockpot.

When the onions are just beginning to brown add in the garlic and stir constantly for about 30 seconds, just til the garlic becomes really fragrant.  Don't let the garlic brown.

Turn the heat to high and add in the wine, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan, let that cook down for about 3 min, or til the wine is almost gone.  This is normally where I would add the tomatoes to the pan to simmer, instead it'll simmer all day in the crock pot.

Now add 2 packages of italian sausage to the pan with the onions/wine, just to brown the meat.  Make sure you use a sausage you like because it'll flavor the sauce as it simmers.  Once the meat is browned place it, along with the onion/wine mix, into the crock pot.  Give it all a big stir, set the heat to low and let cook for a minimum of 4 hours, up to 8 hours.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Roasted Chicken

Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner

I'm making roasted chicken for dinner tonight.  To prepare the chicken I put it in a brine this morning.  Letting it soak in the brine ahead of time will not only make the chicken super moist, but it allows me to flavor the inside of the meat, similarly to what a marinade would do, only better!


Prep Seasonings

I began by getting my seasonings ready.  You can use anything that you like to season your chicken with. I'm using fresh lemon, sage, rosemary and parsley. Melt a nob of butter with a couple tablespoons of olive oil over med heat in a saute pan.  Add the herbs to the pan to sauté for about 2 minutes. I left the herbs whole because I'm just using them in the brine, so I want to easily pick them out when I'm ready to roast the chicken. For about the last 30 seconds add 2 cloves minced garlic and stir for the remaining time, you don't want to burn the garlic.  Turn off the heat and let cool while you prep the chicken.
  • You can easily skip this first step and just add fresh or dried herbs straight to your brine water.  I've never done this part before, but thought it would be fun to try.  I think I'm going to like the result though- my house has smelled amazing all day!


Prep Chicken

I would not recommend using frozen chicken breasts to brine, fresh would be good.  Today I'm using a whole chicken cut up, still on the bone. Rinse your chicken under cool water and place in a gallon ziploc bag.  I could use a bowl, but with a ziploc I can get all the air out.  Place the cooled herbs in the bag, along with 1 lemon halved, 1/4 c brown sugar, 1/4 c kosher salt, lots of freshly ground pepper and 3 cups cold water.  Close the bag and toss it in all directions to mix up all the ingredients.  Once it’s fully mixed open just a small sliver of the bag to squeeze the excess air out and reseal.  Place in a large bowl in your fridge for at least 2 hours, you can do this the night before if you like though.

When it's time to roast the chicken preheat your oven to 375F.  Remove chicken from the brine and discard brine. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel.  Place on a roasting pan skin side up and give it a drizzle of olive oil and into the oven for 45m.

Basic Brine Recipe

¼ c brown sugar
¼ c kosher salt
3 c water

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Quick and Healthy Breakfast

Quick and Healthy Breakfast

One of the motivators I have for cooking from scratch goes back to when my, now 10 year old, boy was just a babe.  He had a rocky start to life when I delivered him 4 weeks early.  The doctors didn't know why he was early, but he was, and as a result he spent 9 days in the NICU. When he came home he wore an apnea monitor 24/7 until further instruction from our pediatrician.  In addition, he was quarantined for the first 2 months of his life, which meant that my husband and I were, too.  The good news is that by the time he was old enough for real food he was healthy, growing (sometimes a pound a week!) and ready to eat!  How could I put commercially processed food into this little man that I had been placed in charge of?  I knew I needed to feed him pure, whole food.  And that has been a goal of mine ever since.

Don't get me wrong, we get plenty of junk food, sweets and treats.  But if the majority of the time I can give my family delicious and healthy food, especially to start their day, then I feel like I'm going in the right direction, even if the rest of the day is a flop!  One way I do this is by keeping home-made muffins in the freezer.  They're great for breakfast or lunch served with fresh fruit and glass of milk to round out the meal.  Every few weeks I'll make several batches of muffins or bread to stock my freezer.  I love having wholesome food ready when life is too busy to cook:)

In the picture are (top) lemon zucchini muffins with a lemon glaze, (right) carrot pineapple muffins and (bottom) blueberry scones.

Lemon Zucchini Muffins with Lemon Glaze

2 c ap flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 eggs
1/2 c canola oil
2/3 c sugar
1/2 c buttermilk
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
1 c zucchini, grated

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line muffin tin with paper liners, set aside.  In a large bowl combine dry ingredients.  In a med bowl mix wet ingredients well, adding in zest and zucchini last and stirring to combine.  Pour wet ingredients into the dry and mix just til moist, do not over mix.  Using an ice cream scoop, scoop batter into muffin pan to make 12 muffins and bake for 15-18 m.  Let muffins cool on a wire rack.  While muffins are cooling make your glaze.

Lemon Glaze

Juice 1 lemon into a med bowl.  Over the juice sift 1 cup powdered sugar, stir to completely dissolve sugar.  Once muffins are completely cooled drizzle with glaze and let set.  After glaze is set toss muffins into a ziploc freezer bag and store in freezer til ready to eat.

  • I often make double batches when I'm baking.  This way I only have to bake 1/2 as often, I only have to get the ingredients out/prepped once instead of twice, and since they're going into the freezer anyway there's no worry of spoiling before getting eaten.  Any of the muffin or quick bread recipes I post can easily be doubled without any adjustments.
Carrot Pineapple Muffins (from Food Network Kitchens)

3/4 c ap flour
1/2 c ww flour
2/3 c dark brown sugar
2 T wheat germ
2 t cinnamon
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 eggs
1/3 c veg oil
1 T vanilla
4 med carrots, shredded (2 cups)
1/2 crushed pineapple (or raisins)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line muffin tin with paper liners, set aside.  Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl.  Combine remaining 5 ingredients into a med bowl.  Pour wet ingredients into the dry and mix just til moist, not over mixing.  Batter will be thick.  Using an ice cream scoop, scoop the batter evenly into your muffin tin and bake for about 30 m.  Start checking after 20 m with a wooden skewer. Cool on a wire rack, if you can wait, you'll be tempted to eat these right out of the oven while they're still hot!  Once cooled place in a gallon freezer ziploc to store in the freezer.

  • If your muffin recipe gives you an of option to use butter or oil, always use oil.  Because the butter has water in it, the muffins will dry out more quickly.  Using oil will result in a more moist, soft muffin.

Blueberry Scones

This is the same scone recipe I used for my Strawberry Shortcake from the Joy of Cooking, just tweaked a little.

1 c ap flour
1 c ww flour
2 T wheat germ
1/4 c sugar
4 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/4 t baking soda
1 egg, room temp
1 c buttermilk, room temp
3 1/2 T butter, melted
1/2 fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 400F.  Line baking sheet with a silpat liner, or lightly grease, set aside.  In a med bowl combine first 7 ingredients, set aside.  In a small bowl whisk egg, buttermilk and butter together.  Having the egg and buttermilk at room temp will ensure the butter doesn't solidify when you add it in.  Fold the blueberries into the wet mixture and add that to the dry ingredients.  Combine til moist, not over mixing.  Using an ice cream scoop, scoop spoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet into 12 scones.  Sprinkle top with coarse sugar and bake for 12-15 m.  Cool on a wire rack and store in a gallon ziploc freezer bag in your freezer.

  • I often substitute ww flour for 1/3 or 1/2 of the ap flour to make a recipe a bit healthier.  Adding in a couple tablespoons of wheat germ is a plus too.  Any way I can get good stuff into my family is a bonus:)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Simple Salsa

This simple, hand cut salsa is so delicious and easy to make, you'll be mad you've been buying salsa all this time!  It's especially good if you have fresh tomatoes from the garden.  The salt will draw out the juices in the tomato and the lime cuts through the onion-y taste and brightens the flavors of the other ingredients.

Simple Salsa

3 large vine ripened tomatoes
1 bunch cilantro
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
1-2 limes
kosher salt to taste

Chop tomatoes, cilantro, onion and jalapeño and combine in a med bowl.  Squeeze the juice of one lime over salsa and sprinkle with salt.  Mix well and let sit for 10-15 minutes.  After resting give it another stir, taste to adjust seasoning.  Enjoy with your favorite tortilla chips.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake

The summers in the northwest are wonderful!  The clouds clear allowing the sunshine to highlight all the beautiful lush green that's been growing wildly the other 11 months of the year (that's a joke...kind of!).  One of my favorite things are locally grown strawberries.  Ever since I was a little girl I have anticipated fresh strawberries, I actually get giddy in the spring just knowing they'll be ready for picking soon.  In June I begin looking for the road side stands to pop up and I start to call the local farm where I go to pick my favorites to see when they'll open the patch.  For the few weeks that I'm able to pick our family gorges (is that the right word? YES!) on these little jewels for, pretty much, breakfast lunch and dinner...oh yeah, and dessert.  Here's my recipe for strawberry shortcake, this counts as dessert and breakfast:)

First prep the strawberries by rinsing and removing the hull.  Place in a bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher.  If they don't release much juice you can add a couple tablespoons of sugar and let sit.  The sugar will draw out the juices.

While the berries are sitting make the scones. I use a recipe from The Joy of Cooking:

Buttermilk Drop Scones

2 c ap flour
1/4 c sugar
4 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/4 t baking soda
1 egg
1 c buttermilk
3 1/2 T butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400F.  Combine dry ingredients into a med mixing bowl.  In a smaller bowl whisk together wet ingredients and pour into dry mixture.  Mix with a fork just til dry ingredients are moist, do not over mix!  Using an ice cream scoop drop batter onto a baking sheet making 12 equal size scones.  Sprinkle each top with coarse sugar and bake for 12-15 m, just til they start to brown.

While the scones are in the oven whip up your whipped cream in a stand mixer.  I pour about 2 c whipping cream in the bowl.  Using the whisk attachment start the mixture on med-low to form some bubbles.  Once this begins add in sugar, a couple tablespoons up to a 1/4 c depending on how sweet you like it.  By starting the whipping cream first it gives the sugar a better chance to fully dissolve in the cream and not just sit in the bottom of the bowl.  Once you add the sugar crank up the mixer to med-high and let it go for a couple minutes.  Keep an eye on it or you may have butter on your hands!

While the scones are still warm break them in half using a fork to get lots of nooks and crannies.  Spoon the strawberries on top and finally a big mound of whipped cream.  Enjoy!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Buttermilk Pancakes with fresh Blueberry Syrup

Buttermilk Pancakes with fresh Blueberry Syrup


The boys and I picked blueberries the other day.  One of my favorite summer activities is picking berries.  The kids get to eat fresh berries right off the bush and I get to stock my freezer with delicious, wholesome food for the rest of the year.  Something I make throughout the year with the berries I freeze is blueberry "syrup".  It's not really syrup, but we use it for pancakes and waffles.  This morning I made buttermilk pancakes with fresh blueberry syrup, a favorite of my boys:) It couldn't be more simple to make.

Buttermilk Pancakes:

2 c ap flour
1 1/4 t baking soda
3/4 t baking powder
1 t salt
2 eggs, unbeaten
2 c buttermilk
1/4 c butter, melted

Mix dry ingredients in a med bowl.  Add remaining ingredients and mix lightly, batter should be thick and lumpy.  Drop spoonfuls onto a hot, buttered griddle and spread out a little with the spoon.  Flip when the edges are browned and bubbles form on top.


Blueberry Syrup:

2'ish c fresh or frozen blueberries (no need to thaw if using frozen)
1/4-1/2 c sugar
splash water
1-2 T fresh lemon juice
2 t cornstarch

This is very much a throw in the pot/no measuring required recipe, it's pretty tough to mess up.  The quantities I listed are very much a guesstimate, you can adjust to your liking. 

Place blueberries and a splash of water into a med saucepan and turn to med-high.  Add in sugar and lemon juice, stir to coat.  Let this cook while you begin making the pancake batter.  Once the berries have cooked down (5-10m) turn heat to low.  In a small bowl combine the cornstarch and a splash of  cold water to make a runny paste.  While stirring the blueberries add in the cornstarch.  The syrup should thicken right away, give it a good stir and remove from heat.  Add more cornstarch if you want it thicker, or a bit of water if it's too thick. Serve over hot pancakes and enjoy seeing the smiles on your kids faces:)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pina Colada Cupcakes with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting and a Pineapple Flower

I thought this would be a great first blog...

Pina Colada Cupcakes with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting and a Pineapple Flower


Yes, I know, it's a long title but I couldn't leave any of it out.  What was my inspiration you ask? It was a Tuesday.  That's about all the inspiration I needed to make these beauties.  I had pinned the pineapple flower a while back on my Pinterest account and kept going back to it, so pretty:)  This is the result.  I modified a recipe I found online for Pina Colada cupcakes at A Spicy Perspective.  The frosting is from Pat and Gina Neely over at Food Network.  I love combining many recipes to make just the perfect thing for my taste!

If you try it please comment and let me know how yours turned out, how you tweaked it or what not.

Cupcake Recipe:

(have all ingredients at room temp)

1 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter
3 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 c ap flour
1/2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 c unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 c shredded coconut
1/2 c crushed pineapple, drained (you could use fresh, but I didn't)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line 2 muffins tins with paper cups. In a large bowl beat butter and sugar til light and fluffy, 3-5m.  Add in eggs 1 at a time til fully incorporated, then vanilla.  In a smaller bowl combine dry ingredients.  Add into the butter/cream mixture the dry ingredients with coconut milk alternating each, beginning and ending with dry.  Scrape down sides of mixer and give a final, quick stir.  Add in coconut flakes and pineapple and give a quick stir just to incorporate, making sure to not over mix.  Scoop batter into paper cups about 3/4 full, I like to use an ice cream scoop.  Bake for 15-18m.  Cool completely before frosting.

Frosting Recipe:

(again have all ingredients at room temp)

2-8 oz pkg cream cheese
1 stick butter
2 t vanilla extract
6 c powdered sugar
1-2 c coconut flakes

In a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese and butter til light and fluffy, add in vanilla and beat til well incorporated.  In another smaller bowl sift powdered sugar 1 c at a time, adding each cup into frosting and blending well with each addition.  You made need more or less sugar depending on how thick you like your frosting, that's why I like to add it 1 c at a time.  Lastly add in coconut flakes stirring just to incorporate.  Spoon the frosting into a gallon size ziploc bag and chill frosting for about an hour before frosting cupcakes.

I ended up making the frosting at night, then frosting the cupcakes the following morning, if you do this, too, then set out frosting for a bit to soften up.

When you're ready to frost cut a hole in the corner of the bag as big as you want the frosting piped on, I like mine pretty big.  Using a circular motion, starting on the outer edge of the cupcake pipe on your frosting til you come to the center and lift up and away.  It doesn't have to be perfect because the flower is going on top.  I found that the shredded coconut on the frosting made the frosting come out a bit funny anyway, no worries:)

Pineapple Flowers:

Peel a fresh pineapple.  Using an 1/8 t measuring spoon scoop out the little "eyes" in the sides of the pineapple.  Slice super thin and place on a single layer on a silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake at 225 degrees for at least 30 m.  This could take up to an hour or more depending on how thin you slice your pineapple.  Don't worry, just be patient and keep checking on them so the edges don't burn.  After you pull them out of the oven and while still warm (in other words, move fast!) place each flower in the cup of a cupcake tin to curl the edges up a bit as they dry.  I left mine over-night like this.