Monday, April 30, 2012

Rainbow Carnival Cupcakes

I may not be the mom who picks up and drops off their kid every day at school.

I may not be the mom who is the first to reply back on email about bringing in a classroom drink or treat.

I may not be the mom who chaperones every field trip.

I may not be the mom who remembers to coordinate an outfit for Twin Day at school.

I may not be the mom who collects money from everyone to buy a teacher appreciation gift.

But I am the mom who spent her Friday night up to her armpits in food coloring and frosting so her son could bring rainbow cupcakes to the annual school festival.

Behold the Rainbow Carnival Cupcake with enough food dye in the frosting to put a leprechaun into a coma. Frosting recipe can be found here.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dinners for April 29 - May 5, 2012

Sunday:  Game of Thrones potluck with friends (I brought cheese tortellini tossed with peas, butter and parm for the kids and a side of sautéed carrots and sugar snap peas in a honey glaze)

Monday: Grilled sausages with Panzanella salad (half this recipe)

Tuesday:  Turkey burgers and sweet potato fries

Wednesday: Pesto Pasta

Friday: Homemade pizza

Saturday: TBD - It's a busy day with soccer games and tennis matches

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Kid-Free Afternoon

This past weekend my husband and I realized we had commitments on opposite ends of the Bay and a handyman to let in to the house at the same time. I stayed home to let the handyman in and my husband took the kids for an afternoon with the grandparents in the wine country.Which left me with four glorious hours alone in the house.

I don't know about you, but when I am alone in the house the first thing I want to do is bake in the kitchen ALONE.  Don't get me wrong, I love sharing the time in the kitchen with my kids, but it takes a lot of work and patience and it isn't always *that much* fun. Only recently did I stop having heart palpitations when my kids wanted to help in the kitchen. The combination of mess + danger + disregard of measurements made me want to pull my hair out. 

The handyman was downstairs fixing a window that was broken by our strong-armed six year old and I immediately turned the oven on. I knew what I wanted to make: A chocolate, brownie-like cookie with walnuts. I went through my usual recipes but nothing was looking like what I wanted. A quick Google search yielded exactly what I had been looking for: A fluffy, chocolate-y, walnut studded cookie created by Love From the Oven. I quickly assembled the ingredients and got to work. These cookies come together quickly and sweet lord, the batter should be illegal, it's SO good. I could barely keep my hands out of the bowl and I made short order of the ones that made it out of the oven.

No kids = no sharing required!

After I cleaned up the kitchen I got to work on an overdue sewing project. My remaining two hours of freedom were spent making this beauty

Decades of Style "Protect and Serve" Apron #5005

                                                                    With this fabric

Robert Kaufman's "Effervescense"

I still have a little more to go on the apron (photos to come eventually), but it felt good to recharge my batteries doing things that I love, even if my kids weren't around.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Necessity is the Mother of Substitution


Remember the scene in the 'Great Muppet Caper' when Fozzie is going over his checklist as the gang prepares to catch the thieves who were plotting to steal the Baseball Diamond? The conversation went like this:

Fozzie: Frisbee?
Spencer: It's lost
Fozzie: Wax lips?
Floyd: Man I just had 'em
Fozzie: Yo-yo?
Janice: Fer sure
Fozzie: Peanut butter?
Floyd: Animal ate it.
Animal: Saw-ry!

This was the scene in my kitchen this evening as I started to make Soba noodles with Peanut Sauce for dinner. I *thought* we had peanut butter but my husband apparently put the jar back in the fridge with about two tablespoons left inside. I considered throwing a Monster-like tantrum, but necessity is the mother of substitution, so I scanned the fridge and pulled out a long forgotten jar of almond butter. Invoking my best Tim "This Concerns Me" Gunn, I made it work.

I used to be the kind of person where if I didn't have exactly what was called for in the recipe, I would abandon ship immediately. If the recipe called for red peppercorns, I scoured every spice store on the Internet looking for them. If a recipe called for dried porcini mushrooms, I was calling every Consentino's in the tri-state area - it seriously never occurred to me to use fresh porcini mushrooms. I just didn't know how to wing it. 

But I've upped my game in the past few years and can say that an empty jar of peanut butter wasn't going to slow me down. I just made do with what I had and it turned out pretty good. The sauce was a little thinner than I wanted, so next time I won't add so much water.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Loving: A New Client's Office Location

I could barely contain my enthusiasm when I drove up to a new client's office and noticed that they were conveniently located right next to a Whole Foods grocery store. I know this may seem about as exciting as learning that the library loans out books for free, but for a working mom who doesn't mind spending her lunch hour trolling aisles of Whole Foods, this was a god send. As I rode up in the elevator I whipped out my phone and edited my grocery list and menu for the week. Right there on the spot!

As I left my client's office after our meeting,  he said, "Well, I hope we'll see you around here again soon." Let me tell you, it took all the effort in the world to not force him to commit to weekly meetings with me just so I can get real in the Whole Foods parking lot.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cracking the Quiche Code

I have always been envious of amazing food presentation, especially when it comes to food targeted towards children. The first food book I received at my baby shower back in 2005 was Annabel Karmel's First Meals. Unfortunately this book sets the bar pretty high in terms of food presentation.

Along with my shower guests, I ogled and swooned over the adorable pictures of food. I was 8 months pregnant at the time and was pretty sure it'd be really easy to make dishes likes these to entice my child to eat.

Definitely assembled by someone who doesn't have kids

It's the movie 'Heathers' in burger form

Just another example of how unrealistic I was before I had children. Completely, utterly, hopelessly delusional.

When my son was old enough to eat food that wasn't pureed and I was back at work , it became apparent that I didn't have time to form his food into the shape of a caterpillar or a butterfly. I needed him to eat the same food as us. But for another year I was stuck in the pasta rut and dutifully served him some kind of pasta practically every day. It was my own mother who gave me the (obvious) advice and said, "Stop serving him pasta. Give him the same dinners that you eat. He will come around." I took her advice a step further and put cottage cheese on the table as a peace offering. I didn't anticipate World War III at the dinner table, but sadly it started out that way.

One day I made my mother-in-law's spinach feta quiche for dinner and I stood at the kitchen counter and stared at it. How was I going to serve this to a 3 year old? How could anyone in their right mind expect a preschooler to willingly eat quiche, for goodness sake? This was asking too much.

But then inspiration hit. I scooped up the quiche filling, tossed it with hot pasta and placed it infront of him with no pleading, no encouraging words and no explanation.

He looked at the dish in front of him and then looked at my husband and I, trying to make sense of what was in front of him. I didn't want to look at him (remember Happy Fun Ball?), so I stared at a speck on the wall and my husband tried to look distracted while polishing a fork. He took a bite. And another bite. And another bite. And then proceeded to eat the entire bowl...which was the equivalent of two slices of quiche with 1/2 cup of pasta.

A quiche fan was born and I am proud to report that he now eats quiche by the slice with no "slight of pasta" required. But the trick still works like a charm with my 2 year old. I feel like I cracked the quiche code with my kids.

So the moral of this story is to think outside of the quiche. I can't say serving your child quiche is a great idea, but try serving it mixed with or along side a familiar food is the way to go.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dinners for April 15-21, 2012

It's a busy week for us, so this isn't one of my best menu's. But I'm excited to try Tortilla soup after all these years of reading about it and I know that my kids will inhale at least three of these dinners with no problem.

 Sunday: Crock Pot Chicken, steamed artichokes, spinach salad and bread

Monday: Roasted trout with quinoa, feta and cucumbers (original recipe uses tilapia, but I was in the mood for trout)

Tuesday: Chicken tortilla soup (using leftover chicken from Sunday's dinner)

Wednesday: Busy night with family, so something easy from the freezer

Thursday: Spaghetti with shrimp and bacon

Friday: Movie night - TBD

Saturday: Out with friends

Monday, April 9, 2012

Food Rut

Remember this guy from SuperSize Me?
We all get into food ruts and I am certainly no exception. For as long as I can remember my husband and I have been ordering the same two toppings on our pizza for the past 10 years - sausage and olives. No matter where we go - Little Star, Paxti's or North Beach, we always order the same thing. When I make pizza for our Friday movie nights - the one night we don't eat at the table - we are creatures of habit with our sausage and olive combo.

I was inspired (Pinspired?) recently by a recipe I found through Pinterest that looked like it was worth breaking the pizza rut for. I knew my son liked brussel sprouts with bacon as a side dish, so putting it on pizza seemed like an obvious opportunity to enjoy our veggies with a little bacon. The pizza turned out great - but I made so many modifications on the original recipe that I am just going to write it out below. We loved it, but the kids didn't think it was that great.

Oh well, I guess my bacon theory was proven wrong this time. But to an adult, this recipe was a winner!

Bacon and Brussel Sprout Pizza
Inspired by

1 batch of No Knead pizza dough
3 slices bacon, chopped and cooked (Reserve bacon fat)
1/2 cup marinara sauce
1/2 onion finely chopped
5 large-ish brussel sprouts, shredded
1 Tbls. balsamic vinegar
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Red pepper flakes to taste

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Fry bacon till crispy and let it cool on a paper towel, crumble bacon when it's cool enough. Reserve a tablespoon or two of bacon drippings in the pan.

Add the chopped onions with salt and pepper and brussel sprouts to the bacon drippings in the pan on medium heat, sauteing till softened - about 4 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar and stir to combine.

Spread the pizza dough out onto a oiled cookie sheet, slowly pushing it out to the sides. It takes some time to get it stretched out, so just keep pushing it out with your fingers. Spoon the marinara onto the dough and then sprinkle 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese. (Knowing we might have a revolt on our hands, we made half the pizza cheese-only for the kids). Spoon the cooked brussel sprout mixture onto the pizza and top it with crumbled bacon and then top with the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese.

Bake until the cheese is browned, about 10 minutes.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Dinners for April 8-14, 2012

Sunday: Easter dinner with family

Monday: Ricotta and chard omelette with leftover scalloped potatoes

Tuesday: Pork chops with apples and sauerkraut and green beans

Wednesday: Pasta with sausage and crispy broccoli

Thursday: Chicken orzo soup from the freezer, bread, salad

Friday: Out with friends

Saturday: Movie night - homemade pizza?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Breaking Toffee

I do believe I came over my fear of toffee today.
As I broke the toffee into pieces I laughed a Mwa-hahaha laugh and cackled, "Looks like it'll be me doing the breaking from  now on, Toffee, because you will never break me again."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

From Passover to Kitchen Disasters

This post veers from left to right and backwards and forward, so bear with me.

Some friends invited us to their Seder this Friday and I am so excited, this is my second Seder in 15 years and I love them. I don't follow any particular religion, but I enjoy learning about other religions and wouldn't mind it if my kids gleaned something from these experiences because they won't be getting anything from me, sadly.

While our friends are very open and honest about the fact that they are a bit lazy when it comes to the details (the husband is Jewish and the wife is Catholic), they still want their children to appreciate the meaning behind the holiday.

I wanted to bring a dish that was appropriate as well as kid friendly and I immediately thought to ask Jenny Rosenstrach if she had any dish suggestions. She was kind enough to send this one to me.

We meet again, Toffee

Pretty, right? Well, I have to admit that my heart skipped a beat when I saw it... and not in a good way. I have a PTSD thing going on with making toffee after a pretty disastrous attempt on my behalf about 15 years ago - the same year as my first Seder. Whoa! This idea is sounding bad already - do you think history can repeat itself? 

Fifteen years ago a work colleague asked if I would cat sit for her while she and her husband traveled to New York for the holidays. They owned a beautiful flat in Nob Hill which featured a newly remodeled kitchen. Coming from my dinky two bedroom apartment that I shared with a roommate in the Richmond District, this place was like the Taj Mahal. But then when I saw the kitchen, the Rolodex in my head started to spin with recipes that I just had to make in that kitchen.

Their kitchen featured a new wooden floor, a Viking stove, gorgeous gray marble countertops with brand new appliances from their recent wedding. I am pretty sure the tags has been taken off the stove about three weeks prior to my arrival. After they left for their flight, I pulled out my a Williams-Sonoma cookbook that I brought with me and decided to make chocolate toffee for Christmas presents. I imagined myself wearing a clean white apron, bopping along to music on the stereo while happily bagging treats all day. I had plans that night to meet some friends at the Red Room (RIP).

As I read through the recipe, I realized that I didn't have a candy thermometer. "Meh," I thought, "It doesn't seem like that big of a big deal. Rather fussy if you ask me," I said to myself. I knew how to bake for god's sake, so making candy seemed the same. I mean, how hard could it be, really?

I got to work and as the sugar started to boil, I watched it like a hawk trying to figure out what they meant by the color description "Honey Amber." It went from the color of honey to dark brown so fast that I grabbed an oven mitt and the pan and poured the boiling sugar onto a buttered cookie sheet that I had placed on the counter. The heat from the toffee warped the cookie sheet and it tipped over onto the new stove and quickly oozed its way into the burners and down the new cabinets, spilling onto the new floor. I freaked out and  screamed dropped the pan of boiling sugar and it crashed to the floor, splattering burnt sugar all over the kitchen (fortunately I was spared). I didn't need a candy thermometer to know that the sugar had hit the hard ball stage by the time it reached the floor because I could not get it off.

Sobbing from this potentially expensive mistake, I started soaking some of their beautiful new dishtowels from their wedding in hot water and slowly sponged the toffee off bit by bit. I spent the next six hours working my way around the kitchen, picking, sponging and pulling toffee out of areas I didn't know it could reach - under the fridge, behind the toaster, inside the stove burners, it was everywhere! After that I ordered take out and cancelled plans with my friends at the Red Room. I just sat there, stunned from the days events and watched the cat and counted the hours till they came home. Fortunately the only items I had to replace were the pot, the cookie sheet and some dishtowels.

Needless to say toffee and I don't have a good relationship.

In case I have a panic attack prior to making the matzo toffee, I offered to make Matzo s'mores as well. Surely I'll win Dinner Guest of the Year if I bring fire, sharp pointy sticks and gooey marshmallows for small children to play with. I can just see our invitation being revoked for next year.

For Easter we are sticking to the favorites: Baked ham, asparagus, rolls and deviled eggs. Who says I am not a stickler for traditions?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dinners for April 1 - 7, 2012

Sunday: Roast chicken with cauliflower and carrots

Monday: Chicken fried rice (using leftover chicken from Sunday's dinner <-- that's a Twofer!)

Tuesday: Hoisin salmon with broccoli and roasted potatoes (Source: Time for Dinner cookbook)

Wednesday: Grilled sausages and rainbow salad

Thursday: Leftovers tossed with cheese tortellini

Friday: Passover Seder at a friends house

Saturday: Turkey burgers and sweet potato fries

What Happens in Disneyland Stays in Disneyland

I did stifle a scream when I saw these two walking down Main Street.
 We just got back from our Spring Break in Southern California and were lucky enough to spend a  few days at Disneyland. It was great to take a break from cooking, honestly, as well as get away from work, computers and just hang with the family. Why is it when I come back from vacation I have trouble getting back into our routine? And why can't I stop thinking about the food from our trip? Starting in Newport Beach we got to enjoy a milkshake and chili fries with an incredible view of the coast at Ruby's Shake Shack.

Peanut Butter Dreamin'

I'll spare you a picture of the chili fries, because I have yet to see a picture of chili fries that doesn't look like it was found in a garbage can. But yum yum.

It has been 23 years since I've been to Disneyland and it was great to go back as a parent. I appreciated the little things like the cleanliness of the place, the seemingly unjaded characters that enthralled my 2 year old and, surprisingly, quality of food and the availability of fresh fruit around the park. It was great to get a bag of fresh grapes to munch on rather than french fries.

Honestly, I expected to see french fries around every corner (and they were certainly not hard to find!) but in addition to fried potatoes the park offers a nice array of healthy options. One of my favorites was the Power Pack we bought for the kids in Tomorrowland - string cheese, yogurt, applesauce, sliced apples and milk. It wasn't cheap, but it wasn't deep fried and the kids inhaled it.

However, our favorite food that we went back for all three days was deep fried. I am not ashamed to admit this, but we were regular customers at Cafe Orleans all three days we were there for their delicious Mickey Mouse shaped beignets. They were deep fried to perfection and served with an overly generous amount of powdered sugar on top. I think my husband and I ate my son's portion while he was jamming to the live music. Sorry, kid.

Always eat the ears first!

I can't say I'll be making these anytime soon, but just in case I feel the need to laissez le bon temps rouler, I found a great Disneyland Beignet recipe from Just Spotted.