Friday, December 30, 2011

Short Rib Risotto

Hello there, ready for New Years?  I can't believe Christmas is over and New Years is almost here.  2012 is almost here! And this could mark the first year that Alex and I don't make it until midnight.  We are usually NYE party-ers but I guess babies do change things.

We actually are going to a party on New Year's Eve, it's just going to be a little different. We'll all be celebrating New Years on East Coast time (out here in Las Vegas) so that all the kiddos don't have to stay up so late to join in on the festivities.  Kids and a 9pm celebration haven't factored in on past parties we've attended but, nevertheless, I think it is a great idea and I'm looking forward to it.  In fact, I doubt we'll even make it until 9...(in fact I'm pretty sure the kids will be in bed before 8)  Oh well, the Mr. and I will come home, put the kids to bed and drink some champagne from the comfort of our own couch. Good times.

If we were having dinner at home, this recipe I have to share might have been on the menu.  We made it a few weeks ago and it was fabulous.  It's our actually our own concoction, which is something we rarely do.  We really are just recipe followers, you know.  But genius did strike us when we decided to combine two of our favorites, short ribs and risotto.  Creamy delicious risotto with melt in your mouth short ribs topped with a gravy from the pan juices.  It was pretty easy and super super delicious.  The short ribs do take about 2 and a half hours to cook but the result is always so tender, it really is worth the time.

So, whatever your plans are this New Year's, I hope you have a wonderful time and are surrounded by those you love and who love you.  Best wishes for the New Year from the 4 Pears family to yours.

Short Rib Risotto, risotto adapted from Mario Batali

Short Ribs
1 1/2 pounds boneless short ribs
2 carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can diced tomatoes
2 quarts beef stock (+/-)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cups chicken stock, hot
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Parm-Reggiano is even better!)

To begin the short ribs, saute the onion, carrots and garlic with a little bit of olive oil in a large heavy saucepan.  At the same time, in a non-stick pan, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil and brown the short ribs on all sides.  Once the veggies are softened, around 5 minutes of so, add the diced tomatoes and cook for another minute or two.  Now place the browned short ribs into the saucepan with the veggies and pour over enough beef stock to cover the meat.  Bring the pot to boil and then turn down the heat and allow the whole thing to simmer for 2 to 2 and a half hours.  The meat will be falling apart when it is done.

Once it's done, remove the meat to a platter and pull it apart with a fork.  Pour what is left in the pan into the blender to puree it into an awesome gravy.  Pour the gravy back into the pan and put the meat back into the gravy and keep it on low as you cook your risotto.

To begin the risotto, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan until it is shimmering.  Add the onions and cook for about 8 minutes.  You want it to be soft and translucent but not brown.  Next add the rice to your pan and toast it for about 3 minutes or until it is opaque.

Add the wine and a ladle of stock to the rice and begin the marathon of stirring.  Keep stirring until the liquid is almost all absorbed then add another ladle of stock.  Repeat until the rice is creamy and tender.  The amount of stock you use will vary but it should take 15 to 20 minutes or so.

Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the butter and cheese.  Plate the risotto and then top each plate with portions of the short ribs and gravy.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas Menu

For me, certain holidays mean certain foods.  For Thanksgiving there is obviously turkey, but Christmas is always ham.  Even though Alex has been threatening(?) me with the idea of a "Festival of Liver" Christmas dinner, we will be having ham.  I rarely put my foot down around here but when I do I mean business! This also applies to the pancakes with blueberry sauce we'll be having Christmas morning, even though my poor husband isn't such a huge fan of blueberries.  I've been having them Christmas morning ever since I can remember and it wouldn't be Christmas without them!  Memories of my Dad making blueberry pancakes or my Grandmother's mac and cheese are part of what makes the holidays special.  I'm looking forward to making those memories with my own children soon.

So despite Alex's desire to do something exotic and interesting for the big holiday dinner, we'll be sticking to simple family favorites. Our Christmas dinner will be quiet this year...just us and two good friends.  We'll miss having our family around us but at least we'll have a dinner that reminds us of home.  I'm pretty sure even Alex will be happy with all the holiday comfort food.  :)

Here's what will be on our dinner table for Christmas this year...

Alton Brown's City Ham
Brioche (I already got a brioche pan for Christmas, now I just need a recipe!)
Pumpkin Pie with Maple Whipped Cream**

**this could be the best whipped cream on the planet, just add 1 tablespoon of good maple syrup to a cup of cream and mix until fluffy**

Have a Merry Christmas or a joyful holiday of another sort.  Enjoy your family, friends, and of course, dinner.  ;)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cocoa Thumbprints

Have you had enough Christmas cookies yet?  I haven't.  But I think I'm close.  Between ginger cookies, these cocoa thumbprints, homemade truffles and those eclairs I made last weekend (another post for another day); my blood sugar level is probably a little high.

Here's the latest addition to our snowman cookie jar, I hope they end up in a cookie jar near you soon! They are delicious.  Light and fluffy and pretty too.

Cocoa Thumbprints, adapted from Food Network Magazine, December 2011 issue....or here.
(about 3 dozen cookies)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar, plus 1/2 cup for rolling
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
toppings... ( I used sprinkles and icing but you could use hershey's kisses or candies, jam or dried fruit, etc.)

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar (only 3/4 cup), cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Stir in the melted butter and eggs until the whole thing is well combined.  (This could be the easiest cookie dough ever, right?)  Now just refrigerate it for about 30 minutes, covered.

Line your baking sheets with parchment paper (or a silicone baking mat like the one's Mr Pears got me for Christmas!) and preheat the oven to 325 F.  Put your two types of sugar on two separate plates.  Roll about a tablespoon of dough into a ball in your hands and then roll the ball first in the granulated sugar, then in the confectioners' sugar.  Put the dough on the tray and flatten it slightly, then make an indentation in the middle with your thumb. You can fill your cookies with your toppings now, or if you are using something like the icing I used, you can wait until the cookies come out of the oven.

Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes then let them cool on the sheet for another 3.  Remove to wire racks to finish cooling.  Once cooled I used some Betty Crocker (gasp!) pre-made cookie decorating icing to fill in the indentation then put on some red and green sprinkles before the icing set.  Very festive!  Merry Christmas and happy cookie eating.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Homemade Truffles are so Easy!

Tis the season of cookies and sweets right?  No worrying about extra calories, that is for January.  Since we have family coming this weekend I've been trying to make sure we'll have plenty of sugary treats for our guests.  I was super excited to try my hand at some homemade truffles the other day and even MORE excited by how easy they were and how great they turned out.

These truffles have a great rich dark chocolate flavor due to the combo of bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolates. The Grand Marnier! and coffee lend a depth of flavor to them as well even though I swear you can't truly distinguish that they are in there if you don't know.  (I'm not a big fan of "flavored" chocolates).   On top of being easy to prepare, these last in the refrigerator for "weeks", so you can make them ahead of time...something that is much harder to do with cookies.  (But I'll have some thoughts on that in another post.)

Chocolate Truffles, adapted from Ina Garten
1/2 pound good bittersweet chocolate
1/2 pound good semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange flavored liqueur
1 tablespoon prepared coffee
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
various toppings (sprinkles, coconut, crushed nuts, cocoa powder, confectioners sugar, etc.)

First chop your chocolate into small pieces (if you didn't buy chips or pieces already), and heat the cream in a small pot until just boiling.

When the cream begins to boil, turn off the heat and let it set for about 20 seconds then pour it over the chocolate and whisk the two together until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Whisk in the remaining ingredients (but not the toppings, duh.) and then set the bowl aside to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Once the chocolate is cooled and set, use a small ice cream scoop or a teaspoon to drop out rounded blobs of chocolate onto a parchment-paper-lined tray.  Don't worry about making them perfectly round because you are going to shape them further later.

Now put the tray into the refrigerator to cool for at least an hour. Rescue your child from a Lego box which is much to small for them to sit in, but only if necessary.

Once the chocolates are chilled all you need to do to finish them off is to roll them into a more round ball shape between your hands and then roll them around in your topping/s of choice.  I rolled some in sweetened coconut flakes, some in Christmas-y sprinkles and some in cocoa powder.   Store them in a tin lined with parchment paper or a glass bowl, covered, in the refrigerator.  Take them out just a few minutes before serving and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Leftover Pot Pie

There are always tons of leftovers at the holidays and you need a solid recipe to use some of them up....this is it! Last Christmas we made an amazing prime rib but since Mr Pears sometimes overdoes things, like buying 10 plus pounds of prime rib for 6 people, we had some leftovers.  We decided to make this pot pie by Jamie Oliver and it was unbelievably good, we swore to make it again soon.  Fast forward to last weekends' 15 pound turkey....more leftovers.  Thankfully we remembered this recipe, it was pretty darn awesome with turkey too. Thank God because I have so much turkey over here that I made two of the pot pies and I'm going to do a turkey chili tomorrow.  Stocking up the freezer with week day meals!

Anyway.   This pot pie is really good and it works with just about any leftover meat you might have.  Certainly chicken, beef, turkey, or even ham.  It is easy to make  and it does make an awesome alternative to eating boring leftovers.  The pie has a flaky puff pastry crust and is stuffed with leeks.  Since leeks might not be something you use often (or ever), I'll say they have a very mild oniony flavor and a nice sweetness.  Make sure to wash them very well because they tend to be quite sandy.  Enjoy!

"Leftover" Pot Pie, adapted from Jamie Oliver
 2 slices of bacon, chopped
1 table fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
4 lbs of leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced (trim off the dark green tops and just slice the white and light green parts)
1 1/2 lbs of leftover turkey/beef/chicken/ham, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons of creme fraiche (you can also substitute Mexican crema, which I use, or sour cream)
1 sheet of store bought Puff Pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten

In a very large saute pan or dutch oven over medium heat; cook the bacon with the thyme, olive oil and butter for about 5 minutes.  Add the leeks and cook them for a few minutes, just let them begin to wilt and turn them to coat well.  Cover the pan with a lid and allow the leeks to cook for about 30 minutes or until nice and soft.  Stir the leeks every ten minutes or so to make sure they don't stick to the pan or burn.

Once the leeks are done add the meat, seasoning and flour and stir it all together.  Stir in the stock and then the creme fraiche.  Bring the pot to a boil and let it simmer for five minutes.  Now place a large strainer over a bowl and pour the whole mixuture into it.  Reserve the amazing gravy left in the bowl for serving and put the strained pie filling into a baking dish.

Roll out the puff pastry to fit the top of the baking dish and then lay it over the dish.  Tuck the edges under to make it fit.  Now score the top of the pie diagonally with the tip of a sharp knife and brush it with the beaten egg.

Bake the pie in an oven that has been preheated to 375 F for about 35 to 40 minutes or until the pie is golden brown and puffy.  Serve with the warmed gravy!

The whole pie, yum.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sausage and Apple Stuffing

Stuffing?  I know, I know...I'm a little late to the Thanksgiving party, huh?  Well, as I said, we didn't cook Thanksgiving this year since we were invited to a lovely get-together with friends instead.  Still, Mr. Pears was feeling a little deprived of cooking the annual turkey so we bought one and had a little Thanksgiving of our own here this past weekend.

We didn't do much, just cooked a 15 lb turkey for the two of us, two toddlers and a couple of fat Chihuahuas.  We also had the aforementioned stuffing and a celery gratin that will not be making the blog.  It wasn't horrible but it wasn't a huge hit either.

We finished it off with some leftover (Tollhouse recipe!) chocolate cookies and a glass of wine.  Delicious.  The turkey turned out great as usual (great job honey!) and we both really loved the stuffing.  I thought I'd share it since some of you may be serving stuffing with your Christmas ham/goose/prime rib. :)

Ina Garten calls this her Sausage and Herb Stuffing but you won't find any herbs on the ingredients list.  It does have Granny Smith apples, and though it is a very hearty stuffing with such large pieces of bread and veggies, it still has a great classic "stuffing" (or dressing!) taste.  StoveTop, step aside.

Sausange and Herb Apple Stuffing, adapted from Ina Garten 
10 cups 1 inch bread cubes (use whatever "good" bread you want!  I used some rye and some french bread)
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)
2 cups medium-diced yellow onion (1 large or two medium onions)
1 cup medium-diced celery (about 3 stalks)
2 Granny Smith apples. cored and cut into large pieces (no need to peel!)
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 lb sausage (without casings)
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup dried cranberries (I left these out because I didn't have any...)

** a note on the bread** If you make bread, or buy artisan breads at the store, don't throw away the ends!  Just toss them in a large freezer bag and freeze them.  When you want to make stuffing or croutons just defrost those leftovers overnight!

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Put the bread cubes on a baking tray and bake them for about 7 minutes and then transfer them to a large bowl.

While the bread is toasting in the oven, melt the butter in a large saute pan and add the onions, celery, and apples.  Saute them with the salt and pepper for about 10 minutes or until everything is nice and soft.  Pour the veggies over the breadcrumbs in the large bowl.

Cook the ground sausage in the saute pan until browned (about ten minutes) and then add that to the bowl as well.  Stir in the chicken stock and then pour the whole thing into a baking dish.  Bake it for 30 minutes at 300 degrees. Enjoy!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Well I really have no great excuses for my recent lack of posting....All I can say is chasing after two toddlers is hard work and I've been lazy!  How about some random pictures of those cute toddlers?

Mommy and Daddy just bought us a jungle gym but we prefer this old lawn chair!

I want to do better though, I enjoy sharing our cooking adventures and I hope you find the recipes helpful/interesting/fun too.

With the Christmas/New Year holidays coming up I'm sure you are doing some holiday cooking or entertaining so hopefully you'll find some cool new recipe ideas here!  Personally, I'm always looking for new vegetable side dishes, so that's what I have today.

I think cauliflower is really under-rated as a vegetable.  It is mild flavored so most people will love it even if they haven't eaten it in twenty years.  It is another good substitute for mashed potatoes;  you could roast it or make a gratin like this one.  This gratin is another Bobby Flay recipe and it is so delicious.  I love love the goat cheese in it.  I hope you like it too!

Cauliflower and Goat Cheese Gratin, adapted from Bobby Flay's Bar Americain cookbook
3 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons butter, more to butter baking dish
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)
6 ounces fresh goat cheese, cut into pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets

Bring the milk to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Once it is close to simmering, melt the butter in a larger saucepan. Whisk in the flour into the melted butter and cook for about 1 minute, whisking constantly.  Slowly whisk in the hot milk and continue whisking until the mixture thickens, that could take between 3 and 10 minutes, depending on how hot your milk was.  Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the Monterey Jack cheese along with half the goat and Parmesan cheeses.  Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Delicious right?  And it isn't even done. ;)

Mix the sauce and the cauliflower together in a large bowl then pour it all into a buttered baking dish.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top along with some freshly grated pepper.

Bake for 50-60 minutes in a 350 F oven.  Let this cool and set up for about 10 minutes before you serve it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells.... since you may have noticed my lack of posting around the country's largest food-related holiday you might have guessed that we didn't host T-Day dinner at our place this year.  Instead we packed up our baby pears and headed over to a friend's house to enjoy the day with three other families.  We had a lot of fun....but sadly, did absolutely no cooking.

So we are moving on!  Just like all the department stores, we are playing Christmas music!  It may not be December yet but the first Christmas Classic DVD (Rudolf) has been viewed by the kidlets (fail) and the first Christmas cookies have come out of the oven (success!).  Christmas is such a great reason to eat a ton of cookies...don't you think?  And maybe also to watch kid movies that your children are way too young to even begin to enjoy.

Though my favorite cookies aren't really Christmas cookies, I will be sure to continue baking (and sharing!) with these to start:

Crinkly Butterscotch Pecan Cookies.  I found this recipe simply because Mr. Pears wanted cookies (I blame him) and we had butterscotch baking chips and pecans in the pantry.  A little Google search and I stumbled upon this blog and recipe.  Looked like all was in order, good comments....worth a shot.  I'm so glad I gave them a chance because they really are delicious.  If you love Butter Pecan Ice Cream, you'll love these.  Hope you love them, and Happy almost Christmas!

Crinkly Butterscotch Pecan Cookies, adapted from Cookie Madness
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of butter, cold and cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
1/2 cup of shortening (like Crisco)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups butterscotch chips
2/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped (to toast them just put them in a non-stick pan on high heat and shake them around every minute or two for a few minutes)

Stir together the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.  In your mixer, cream the butter and shortening together.  Once they are smooth and combined add the sugars.  Beat for about two more minutes.  Lower the speed on the mixer and mix in the vanilla and egg.  Now slowly mix in the flour combo.  Once everything is mixed together fold in the pecan and chips with a rubber spatula.

Use a mini-ice cream scoop to drop tablespoons of dough onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets and bake these for 12-15 minutes at 350 F.  Mine took just 12 minutes but the original author said hers took check on them!  When they start to get brown on the edges they are done.

Once out of the oven you can use your spatula to kind of push the cookies in a makes them crinkly!  Let them cool for a few minutes before you move them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rye Bread

The smell of bread baking in the oven has to be one of the best smells in the world.  We love homemade bread here at 4 Pears and so we almost never buy bread from the grocery store.  When I first started making bread I strictly used my bread machine.  The bread machine is a very trusty appliance.  Simple and easy to use, you just toss in the ingredients and 3 to 4 hours later you have a fairly consistent and yummy loaf of bread.

Lately, though, I've finally ventured away from the safety net of the bread machine and started making bread by hand.  Surprisingly, it hasn't been very tough at all!  Baking outside the machine gives you so much more freedom for pretty  and shapely loaves and rolls. My braided challah is delicious and beautiful.  It makes for some pretty awesome french toast.  Last week I made some pretty great wheat bread too...but my favorite bread, in general, is rye.  This recipe for rye bread is so wonderful.  It makes for perfect sandwiches, keeping wonderfully in an airtight bag for at least a week!  (and by not using the machine there is no hole in the bottom, woo hoo!)

Since Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching keep in mind that rye bread is also great to use in "stuffing" or "dressing" too...however you choose to say it.  Forget the stove top.  Rye bread, celery, onions, chicken stock and some seasonings....that "stuff" (har har) couldn't be better.

But even if you can't put down that Stove Top box, try this rye bread for leftover turkey'll love it.

Light Rye Bread, adapted from "George" at Simply Recipes
(for 1 loaf!)
1 package of active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 1/4 cups of warm water  (just warm from the tap is fine)
1/3 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups bread flour (follow the link for a substitution if you don't have bread flour)
1 cup rye flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1/8 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

In a large glass measuring cup add the yeast and molasses to the warm water and stir them together.  Pour the  mixture into the metal bowl of your mixer.  (I don't actually use the mixer in this recipe but I do use the bowl.) Mix in the caraway seeds, salt, oil and cocoa powder.  It will look kind of lumpy at this point but don't worry about that.

Using a wooden spoon, mix in a cup of the bread flour, then mix in the rye flour. Now, mix in one more cup of bread flour.  At this point it will be getting pretty hard to mix.  Put the remaining 1/2 cup of bread flour out onto the clean counter and turn the dough out of the bowl onto the counter.  Knead the rest of the flour into the dough. Knead it for about 5 minutes or so.  The dough will feel smooth and be elastic when it is done.

Coat a large glass bowl with some more vegetable oil and rub place the rounded ball of dough into the bowl.  Coat the dough with a bit of oil too.  Cover the bowl and allow it to double in size.  That should take about and hour and a half.

Once doubled, punch the dough down and knead it again, just a time or two.  Form it into an oval shape and place it in an oiled loaf pan.  Cover it, and again let it rise.  This time you only want it to rise until the dough just begins to peak over the edge of the pan.  It will take about 45 minutes. 

Bake the loaf in a 350 F oven for around 30 minutes.  Tap on the loaf after 30 minutes...if it is done it will sound hollow!  Turn it out of the pan and let it cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

At Last! Chicken Nuggets!

My kids had their first chicken nuggets last weekend.  Unfortunately? for them they weren't the classic kind from Mickey D's.  They were the healthy home-made kind.  But even though I admit I have a great love for chicken mcnuggets, these were pretty darn good too.

These nuggets are made with ground chicken so the texture is good for even the littlest finger food eaters.  No molars required!  Because, we still don't have molars around here....  And to make these little nuggets even more Mom-friendly?  They have grated carrots and chopped baby spinach in them.  Veggies and protein all in one! Glorious.
Aaron, double fisting.

Chicken Nuggets, adapted from Amanda at The Frikin Chicken  (I just stumbled upon this blog and it turns out the author is also a mom of twins!  She has some other recipes I want to try and I'm definitely going to start following!)

2 lbs ground chicken
salt and pepper
2 eggs
1 carrot, grated
1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed
Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  In a large mixing bowl season the ground chicken with salt and pepper.  Next add all the ingredients except for the breadcrumbs and mix them together with a rubber spatula (or your clean hands!). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or spray it with cooking spray).  Spoon a rounded tablespoon of meat into a plate of breadcrumbs and roll to coat and form a little flattened oval "nugget".  Place the nuggets on the prepared tray and spray each one with a little olive oil cooking spray.  Bake them for about 18 minutes.  Cool and serve!

This makes about 3 dozen so freeze them for yummy nuggets anytime!

Monday, November 14, 2011

CousCous... or Not?

I love couscous.  It's a great little side dish; just add it to some hot water, cover the pot for 5 minutes and voila!  It is fast, healthy, and a great vehicle for just about anything.  But that is "regular" couscous.

Israeli couscous, I had never made until last week.  And apparently it isn't really couscous at all.  It is actually a very small toasted pasta...similar to fregula or orzo.  Wow.  Thank you Wikipedia.

ANYWAY.  If you are tired of having the same old side dishes with dinner, this is a must try.  Very flavorful, lemony and fresh, it is also easy and quick to make.

Green Pea Couscous, adapted from Bobby Flay's Bar Americain Cookbook
1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon honey
2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1 roasted red bell pepper, finely diced**
3 green onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

**You can buy roasted red peppers in a jar in the grocery store, or just brush one pepper with olive oil, season it with salt and pepper, then put it in a 400 F oven for about 35 minutes.  You will need to turn it a few times to char it on all sides.  Then just put the pepper in a small bowl covered with plastic wrap.  After about 15 minutes the skin will peel right off and you can just slice and de-seed it.  Very simple.

Okay, first bring about 2 quarts of salted water to a boil.  Add the couscous and cook for about 8 minutes.  Drain it in a colander and set it aside.

Once the couscous is done you can start the rest of the dish.  Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the lemon zest, juice, and honey.  Stir it together for about 30 seconds.  Now you can add the rest of the ingredients!  Just stir them all in and give it a taste.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  Serve and Enjoy!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pumpkin Muffins

I'm not over pumpkin yet folks!  And these muffins might be my favorite pumpkin item yet.  The first time I made them I ate two as soon as they came out of the oven.  In my defense, I hadn't eaten lunch. :P  These are fairly sweet muffins, similar to cupcakes really.  They are light and moist and very delicious.  And with two cups of pumpkin in just 12 muffins I think they have enough veggies in them to make a good snack for my little muffins.  Today the boys had them with their new favorite food, raisins.  They are pretty obsessed with raisins right now.

But back to the muffins...make them, eat them for breakfast with coffee or as dessert.  You'll love them, I promise.

Pumpkin Muffins, found at Muffin Top, recipe originally from Gourmet Magazine, November 2006
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 (15oz) can of 100% pumpkin puree
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
(note: you can substitute 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice for the spices if you have it on hand)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 F and line a regular size muffin pan with 12 paper or foil liners.

In a small bowl stir together the flour and baking powder.  In a large bowl whisk together the other ingredients. Lastly add in the flour, mixing just until the flour is incorporated.

Use a ice cream scoop to fill the muffin cups 3/4 of the way.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  A toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin should come out clean.  Let the muffins cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to finish cooling.  Try not to eat them all before your family gets any.  ;)

one of my muffins, grinning with a mouth full of pumpkin muffin

the other muffin, too busy eating to smile. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Who Needs Potatoes Anyway?

Not this girl.  I have found a new "mashed potato", and I am in love.  A long while ago I attempted to make a celery root puree for my Mom and her fiance when they were visiting.  It didn't come out that great but I could see the potential and I really wanted to try it again.  Lo and Behold, Ina Garten (who is probably my go-to for solid recipes) had a recipe for Celery Root and Apple Puree.  I tried it last week and I swear it is so good that I may never make mashed potatoes again.

This recipe is perfect for Thanksgiving, which is just around the corner (time flies).  Creamy and delicious with a little sweetness and tang from the apples and cider.  This is some seriously great stuff and best of all?  It is different.  A little twist on a classic mashed potato that is sure to set your Thanksgiving spread apart from the others.  I hope you love it.

Celery Root and Apple Puree, adapted from Ina Garten
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup large-dice fennel bulb (remove tops and core and cut into large chunks!)
2 lbs celery root (slice off the dark brown outer surface) large-dice
8 ounces of Yukon Gold potatoes (1 or 2 potatoes), peeled and large-dice
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled and cored, large-dice
1/2 cup apple cider
1/4 cup heavy cream

Looks like a lot of chopping, peeling and dicing huh?  It really isn't too bad.  Just make sure to cut all the veggies into pieces about the same size...3/4 inch to an they cook evenly.  Melt the butter in a large pan (I like to use my dutch oven) and then add the veggies and fruit to the pan along with the salt and pepper. Saute the veggies for about 5 minutes before adding the cider and then bringing everything to a simmer.  Allow the pot to simmer, covered, for about 30 to 40 minutes.  Stir occasionally and make sure everything is very soft when done.  Add some more cider if it starts to dry out.  After everything is cooked stir in the cream.

Turn off the heat and let it cool a bit before transferring the contents of the pan to the food processor.  Pulse until coarsely pureed.  Serve warm.

PS.  Sorry about the lack of picture!  I had one, I swear.  Can't find it now, though, darn it.  Picture mashed potatoes....they look very similar...they just taste better! :)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lobster Bisque

I may be one of the only people in the world who isn't all in love with lobster.  I've had it every which way you can imagine, including raw, and I'm just not the biggest fan.  This soup, however, is awesome.

This lobster bisque could be the easiest soup I've ever made.  Since you buy the lobster already cooked from the grocery store, you are literally just making a quick cream based soup and heating it for a few minutes.  With this recipe you can have a homemade seafood soup in about 30 minutes.  Hard to beat that.  The Old Bay and cayenne pepper give it a bit of kick and a lot of flavor for a soup with only ten ingredients...or any soup for that matter.  Try this for a delicious and heart-warming lunch or dinner one of these chilly fall days.

Lobster Bisque, adapted from Wilma Scott
1 cup vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
1 medium onion, diced
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound lobster tail, cooked and roughly chopped

Put both the onion and the stock in a small pan and bring to a boil, lower the heat and allow it to simmer for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a medium size pot, melt the butter and whisk in the flour.  Cook the flour about 3 minutes whisking constantly.  Now slowly pour in the stock and onions while continuing to whisk.  Whisk in the milk and then the spices and tomato paste.  Stop to taste the soup now and adjust the seasoning to your liking.  Stir in the lobster then allow the soup to simmer for about 15 minutes or so.  Be careful not to let it burn.  Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Eating with a spoon is Tough

I have no idea if we are late or early to the utensil-using party, but here we are at 13 months just starting to introduce the babies to spoons and forks.  Mostly just spoons.  I bought some "Take and Toss" utensils, a couple of bowls with suction cups on the bottom, a huge tub of yogurt and off we went.  We've only practised a few times but so far.....

It usually starts off pretty well, some yogurt gets in the mouth.

 Sometimes they use the wrong end....or just their fingers.

 There is always a mess.

The suction cups usually fail at some point.

We've had one meltdown (yogurt in the eyes apparently hurts)

But all in all, it hasn't been too bad.  Fun, even.

We have work to do though, LOTS of work to do.  I'm guessing we'll have this skill mastered by the time they are in middle school.  :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A New Way to Do Chicken

My 13 month old(!) boys are pretty much eating everything these days.  I'm happy to say that they aren't picky eaters and are willing to try just about anything.  Their lack of molars doesn't get in the way of their enjoyment of most foods either.  Meat, however, can sometimes be an issue.  At this point they can really only handle either ground or shredded meat so I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting ideas.  Chicken, in particular, is something they don't eat a lot of.  They love roasted chicken, but rarely eat it any other way.  (They haven't yet had chicken nuggets!)

These Indian Spiced Chicken Burgers are a new favorite.  Now I know these might not sound all that appealing to some people right off the bat.  I, for one, prefer beef in my burgers.  BUT!  Ground patties, be they turkey or veggies are easy for little fingers to pick up and for toothless gums to mash up.  And don't be worried about feeding the baby toddler "Indian" spices.   In this recipe the ground chicken is seasoned with Garam Masala. Garam Masala is a popular Indian spice, but it is really just a combination of spices that are commonly used in the U.S. too.  Typically it is a mix of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin, coriander, and pepper.  Garam Masala is a warm spice full of fall flavors.

These "burgers" are easy to make, easy to freeze, and they are sure to be a hit with your little ones.  Or your big ones.  My husband and I like these too!  And they are only 364 calories per serving...Cooking Light is awesome sometimes.  :)
photo courtesy of Cooking Light, don't mind the beer in the pic, pretend it is apple juice!

Indian-Spiced Chicken Burgers, adapted from Cooking Light
1/4 cup green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon bottled fresh minced ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound ground chicken

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.  Form into patties. Simple, right? The recipe (and calorie count) is for four burgers but I make smaller ones for the kiddos.  Heat a large skillet coated in cooking spray and then cook the patties over medium high until done all the way through.  That will take about 7 minutes per side for full sized burgers, a bit less time for smaller ones.

Try serving them on good rolls using yogurt in place of mayo and some fresh spinach instead of lettuce!  Look at us being so healthy!  Not such a bad idea after all of the Halloween candy, huh?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ginger Cookies

These are my absolute favorite cookies.  They are soft and chewy (even for days after you bake them!) and warm know what I mean.  I hate to compare them to Ginger Snaps, because that is sort of what they are, only soft...but they are just so much better.

These really are the perfect fall cookie!  Every year I can't wait until October to start making them. We are on  finished batch #2 over here already!  I really hope you try them, and that you love them as much as I do.  There is just nothing better than a really awesome homemade cookie. (By the way this recipe currently has a 5 star rating and 2900! reviews on are obviously amazing, you can't argue with 2900 people!)

Ginger Cookies, adapted from Amy1028 on All Recipes 
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup molasses

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Stir together the flour, baking soda and spices in a small bowl and set it aside.  In your mixer, cream together the butter and sugar.  Mix in the egg, then the water and the molasses.  Slowly mix in the flour on the lowest setting.  Once the dough is incorporated I use a small ice cream scoop to scoop the dough out and on to baking sheets.  If you want to roll the dough into balls by hand, it will feel need for extra flour. :)

Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes then allow them to cool on the sheet for five minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.   Makes 2 dozen, or so, larger cookies.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

From Bert (Alex)

 ...and Ernie (Aaron)!

Unfortunately Bert and Ernie, even though they obviously do love each other, refused to sit together for even one photo!

I hope you and your family enjoy the holiday (and eat lots of candy)!  We'll be back tomorrow with some really awesome Ginger cookies to continue celebrating Fall.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pumpkin Pancakes

You may be asking yourself, more pancakes?  Yes!  More Pancakes!  Pancakes are still our go-to breakfast food for the twins.  Some days we have whole wheat waffles spread with applesauce, but most days we have pancakes. The kids are still loving the Oatmeal Pancakes and the Sweet Potato Pancakes, but since it is fall and since I do love pumpkin, we had to try some pumpkin pancakes.  Plus?  How awesome is it to be able to stir in canned 100% pumpkin puree and add a serving of veggies to their diet so quickly and easily?  Very awesome.

These pancakes are hearty with a nice pumpkin taste, very similar to a pumpkin bread.  I hope you enjoy them!

Pumpkin Pancakes, adapted from Ruth on All Recipes
2 cups white whole wheat flour (you can use all-purpose too)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups pumpkin puree

In a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients.  Pour the milk into a large measuring cup and then add the vinegar, egg and oil.  Mix together then stir it into the dry ingredients.  Lastly, stir in the pumpkin puree.

Fry on a hot, lightly oiled, griddle.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pretzel Rolls

Oh pretzel rolls.  I just love them.  Odd because I rarely eat a pretzel....hmm, well maybe that isn't true...darn Auntie Anne's!

Alex and I have made homemade pretzels before, it is fun and pretty easy but these pretzel rolls were even easier. Most of the work is done by the mixer.  You do have to poach them, but it is a simple process and the outcome is quite delicious.  We ate our rolls with currywurst and sauerkraut, then had a couple left over for some sandwiches the next day.  Even the kids got in on the action and absolutely loved them.  Carbs + Babies = True Love.

Pretzel Rolls, adapted from Guy Fieri
1 tablespoon dry active yeast
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup baking soda

To get the rolls going put 1 cup of warm water (about 110 degrees) in the bowl of your mixer.  Put the yeast in and then give it five minutes or so to "bloom".   Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and once the five minutes are up, turn the mixer on low (using the dough hook!) and add the dry ingredients.  Once they are incorporated turn the speed up to medium and let it go for about 8 minutes.  Check it after about 5, if the dough seems too wet or dry adjust as necessary.  The dough should be elastic and smooth, not too sticky but definitely not dry either.

Once you are done kneading, form the dough into a ball and put it into a glass bowl that has been rubbed with vegetable oil.   Cover the bowl with a towel and set it aside to rise for about 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead it a few times.  Now divide it in half, then divide each half into three.  You should have six equal sizes balls.  Line a baking sheet with some aluminum foil then spray it with some cooking spray.  Put the balls on the tray and lightly draw two diagonal cuts across each one with a knife.  Cover them with a towel and let them rise again for about 15 more minutes  (or doubled in size again).

While the dough is rising again, preheat the oven to 425 F and bring 8 cups of water to boil.  

Once the dough is ready add the baking soda to the water, give it a stir and let the foam die down a little.  Then put in two rolls at a time.  Poach them for about 2 minutes per side then remove them from the water and put them back on the baking tray and sprinkle each with some kosher salt.

Bake the poached rolls for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.  Make sure to eat one hot!  Wow these are good.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Currywurst - German Street Food!

One of my favorite parts of traveling to other countries is eating street food.   In London there are the most amazing curry stands and of course the fish and chips wrapped in newsprint. In Paris it is all about crepes.  My favorite are the crepes au thon (swiss cheese and tuna, yum!).

So even though I haven't yet been to Germany I was excited to make some German street food for our Oktoberfest extravaganza.  Currywurst is sausages cut into slices and served with a curry sauce and either fries or Brotchen (a roll).  We decided to serve ours with pretzel rolls instead since we both love them and have wanted to try them out for a while.  (Pretzel Roll recipe tomorrow!)

I liked the currywurst!  It was simple pub-type fare but it was good with some sauerkraut and some beer.  We enjoyed them and had a nice relaxing Friday night. :)

Currywurst, adapted from JenFen on All Recipes
1 pound bratwurst or other pork sausage
1 (15 oz) can of tomato sauce
2 tablespoons chili sauce (we used Heinz)
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons curry powder

Cook sausages on the grill or a grill pan. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the tomato sauce with all the rest of the ingredients.  Bring to a gentle boil and then allow the sauce to simmer for 5 minutes or so.

Slice the sausages and then pour over some sauce and enjoy them!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Weiner Schnitzel

I honestly didn't think I'd have, not one, but two "schnitzel" recipes on my blog.  But in our decision on what to make to celebrate Oktoberfest this year Alex and I decided to try Wiener Schnitzel since I have never in my life eaten veal.

Wiener Schnitzel is basically a thin piece of veal, lightly breaded and fried.  The thought of poor little baby cows has made me pass on veal for many years but we decided we would get some humanely raised veal from Whole Foods and give it a shot.  I highly recommend buying meat at Whole Foods for that reason along with a host of others.  It can be pricey but if you can afford  it, it is worth the extra cost.  If you want to pass on the veal though, feel free to substitute pork loin instead.  Just slice the pork into medallions and pound them thin.  Less guilt, lower cost.  Still delicious.

Wiener Schnitzel, adapted from Paula Deen
4 veal cutlets (about 4 oz each, pounded thin)
salt and pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons water
2 cups plain dry breadcrumbs
vegetable oil for frying
1 lemon, cut in wedges

This recipe takes only about 10 minutes start to finish so make sure your sides are ready to go.  (We served pan-roasted carrots and parsnips with some braised red cabbage with our schnitzel.)

First get your breading stations ready.  Put the flour in one shallow dish, the beaten eggs and water in a second, and the breadcrumbs in the third.  Now pat dry the veal and salt and pepper them on each side.

Fill a large skillet with an inch or so of vegetable oil and place it over medium-high heat.  Now you can dredge your veal in the flour, then the egg wash, and lastly the breadcrumbs.  Once the oil is hot put the veal in the pan. Depending on the size of your veal and pan you may need to do these in two batches.  Fry the veal for 2 minutes per side then remove them to a plate lined with paper towels.  Sprinkle them with a bit of salt.

Make sure to give each person a lemon wedge or two for them to squeeze over the schnitzel before that first bite. The lemon adds a nice crisp flavor to the schnitzel.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How-To Tuesday! Spatzle

How-To Tuesday German Style! For those of you who have never even heard of spatzle....spatzle is basically a German egg noodle.  It's a short little noodle that is generally made of eggs and flour, it's very easy to make and very yummy to eat.  Another good reason to make your own?  Buying boxed spatzle is actually kind of pricey here in the U.S.

Quick and easy directions for the spatzle, then a great recipe to use it in to follow. :)

Spatzle, adapted from Gordon Ramsay (serves 2)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp grated nutmeg
2 eggs, one whole and one yolk beaten together
3 tablespoons of milk
3 tablespoons of water

Bring a large pan of water to boil.  While it is heating, combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl.  Make a well in the middle and pour in the eggs.  Mix together.  Now add the milk and water, stirring to make a thick batter.

To make the spatzle, spoon a small amount of the batter into a colander held over the pan of boiling water.  Use a rubber spatula to scrape over the batter pushing it through the holes in the colander and into the boiling water below.  Let the spatzle cook for about a minute then use a strainer or slotted spoon to scoop it out and into a bowl.

If you want you can make the spatzle early and then reheat it by sauteing it in some butter for a minute or two.

My favorite dish to make with spatzle uses sausage and a creamy mustard sauce.  Even making the spatzle from scratch, the dish only takes about 20 minutes.  A great warm dinner for a crisp fall night.  (Not that we are having any of those here in Vegas yet)  I prefer to use the spatzle recipe I listed above with Robert Irvine's sauce...his spatzle is ok, but we didn't think the extra ingredients really came through in the dish.  The mustard sauce though?  Outstanding.

Spatzle in Mustard Cream Sauce with Sausage, adapted from Robert Irvine
Spatzle, see above
1 lb sausage in casings (sweet or spicy both work!)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small shallot, minced
3 tablespoons white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoon Dijon Mustard (we used the Country Style Grey Poupon)
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons grate Gruyere cheese

Prepare the spatzle as described in the recipe above and set it aside.  Cook your sausages either in a grill pan or in a pot of boiling water.  Once done, slice them into 1/2 inch rounds.

To make the sauce, heat a saucepan over medium.  Add the butter and shallots and cook until the shallots are a nice golden brown.  Pour in the white wine to deglaze the pan, then add the cream, thyme, and mustard.  Taste and then season the sauce with salt and pepper.  Put the sauce on low and continue to cook until it has thickened, about 5 minutes.  Once the sauce is thick, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese.

Pour about half of the sauce over the spatzle and toss to coat and reheat it.  Place the spatzle on plates then put the sausage over the spatzle and spoon over a bit more sauce.

Comfort food at its, German-style, finest!

Monday, October 17, 2011


Around this time of year Mr Pears and I always make some German food to celebrate Oktoberfest.  But did you know that Oktoberfest is actually held in September?  The traditional German beer festival actually begins in mid-September and continues through the first weekend in October, so we are a little behind...but better late than never right?

This week all of our posts are going to be Oktoberfest related.  Get ready to learn how to make spatzle on Tuesday, then we'll have some Currywurst (a German street food favorite), Weiner Schnitzel, and even some homemade Pretzel Rolls!

So break out the Oktoberfest beer! Prost!  (psst...that means cheers! :)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Shrimp Pasta with Chili and Lime

So yesterdays soup may not have been that low-calorie.  Darn cream.  But today's Shrimp pasta sure is!  We make this one a lot, actually, because it is super quick and easy for a nice light weeknight dinner.  It's definitely a "go-to" recipe for us.

The original recipe is Gordon Ramsay's but we've tweaked it quite a bit over time.  (Nobody tell him though, he kind of scares me!)  I like to use a Thai chili for some heat, a red bell pepper for sweetness, and I substitute cilantro for the parsley...because I just love cilantro.

This dish is really quick so make sure you have your pasta boiling before you start cooking the rest.   And make sure to boil it in salted water.  Angel hair is traditionally used in recipes with such a light sauce but we used fresh fettuccine this time and it was still great.  Fresh pasta can be pricey in the grocery store but if you see it on sale or have a coupon definitely pick some up.  It is unbelievable how much better fresh pasta is over dry.

Shrimp Pasta with Chili and Lime, adapted from Gordon Ramsay
1/2 lb cooked angel hair pasta
3 cloves garlic, crushed
4 green onions
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 thai chili, seeded for less heat, not seeded if you dare
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 lb uncooked shrimp, cleaned and without tails
olive oil
1 lime
handful of cilantro, chopped

In a large pan over medium heat, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Once the oil is hot add the garlic, onions, and bell peppers.  Cook them for about 4 minutes before adding the chili pepper.  Now cook one additional minute.  

Add the white wine to the pan and let it cook for about another minute or so.  The wine will quickly reduce.  Toss in the shrimp and cook them until they are pink.  Only 2 to 3 minutes.  

At this point get your pasta drained and into the pan with the shrimp, drizzle some olive oil over the pasta, squeeze over the lime juice and toss in the cilantro.  Toss the whole thing to combine.

Done.  Simple right?  And so good.  I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

I have a very large place in my heart for pumpkins.  I loooove them. :)  I could eat an entire pumpkin pie, can't wait each year for Starbucks to bring in the pumpkin spice lattes, and I love pumpkin soup.

Usually I buy all fresh ingredients for my recipes.  Little sugar pumpkins are easy to bake, but the canned stuff is pretty awesome too.  100% Pumpkin, pureed and ready to go.  Now, you may not have noticed but sometimes Mr Pears and I like to make things kind of complicated (see Tuesday's 6-hour French Onion Soup for evidence).  But yesterday I decided that I wanted pumpkin soup and I was going to do it easy.  It was easy, and it was delicious.

This recipe is really simple and really easy but it is a little spicy and a little sweet and it's just a great fall soup. To make it even easier on myself I made up the soup during nap time, all the way up to blending it. Then I poured the soup into two containers, one to put in the freezer for another time and one to put in the refrigerator for dinner. Then, when we were ready to eat it, I warmed it up and added the milk, etc. to finish it up.  It only took a few minutes to complete. Awesome.  I hope you try it out!

Spicy Pumpkin Soup, adapted from Simply Recipes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 dashes of cayenne pepper (this is to taste!  feel free to leave this out for a less spicy soup)
5 cups chicken broth
3 (15 oz) cans of 100% pumpkin puree (6 cups if you are making it yourself!)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

Melt your butter in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Put in the onions and garlic and cook them for about 5 minutes or until soft.  Next add in all the spices and cook them, stirring, for about a minute longer.  Add your pumpkin puree and chicken broth to the pot and stir well to combine.  Bring the soup to a boil and then allow it to simmer for 15 minutes.

After simmering, let the soup cool down a bit before transfering it into the blender (you will need to do this in a few batches, probably 3).  Puree the soup until smooth.  At this point, if you don't want to eat this soup right away (or even today) you can refrigerate it or freeze it until you need it.

If eating now, put the soup back into the pot on low heat.  Stir in the brown  sugar, then the milk and the cream. Taste it and season with salt and pepper if necessary.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thai Beef Cabbage Cups

Is it happens, Mr Pears and I both managed to gain a few LB's in Hawaii.  It could have been the breakfast buffet which was included with our room reservation, but I'm guessing it was all those drinks in the plastic pineapples.  Oops. 

So in an effort to eat a bit more low-calorie dinners for a while, I made these Thai beef cups the other night.  Of course lettuce wraps are so popular so I was kind of surprised (and maybe a little skeptical) of using cabbage instead.  I was pleasantly surprised.  These were light, but very tasty with a little kick and a lot of crunch.  Great texture and flavor.  Not only that but according to the recipe each serving is only 292 calories.  The recipe says this is four servings but it made a good dinner for the two of us, with no other sides.  And under 600 calories for dinner?  That is pretty good in my book.

Thai Beef Cabbage Cups, adapted from Cooking Light
2 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
2 teaspoons minced ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground sirloin
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or to taste!)
1/2 cup vertically sliced red onions
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
8 large green cabbage leaves
2 tablespoon unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts, chopped

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 teaspoons of sesame oil and then cook the garlic and ginger for a bout 1 minute.  Add the meat and cook until browned through. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining sesame oil, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, water and red pepper.  Toss in the meat, onions, cilantro and peanuts and stir to combine.  Serve on top of the cabbage leaves. 

We didn't serve these to the kids because of time issues, but next time we will probably cut out the red pepper so they can have some.  One recipe reviewer claimed she did that for her own kids and then just had some sliced fresh jalapenos for herself and her husband, which I think is a great idea for us too.

Happy, Healthy, Eating!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How-To Tuesday! Beef Stock

There is just no way to tell you that making your own stock is easier than using the store bought stuff.  It just isn't. Making stock takes about 5 hours...BUT!  if you are going to be around the house anyway, it is worth the time, and it can save you money too.

To save money, every time you eat beef with a bone, keep it.  Put it in a freezer storage bag and into the freezer. I'm talking steak bones, short ribs, beef ribs, what ever.  We just happened to have some oxtail lounging around in our freezer so that is what we used.  (It's good, trust me!)

Few ingredients are involved in making a good stock, just a large pot and a lot of time.  In the end, though, you've got a great base for a great soup.  In our case French Onion Soup....YUM.

Beef Stock
olive oil
5-6 lbs of beef bones
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large carrots, chopped
2 yellow onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
6 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
6 quarts of water

To begin your stock you first need to roast your bones.  Preheat the oven to 425 F.  Put in your dutch oven so it preheats as well.  Once heated, carefully remove the dutch oven and add a few tablespoons of olive oil to it, then the bones.  Return the pan to the oven and allow the bones to roast for about 45 minutes.

While the bones are happily roasting, melt the butter in a large pan and saute  your onions, carrots, garlic and herbs over medium heat until softened.  Around 5-7 minutes.

Once the bones are done in the oven remove the pan and deglaze it with water over medium high heat.  A cup of water should do it.  Now pour the contents into a large stock pot and add about 6 quarts of water.  Bring the pot to a boil then turn down the heat and allow it to simmer for 4 hours.

Once the four hours are  up, strain the stock through a sieve to remove all the solid bits.  Viola!  Beef Stock! About 4 quarts.  Use it or freeze it for later.  We used it.....

Onion Soup, adapted from Thomas Keller, from the Bouchon cookbook
5 lbs yellow onions
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp all-purpose flour
4 quarts Beef Stock (see above)
freshly ground pepper
sherry wine vinegar
1 baguette
extra virgin olive oil
sliced Emmentaler cheese (or swiss)
1 cup grated Emmentaler cheese (or swiss)

Get ready for a few tears.  The hardest part about this recipe is chopping the onions.  Cut the tops and bottoms off and then slice them in half lengthwise.  Remove the tough outer peel.  Now slice each onion lengthwise in 1/4 inch slices.

Are you done?  OK then, let's move on.  Melt the butter in a large heavy pot or dutch oven over low heat.  Dump in the onions and sprinkle over a tablespoon of kosher salt and toss the onions around.   Cook them for about an hour on low heat stirring every 15 minutes or so.  Once they've "sweated" out the liquid, turn the heat up but only slightly.  Maybe a 2 or 3, you do not want to burn them. Now allow them to cook for 5 hours.  5 HOURS! yeah.  Believe me, these will be the best caramelized onions you have ever tasted.

To make the croutons that go in the soup preheat the broiler and slice the baguette into about 10- 1/2 inch slices. Lay them on a baking tray and brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Broil them until nicely toasted.

Once the onions are golden brown and absolutely delicious, add the flour and saute them for another minute.  Now add them to the completed beef stock. Bring to a simmer and allow the soup to reduce by about a third, around 1 hour.  Taste the soup and add salt and pepper if needed and a teaspoon or two of the sherry vinegar.

Now place your oven-proof soup bowls on a baking sheet, preheat the broiler, and fill the bowls with the soup.  (This makes about 4 large bowls) Add enough croutons to cover the mouth of the bowl, just rest them on top of the soup.  Cover each bowl with the sliced cheese.  You want to leave about 1/2 inch overhang. Top with the grated cheese.

Put them in the broiler for about 2-3 minutes.  Watch them, and pull them out when they look nice and golden brown.

This soup is awesome.  6 hours may seem like a long time but most of it is just downtime.  If you are having a lazy Sunday, try it out.  It really is worth it!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Back to Reality

We are finally back friends! I hope you'll forgive us for our two week lapse; we had such a wonderful time celebrating the boys' birthday, visiting with our family, and then relaxing in Hawaii!

I can't believe my little boys are one!  Grandma and Grandpa Doug were here, along with Grammy and Grandpa Al. The party was small, the gifts were (very) plentiful, and the cakes I put so much thought into were mostly ignored by the birthday boys!

Alex eating some cake after some coaxing

This face pretty much sums up Aaron's interest in birthday cake

He decided on some watermelon instead.

A picture of Alex's slightly demolished cake

Overall definitely a success. :)

Cake disinterest aside it was a great day and the boys had a fun time with their Grandparents...and with their presents too of course!

The next day, though, we left the boys in the able hands of Grandma and Grandpa Doug and Alex and I flew off to Maui for a week of fun in the sun.  

We paddleboarded, snorkled, and jumped around in the waves on the beautiful Wailea beach.

Alex went down every one of the many water slides at the resort about a million times

I basked in the sun

And we both drank lots of fruity drinks out of plastic pineapples.

Despite missing the babies A LOT more than we were expecting, we had a wonderful time relaxing and enjoying time together.  This was an incredible first year with the babies for us; challenging, joyful and tearful.  But we made it, and we are looking forward to so many more.

But back to the kitchen!!  We have some good stuff cooking this week.  Fall is here so get ready for soups and more pumpkin than most people can stand!