Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Birthday Cake!

My little monsters are turning 1 in just 4 doesn't seem possible!  How on earth did we go from this:

Aaron left, Alex right

To this! In just a few short months? 

It should be noted that this was the best picture I could get of both of them together in the last three days.  Each and every shot seems to have at least one blurry spot due to the constant motion these two are always in.

Anyway, back to the cake at hand.  I decided that even though we are not doing a huge birthday bash, just 2 sets of grandparents and one proud set of parents, I did want to make a cake for each boy.  "Smash" cakes are hugely popular right now and I think they look like a lot of fun.  The baby is basically given his own cake to do with what he pleases.  I'm sure rubbing it in their hair and feeding some to the dogs will be top priorities with my two. :)  

I wanted the cakes to be bigger than cup cakes but a LOT smaller than a regular cake.  After some searching and a trip to the craft store, I found these.  The Wilton mini tasty fill cake pans are 4" in diameter and 1 1/4" tall.  Each pan (set comes with four) has an indentation so you can add a filling and then put two cakes together to make a 4" x 2 1/2" cake!  Perfect!  The other day I tested them out to make sure I had the baking times right for these little pans. After all, I don't want my little guys first cakes to be dry or under-cooked!

Simple White Cake, adapted from allrecipes
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 extra large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Grease and flour the pans.  This is a super easy cake to make, the only trick is to really make sure and beat it well so it is nice and fluffy.  First cream the butter and sugar until very fluffy!  Then add in the eggs one at a time, beating WELL.  Now add the extracts, beat some more, the flour and baking powder, beat some more, then finally the milk. Stir in the milk so you don't get splashed. :)  The batter should be nice and fluffy by the end.  Pour it into your prepared pans.  The recipe says that for a 9 x 9 pan, bake 30-40 minutes and for cupcakes bake 20-25.  My little cakes took 20 minutes.  You'll know they are done when the top springs back when lightly touched.  

I was pretty impressed by these little pans!  First time out and they didn't stick and the cakes were cooked perfectly.  Since I am not always the best baker, (remember the brownies?) I was super excited.  Here are some pictures of the process.

I filled them with whipped cream
With the icing and sprinkles
And the middle!

The final cakes will look a lot like this one.  Butercream icing, some primary colored sprinkles, and a number one candle to top it off.  I'm hoping they will look classic and fun; baby friendly without a whole lot of fussiness.  Cause babies just prefer messiness anyway! ;)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How-To Tuesday! Buttercream Icing

Birthday coming up?  Make it special and delicious by making some homemade icing!

Buttercream icing is one of the most sinfully sweet creations out there.  It is also simple to make, easy to use, and even very adaptable.  A few simple ingredients and you can say goodbye to the tubs of frosting in the baking aisle.
First, find a kitchen helper or two

Then get out the other ingredients

Buttercream Icing, from Wilton
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening (like Crisco)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners suger
2 tablespoons milk

(this makes about 3 cups of icing)

In your mixer, cream together the butter and shortening.  Add in the vanilla extract and then the sugar, gradually, while on medium speed.  Your icing will look very dry once the sugar is all added but don't worry!  Add the milk and continue mixing until the icing is nice and fluffy.

You can refrigerate the icing in an airtight container for up to two weeks!  You just need to toss it back in the mixer before using to fluff it up again.

If you would prefer Chocolate icing add 3/4 cup cocoa powder and another tablespoon or two of milk. Craving Peanut Butter?  Just add 3/4 cup peanut butter to the original recipe along with a few more tablespoons of milk.  Wilton has a ton of great recipes and ideas on their website; I'm looking forward to trying a few more. :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Weekend Rewind, and a Look Ahead

We had another fairly quiet weekend here at 4 Pears, I hope you did too!  Though we watched the non-stop Hurricane coverage on CNN, the only weather we experienced here was sunshine and the sweltering 110+ degree heat that kept us inside quite a bit.

Saturday morning we had to take our poor little Claire in to the vet for a toenail injury.  She broke it really high up and the little girl was limping around in pain.  Alex and I were too wimpy to cut it off ourselves so in she went to the vet, and out she came- with a blue paw and a $100 invoice.  Ouch.

I think her paw looks kind of cute though, and she is feeling much better

Saturday afternoon I made my third and final (for a while at least!) attempt at homemade brownies.  My first attempt could barely be considered chocolate, my second attempt was drier than sand.  The third attempt tasted great!  Chocolate and Peanut Butter Swirl, yum.

But it stuck to the pan.  As you can see, we ate them anyway.

The brownies will not best me; I will try again.  Just not for a while.  I need a brownie break.  If anyone has a great homemade recipe, please send it to me!!

Saturday evening Alex hung out with friends and watched people trying to kill each other  the UFC fight, while I relaxed at home with a good book and ate leftovers from a BBQ we went to on Friday.

Our only excitement Sunday was a trip to Whole Foods for some fish which we poached for dinner.  It was our first attempt at poaching fish and it turned out really good.  We'll definitely work on perfecting it so we can pass it on.

On to a new week! Here's a look at what's to come.

Tuesday- How To Tuesday- Buttercream Icing!  Super easy and delicious, versatile and easy to work need to buy that tub at the grocery store ever again!

Wednesday- We'll put the buttercream icing to good use on a trial run birthday cake.  Two handsome boys are turning one in just a few weeks!  I bought some little cake pans so they can each have their own cakes and I want to test them out, along with a new cake recipe, before the big day.

Thursday- Burgers...did anyone notice?  I was supposed to post about burgers last week and totally forgot due to the awesomeness that is Pineapple Fried Rice.  I promise to remember to share the burgers this week instead.

Friday- Homemade Challah.  Challah is the best bread for French Toast!  This dense and eggy bread is so pretty and though it does take a few hours from start to finish, it really isn't hard to make.   

Lots of yummy stuff to look forward to this week. I hope you enjoy it. :)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What the Twins Are Eating - 11 months

11 months old!  Ah!  It is crazy to think they are almost a year old.  The "baby" things are on their way out the door.  We said goodbye to purees at 10 months; at 11 months we say goodbye to formula...and bottles.

We started the switch to whole milk a little over a week ago rather than right at 11 months.  (Mostly due to our dwindling stock of formula and our complete lack of desire to buy any more).  We were very happy to find that the boys love whole milk!  Organic whole milk!  And here I thought we'd be saving some money by switching from formula...we may need to buy an organic cow for the backyard.  Anyway, they love the milk.  And milk goes in sippy cups, not bottles.  I told myself I wouldn't put milk in a bottle if I didn't need to, and we don't, but it makes me so sad!  Sad in that sappy, sentimental Mom way.  We have worked down to just one last bedtime bottle, and only enough formula for two more.  So tonight: goodbye formula, goodbye bottles.

Tonight I'll hold each of my sons and look into their eyes as they drink their last bottles in my arms.  I'll try not think about how much I'm going to miss holding them that way.  I'll try not to cry. Instead I'll remind myself to be proud of how big and strong my handsome boys are growing. There are so many good things to look forward to, even if the baby days are already starting to slip by.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pineapple Fried Rice

Alex and I got married at the Wynn hotel here in Las Vegas almost five years ago; our anniversary is next week!

That may make us kind of partial to the place but they really do have some pretty great restaurants.  One of our favorites is Wazuzu at Encore.  Wazuzu is a Pan-Asian restaurant so you can get sushi and dim sum, Thai or Indian food.  And you can get Pineapple Fried Rice.

Since dinners out are much less frequent now that we have twins running (well, crawling) around, we figured we'd try making this dish here at home.  We found a recipe from The Neely's on, made a couple of changes, and we are in love. With each other AND the rice ;)  Our recipe unfortunately doesn't include roast duck, and we've substituted bacon for the Chinese sausage, but it's still pretty darn delicious.

Pineapple Fried Rice, adapted from The Neely's
1/4 lb bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and diced
2 green onions, sliced (both white and green  parts)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 thai chili, chopped
1 cup diced pineapple
4 cups cooked rice (can be a day or two old!)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

Put the chopped bacon in a large cold skillet, bring to medium-high heat and cook.  Set aside.  Add peanut oil to the pan and once it begins to shimmer, put in the onions, garlic, ginger and green onions.  Cook them until they are softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the bell pepper, thai chili and bacon to the pan and cook for an additional 3 minutes or so.  Now stir in the rice and pineapple.  Saute the rice for about 5 minutes or until it begins to turn a light brown.  Stir in the sesame oil and soy sauce.  Once combined add the shrimp.  Cook just until the shrimp turn pink, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and serve!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Zucchini-Corn Fritters

My little guys may just turn into zucchinis before the summer is over, or maybe watermelons... Zucchini is just such an easy veggie and the kids are eating a lot of it these days.  Zucchini is inexpensive and on top of that you can chop and saute it in olive oil and be done in just 5 minutes (which is awesome when you have two screaming and hungry babies). You can bake zucchini into banana bread without anyone becoming the wiser...or you can make these fritters.  These fritters are delicious, easy to make, and great for freezing.  And while they are perfect for little hands, they are so good I have a hard time not eating them all myself.  

I was actually making veggie fritters before I found this recipe in Food Network Magazine.  A fritter is a pretty simple idea: grate veggies, mix with flour and egg and fry until golden.  Easy peasy.  This recipe mixes cornmeal along with the flour though, which I really love.  The little cakes are light and sort of sweet with no sugar added at all!  These are a definite finger food favorite but they aren't just for the kiddos, I'm pretty sure Mom and Dad will love these too.

Zucchini-Corn Fritters, found in Food Network Magazine, September 2011
2 medium zucchini, grated ( I use the food processor)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 ears of corn, kernels cut off
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup buttermilk 
1 large egg
vegetable oil, for frying

Toss the zucchini with 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt in a medium bowl.  Allow it to sit for about 10 minutes.  The salt will help to extract excess moisture.  After 10 minutes turn the zucchini onto a kitchen towel and squeeze out as much water as you can.  Set the zucchini aside.

In a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Cook the onion and garlic until softened, about 4 minutes.  Add the corn and cook for an additional 3 minutes.  Set aside.

Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking soda and pepper in a large bowl.  Add in the eggs and buttermilk and whisk to combine.  Add the veggies and stir to combine them all.  

Now heat about 1/8 of an inch of canola or vegetable oil in your large frying pan.  Once hot, spoon about 1/4 cupfuls of the batter into the oil and flatten slightly with a spoon.  Turn the cakes when the edges begin to brown, they should cook about 3 to 4 minutes on each side.  Remove the cakes to a plate lined with paper towels and serve either warm or at room temperature.  I freeze these and then just thaw them in a small warm frying pan when I'm ready to serve them.     

Enjoy, and try to chew with your mouth closed ;)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Greek Couscous Salad

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only Mom out there who "forgets" to eat lunch on a regular basis.  Sometimes I do really forget, I'm just too busy doing other things and by the time I notice I'm starving it's 3:00 and I figure I'll make it to dinner.  Sometimes, though, I'm just too lazy to make myself lunch.  After making, feeding, and cleaning up after two kids' meals twice in the day already, sometimes I just want to sit on the couch for a few minutes and breathe.  (God Bless Naptime)

So in order to combat starvation-by-laziness, I like to make up a lunch I can keep in the refrigerator for the whole week.  Usually it is some type of salad I can eat cold, no further preparation involved.  I really like to make pasta salads but recently a friend sent me a recipe for a couscous salad that is pretty great.  This salad is nice and light but filling too.  The lemon vinaigrette and chopped kalamata olives really give it a bright fresh taste. So to all the busy Moms....this one's for you.

Greek Couscous Salad, adapted from MyPanera
2 Tablespoons pistachios
1 3/4 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock
10 ounces couscous
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 can chickpeas, drained
4 oz crumbled feta cheese
1/4 chopped pitted Kalamata olives
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

To begin, put the pistachios in a dry pan over medium heat and toast them until they are golden brown, shake the pan often to keep them from burning.  They will toast in just a few minutes so don't walk away! Set them aside when done.

Now bring the vegetable stock to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Once it boils, stir in the couscous, cover and remove the pan from heat.  Let the couscous sit while you chop those veggies.  Once the veggies are chopped, put them and the couscous and cheese into a large bowl and stir to combine.

Lastly, make the vinaigrette in a small bowl. Put in the lemon juice, salt and pepper first, then slowly whisk in the oil.  Once all are combined pour the dressing over the salad and stir it to combine.

You can eat this salad right away or refrigerate it for about 4 days.

**PS. Sorry for the lack of photos these last two days, I am having some technical difficulties with Picassa.  I am much better with a wooden spoon than I am with a computer. ;)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How-To Tuesday! Vinaigrette

Salad dressing is expensive! A good brand often costs around $5.00 and then you are stuck with it until it is gone. Which, for us, is a while. I love salads, especially in the summer, but we rarely make a traditional green salad. Instead we make bean salads, cucumber salad, potato salad, even coleslaw and each has a vinaigrette to dress it with because I prefer vinegar based salads to creamy salads most of the time.  They tend to be lighter and healthier, and honestly?  I just really love vinegar.  I love the acidity and bite.  I'm originally from Maryland after all, home of Boardwalk Fries which are served only with salt and malt vinegar, hon.

A traditional vinaigrette is three parts oil and one part acid, most commonly lemon juice or vinegar.  To this you can add just about anything: garlic, shallots, mustard, herbs, peppers, honey, etc. etc.   Since I'm such a vinegar lover, my ratio is usually closer to 2 parts oil, 1 vinegar.  But if you want a lower acid vinaigrette you can do 4 to 1 too.  You can make it to suit any taste, that's what makes it great!

Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Balsamic vinaigrette is super popular and super pricey in the grocery store.  To whip some up in no time in your own kitchen pour the vinegar into a bowl and while whisking, slowly pour in the olive oil at a steady slow stream.   Season with salt and pepper.  Now taste it!  If you want it more acidic, add some more vinegar!  If it has too much bite, add some more oil!  You may even want to sweeten it with a bit of sugar.  Make sure to whisk it fast and to make it right before you use it because, well you know, oil and water don't mix.  It can and will separate.  If it does, shake it up or whisk it again before serving.

Tomorrow I'll share a recipe for a Greek Couscous Salad that uses a lemon vinaigrette; come back and check it out!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Weekend Rewind, and a Look Ahead

Whew!  Monday already?  We had a pretty relaxing weekend around 4 Pears; some playing, some cooking, and some more playing of course.

Friday afternoon we took the boys to get their first haircuts!  We are getting some professional pictures done the Friday after next and it was truly time for the baby mullets to go.

Aaron sitting on Daddy's lap being a good boy...before the meltdown! :)

The haircuts went pretty well overall.  Both kids got a bit worked up towards the end but Jenny did a great job and had them done as quickly and painlessly as possible.  And they are looking so handsome and grown-up now! Alex and I fed the boys when we got home from the cuts and had our dinner after they went to bed.  Homemade (freshly ground) Cheeseburgers!  I am a huge burger lover and these were awesome.


On Saturday Alex and I put the boys in the jogging stroller at 7:00 a.m. and went for a run to the park.  Each of us runs several times a week but never together (since someone has to mind those pesky twins).  It was such a nice change that we've decided to make it a weekend habit to take the kids on one run each weekend.  Some exercise for Mom and Dad, and some playtime at the park for the little guys.  

Alex and Mommy about to go down the slide!

Saturday afternoon: Pool Time!

Saturday evening we grilled a pork tenderloin Alex had brined the day before and watched a semi-cheesy popcorn flick (Aliens- Ah!). 

Sunday morning we had sausage gravy and biscuits for breakfast, instead of running. Then we enjoyed another fairly lazy day that ended with Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice that we made for the first time and which was a huge success.  We'll be sure to share that one soon. :)

So that was last week....Here's what to look forward to this week on 4 Pears!

Tuesday:  How to Tuesday: Vinaigrette!  A vinaigrette is the most basic of sauces.  An easy and inexpensive salad dressing that can be adapted to suit any taste; making a balanced vinaigrette is a basic skill that you can use in a variety of ways.

Wednesday: Greek Couscous Salad.   A great salad to keep in the refrigerator to feed a hungry (and busy!) Mom all week.  A lemon vinaigrette and kalamata olives make this recipe shine.

Thursday: Zucchini and Corn Fritters.  Finger food anyone can love.  These fritters are amazing.  I made them for the kids last week and ate three of them right away.  An excellent way to feed veggies to the little ones, and a great freezer item.

Friday:  Cheeseburgers!  Just in time for the weekend BBQ I'll share how we made our burgers last Friday...the meat is a bit different than your usual and it made all the difference in a juicy and delicious burger.

Happy Monday!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pesto: Messy, Green and Delicious

I have a love/hate relationship with pesto.  The hate part stems from this:

You may not be able to tell but he's not wearing a shirt...and under that bib?  More green stuff.  It's on his arms and legs too.  His brother puts some in his hair for good measure.  BUT!  They love this stuff.  They shovel the little noodles into their mouths as fast as possible.  So I continue to feed it to them, but only on bath night (every other night at Four Pears).  They go straight from the highchair into the tub.  

Now for something I love about pesto?  I love that we have a seemingly endless supply of basil in the back yard. Say hello to the basil bush.  

Just like everything else in this houseshold, there are two of them.  This picture was taken AFTER I cut 3 cups of basil leaves off.  If I didn't trim the basil, I'm pretty sure it would take over the yard.  And its planted in rocks!  Who knew basil loved the hot desert sun so much?  Anyways...yeah, we make pesto almost every week.

We use an Ina Garten recipe (who else?) but substitute pistachios for the pine nuts so we don't bankrupt ourselves.  This sauce is so fresh and delicious!  It freezes well too; just put a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the sauce before storing.  I plan to stock the freezer so we can enjoy some in the winter when the basil bush finally dies...  It will die right?  

Homemade Pesto, adapted from Ina Garten
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Put the pistachios and garlic into the food processor and process for about 30 seconds.  Next add the basil, salt and pepper to the machine.  Using a funnel, or a steady hand! slowly pour in the olive oil while the machine is running.  Continue to run the machine until everything is pureed and incorporated.   Lastly, add the parmesan cheese and process again for a minute or so.  Serve at room temperature or over hot pasta.  And feel free to eat it with your fingers! :)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Double Apple Oat Bran Muffins

My little men get a snack every day around 2pm after their second nap.  I don't want to serve four meals a day (or clean up after four meals!) but a snack is necessary or the hungry monsters get out of control.  We used to just have the third bottle at 2:00, but now that they have cut down so much on their formula intake a real snack of sorts is in order.  Most days we do fruit and crackers (low sodium Ritz are a favorite), or cheese and dry cereal.  Those sorts of things.  But these muffins are now in the rotation and the kids really love them.

These muffins use oat bran, natural applesauce, whole wheat flour, real apples....and they actually taste good. Amazing huh?  They aren't grainy or dry and they are super fast to make. According to the recipe a regular sized muffin has only 174 calories!  I used whole milk rather than fat-free milk but still..that's a healthy snack for anyone in the house. They are definitely a favorite around here right now and I imagine they will be for awhile.

Double Apple Bran Muffins, adapted from Cooking Light, May 2006
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 large egg white
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups oat bran  (look for this in the bulk foods section)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 apple, diced (I used a Gala apple but any kind will do)

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Cream the butter and sugar in mixer or with a blender.  Beat in the egg and egg white.  Add the other wet ingredients and mix to combine.  In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredient (everything except the apple).  Pour the wet into the dry and stir to combine.  Fold in the apples.  Spray muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray or line with paper cups.  Fill the cups almost to the top, these don't rise very high.  I used a mini-muffin pan and made 24 little muffins.  This recipe would also make 12 regular size muffins.  Bake 15 mins for mini-muffins or about 18 minutes for the regular sized muffins.  The muffins should be golden brown and spring back when the center is touched lightly.  Baked goods like these are great to freeze too.  They thaw beautifully in the refrigerator, so make a bunch!
Enjoying a muffin

Aaron, loves them too.  Isn't his hair awesome?  You should see the back, he's rockin' the baby mullet for sure.  Luckily for him, his first haircut is tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Devilish Deviled Eggs

So deviled eggs may not be the most glamorous of hors d'oeuvres but I love them.  I think most people do...they always seem to disappear quickly.  I have to be especially careful with them in my house, if I make too many Alex and I will eat them all.  And plowing through a dozen eggs at one sitting just isn't good.

Despite my love of deviled eggs I hadn't made any this summer!  Shame.  So I decided to make some on Saturday and we enjoyed them....for lunch.  Anyone else eat deviled eggs for lunch?  No?  Oh well.  Take them to a BBQ instead then.

Best thing about deviled eggs (other than their yumminess of course) is that you can basically do whatever you want to them.  Here's how I made mine last weekend.

Deviled Eggs
6 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 c. mayonaisse
2 tsp. dijon mustard
hot sauce, to taste
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. spicy pickles, diced
salt and peper to taste
cayenne pepper or paprika to garnish

Cut your boiled eggs in half and squeeze them gently to pop the yolks out into a small bowl.  Combine the yolks with the remaining ingredients.  Once the filling is nice and smooth, spoon it into the corner of a small plastic bag. Cut off the corner of the bag and squeeze the filling back into the eggs.  Sprinkle the tops of the eggs with a bit of cayenne pepper if you want some more kick; if not stick with paprika.  Refrigerate until serving.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How-To Tuesday! Hard-boiled Eggs

I love eggs.  I can eat them all day.  I LOVE quiche, egg salad, eggs benedict could be the best breakfast get the point.  We go through a ton of eggs here at the Four Pears household.  You can do so much with an egg!  But the basic skill?  How to hard-boil one.

"I can't even boil an egg!"  It's a popular cliche for not being able to cook but whether you can cook or not, cooking a hard-boiled egg might be intimidating.  Intimidating because there are a bunch of ways to do it and God forbid you do it wrong...yuck.  Green egg yolks are gross.  And getting the shells off isn't fun either.  Unless you know a quick little trick.  Here's how to get a perfect hard-boiled egg every time.

Hard-boiled Eggs

Gently put the eggs in a pan and fill so the eggs are covered by one inch of water.  You can do as many as can fit or as few as just one. Bring the water to boil.  Once boiling, remove the pot from heat, cover and set it aside for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile prepare an ice bath.  Fill a bowl with some ice and cold tap water.  Once the 10 minutes are up, put the eggs straight into the bath.  The ice water stops the cooking process but it also helps get the shells off!  Once cool peel them by tapping one end in the sink or on the counter.  The cold water should have loosened the shell so that it comes right off.   If the egg is cooked properly when you cut it in half the white will be solid and the yolk will be cooked through evenly and bright yellow.  Hard-boiled eggs perfect for making egg salad or deviled eggs (recipe tomorrow)!  A great snack for the kiddos or maybe a rushed mom in need of a protein boost.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fish and Chips

Despite the fact that I have in the past said there was no way I was ever buying a deep fryer; we bought a deep fryer last week. (This one to be exact) I didn't want a deep fryer because I know how we are.  With a new toy we are likely to fry anything we can get our hands on for the next month.  I know I saw Alex eyeing the brownies last night. But alas, a sale flyer for Kohl's came along with a coupon and off to the store we went.  And somehow we found room in the cabinets.  And somehow we have NOT fried any brownies...yet.

Instead we made fish and chips and they were delicious!!  Beer-battered flaky cod and crispy french fries.  It was great.  We used a beer-batter recipe from The Neely's and adapted some of Gina's spicy tartar sauce too.  The fries we made mostly using the instructions on the machine.  I won't say it was the quickest dinner ever, but it was fun hanging out around the fryer in the kitchen drinking a beer or two with the hubby and watching some of our back logged Hell's Kitchen episodes.  (It's a pretty exciting life we lead, no?)  The machine made frying less dangerous (have I ever mentioned the time Alex splashed hot oil in my eye?) and the clean-up was just about non-existent. So without further ado, fish and chips.  Hope you enjoy them.

Beer-Battered Fish and Chips, adapted from The Neely's
Canola Oil for frying
3 large russet potatoes, cut into 1 inch wedges
2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/3 c. cornstarch
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne powder
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. baking powder
freshly ground black pepper
8 oz beer
4 (4 oz) cod fillets
For the Tartar Sauce
1/2 c. mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. chopped spicy pickles
2 tsp hot sauce
salt and pepper

Ok.  Kind of a lot of moving parts here.  First up, make your tartar sauce.  Combine all your ingredients in a small bowl and put in the refrigerator. Next, cut the potatoes and put them in a pot of cold water to keep them from turning brown while you are getting everything else ready.  We actually cut ours up earlier in the day (nap time!) to cut down on the prep time later.  Now turn on your fryer or heat your oil in a heavy pan on the stove to 325 F. While it is heating up, get your beer-battering station ready.  Put 1 cup of flour in a pie plate and then whisk the other cup of flour, cornstarch, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, and baking powder with the beer in a medium bowl.  Drain your potatoes and dump them on a baking tray, use some paper towels to blot away any excess water. Start frying your potatoes in batches (just two in our fryer!) for about 6 minutes or until cooked through.  Once done set them aside on your baking tray and turn up the heat to get your oil to 375 F.  When the oil is ready coat your fish fillets first in the flour, then dip them into the beer-batter to coat them.  Put two fillets into your fryer and cook for just 2-3 minutes.  Repeat with the remaining two fillets.  Now back to the fries!  To get them nice and crispy and golden brown put them back into the fryer (with the oil still at 375 F) for about 2-3 minutes more. Season with salt.

This was seriously good stuff, and not at all greasy.  Alex and I were super impressed with how great it all came out. I'm glad we got the darn machine after all.  Truth be told, I was tired of that little clip-on thermometer falling into the pot all the time. :)

Friday, August 12, 2011

For Mom

My Mom specially requested a post on this side dish so, even though it is another Ina recipe, here it is!  Confetti Corn!

To be honest I wasn't too excited about trying this recipe out, even though it is found in what could be my favorite cookbook ever.  I don't know...a corn side dish just seemed kind of boring I guess.  In the summer I really like corn grilled right on the cob.  Unfortunately, though, I live in the desert and the corn here can be less than stellar.  This year it seems really bad for some reason.  My corn needed some help this summer and Ina came to the rescue. We served this to my mom when she came to visit and it was a huge hit.  Even I was surprised by how tasty it was! This is a great side dish for just about anything.  Burgers? yes.  Grilled Chicken? yes.  I'm planning on having it again with some steak fajitas (and maybe a margarita) on Saturday.  This dish is light and buttery, and the orange bell pepper and fresh basil really make it a stand out.

Confetti Corn, by Ina Garten and found in Back to Basics
2 Tbsp good olive oil
1/2 c. chopped red onion
1 small orange bell pepper, 1/2 inch diced
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
Kernels cut from about 5 ears of corn (4 cups)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. julienned fresh basil, minced chive, or parsley (I used basil)

Over medium heat, heat the olive oil in a large pan.  Add the onions and saute them for about 5 minutes, then add the bell pepper and cook for 2 minutes more.  Next add the butter to your pan.  Once it has melted, add the corn, salt and pepper.  Cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and stir in your basil or other herbs.  Remove to a large bowl for serving and enjoy!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peach Crisp

The very first weekend I started this blog...a whole TWO months ago, (whew, a long time!)  I tried to make my Grandma's peach pie and failed.  My filling was runny and I ended up turning my peach pie into peach pancake topping.

And while my pancake topping was delicious, and reminded me of my many visits to IHOP while pregnant with the twins, I was obviously disappointed.  Last weekend I decided to make another attempt at a peach dessert.  But this time I decided to leave the pie to Grandma and make a crisp instead.  I love crisps!  How can anyone not love the crumbly mixture of butter and sugar?  Yum.

I found a recipe on, I really like that site a lot.  There are tons of different versions of just about anything you can think of.  My favorite part, though, are the reviews.  There are always a ton of reviews and just about no one ever actually follows the recipes.  Instead of bland reviews you get a bunch of peoples' variations and opinions.  I like to read them and take some advice here and there and usually end up with something pretty great. Like this!

Juicy Peach Crisp, adapted from CLYN on
6 fresh peaches; pealed, pitted, and sliced
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 c. old fashioned or quick oats
1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. white sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter

To begin I blanched the peaches to remove the skins easily.  To do that you just bring enough water to cover the peaches to a boil.  Cut a shallow X into the bottom of each peach.  Place the peaches in the boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute.  You'll know they are done when you see the skins start to peel away from the X.  Remove with tongs and let cool.  Once they are cool the skin just slips off!

Preheat the oven to 375 F. While the peaches are cooling, mix together the oats, flour, sugars, cinnamon and salt. Cut the butter into chunks and add them to the bowl as well.  Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or just a table knife.  Once the butter is incorporated your mix will be crumbly and delicious.  Grease an 8 x 8 baking dish or a medium size oval dish with butter and put your sliced peaches inside.  Sprinkle over the almond extract.  Top with your crumble mixture.  Put the crisp into the oven and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden and bubbly.  Serve warm with ice cream!   

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Almost Homemade Ravioli

Did I mention my kids love spinach?  Well they did, when they were eating it off a spoon piloted by yours truly. But then they decided to take matters into their own hands and my lovely spinach puree went out the door.  I have been trying to come up with a spinach finger food ever since.  (PS.  if you have any other ideas, let me know!) Here's what I came up with- and yes, they still love spinach.

Don't be scared! We aren't making pasta.  Haven't gotten the KitchenAid attachment yet ;)  This recipe uses wonton wrappers instead; you can find them in the refrigerated section at the grocery store.  They were super easy to use.

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli - adapted from Giada De Laurentis' Prosciutto Ravioli
15 oz of whole milk ricotta cheese
1 (10 oz) package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
48 wonton wrappers...or so.  1 package will be plenty

Whisk together the first 5 ingredients in a medium size bowl.  Filling done.  Next lay out some wonton wrappers on a baking sheet and put about 1 Tbsp of filling in the center of each square.  I used a small ice cream type scoop for that.  The same one I use for cookie dough, makes it go much quicker with a lot less mess.  Fill a small bowl with a bit of water.  Using your finger, dip into the water then trace the edges of a wrapper.  Fold the wrapper in half like a triangle and then pinch the sides to seal it.  Try to make sure you get all the air out of the pocket as you are sealing it.  Continue on until you run out of filling!

To cook the ravioli, boil them in salted water for about four minutes.  It's best to boil them in batches so you don't crowd them.  Serve these with your favorite pasta sauce!  Since Aaron doesn't do well with tomatoes still, I used the butter sauce in Giada's original recipe.
Hmm, what is this?

Who cares?  Just shove it in there like this!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How-To Tuesday! Ricotta Cheese

You might not guess it but Ricotta Cheese is so easy to make!  All you need is some milk, cream, and vinegar or lemon juice.  The result is so fresh and creamy; it really puts the store bought stuff to shame!  This is a great  way to amp up your favorite lasagna recipe...or maybe the ravioli recipe I'm posting tomorrow?

Fresh Ricotta Cheese - adapted from
2 quarts whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp. white vinegar

In a large pot over medium heat, slowly bring the milk, cream and salt to a boil.  Stir occasionally.  Meanwhile, line a colander with cheesecloth and put it into a clean sink.  Once the milk is boiling, add the vinegar and reduce the heat to low.  While stirring, allow the pot to simmer until curds begin to form.  That takes only about 2 minutes!  At that point remove the pot from heat and pour it into the colander.  Let the cheese drain for about an hour.

Gather the cheese cloth together above the curds and twist to squeeze out any remaining liquid.  Put the ricotta into a storage container with lid and keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.  It only keeps for about two days so use it soon!

If you are a big fan of Indian food like Alex and I, once drained, press the cheese into the bottom of a square storage container.  When it is cold cut it into cubes....homemade paneer!  You can brown the paneer in a frying pan with a  little oil and serve it with some Tikka Masala sauce and rice for a great vegetarian dinner.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Where's the Beef?

Beef is a sort of tough finger food, literally.  Alex and I don't eat a ton of red meat but when we do it is most often in the form of a steak, remember this one?  Yum.  But as the twins are still working on the whole growing teeth thing, steak just doesn't work for them.  We have done burgers of course... but ground beef shouldn't be the whole of their beef experience!

Short ribs are usually something we do in the winter; a nice hearty beef dish with a risotto or potato gratin. However, we knew the tender texture of the shredded short ribs would be perfect for mashing between toothless gums so we decided to make them this past weekend despite the summer heat.  Instead of a heavy warm side, we made a light cucumber salad to go with them.  It was delicious, a great family meal.  We made the salad during the morning nap and the short ribs were cooking in the oven while we all splashed in the kids' new hippo pool in the backyard. (Sorry no pictures of that, the kids prefer to skinny dip and we don't need THOSE kind of pictures on the internet!)  All in all it was a great Sunday and we had a great Sunday meal.

Short ribs are something we've been making for a while so we don't use a recipe.  The key is just cooking them low and slow with a lot of red wine.  How could it be bad, right?

Braised Short Ribs
3lbs bone-in short ribs
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp butter
1 bottle of red wine
4 cups vegetable stock (or beef, use what you have!)
5 sage leaves
3 sprigs of rosemary
5 sprigs of thyme


Preheat the oven to 325 F.  Season the short ribs on both sides with salt and pepper.  In a large dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt the butter.  Brown the short ribs on all sides.  Next add your bottle of wine and the rest of the ingredients to your pot and bring it to a boil.  Once it begins to bowl, transfer the pot into the oven and cook, covered, for about 2 1/2 hours.  The meat will be falling of the bones.  Transfer the meat to plates (or highchair trays!) and serve!  You won't even need a knife for this one; the meat will fall apart with just a fork.  So tender and juicy.  Enjoy!


Friday, August 5, 2011

Cool Summer Gazpacho

I have a confession.  Before making this, I had never eaten gazpacho.  I was missing out!  Lots of my favorite summer things: tomatoes, cucumbers, red bell peppers...and it's a soup!  I love soup.  In the winter Alex and I usually have a soup day once a week.  We make and freeze soups so we have an easy healthy dinner with some nice crusty bread.  But in this 100+ degree weather out here in the desert (and apparently across the country) soup hasn't been on the menu for quite some time.  What a great time to try some cold soup.  (with crusty bread too of course!)

Now, as I said, I'd never had gazpacho before so I turned to my number one most trusted celebrity chef for a recipe.  Ina Garten.  (Sorry Gordon!)  Ina's recipe recommends letting the soup chill and rest for a while before serving so Alex and I knocked this out during nap time.  He chopped the veggies and I (wo)manned the processor.  We were done in a flash.

Gazpacho, adapted from Ina Garten
1 hothouse cucumber, halved and seeded, but not peeled
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
4 plum tomatoes
1 small red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 c. tomato juice (23 oz)
1/4 c. white wine vinegar
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2  Tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Chop all the vegetables into 1 inch pieces.  One type of vegetable at a time,  pulse them in the food processor until coarsely chopped and remove to a large bowl.  Once all the veggies are processed and in the large bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine.  Put in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour but longer if possible. This is great the next day!!

We enjoyed the soup immensely with a few little crostini that Alex made from a baguette, some leftover pesto, and some mozzarella cheese.  A great, light, dinner to beat the heat.  (And the scale after scarfing down so much pulled pork and macaroni salad over the weekend!)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Herb Crusted Snapper

So who loves Gordon Ramsay?  Alex does. I think he has a man crush.  But seriously Gordon Ramsay gets much love from this house. I think Gordon Ramsay has become almost more famous to the general population for dropping as many F bombs in a sentence as humanly possible on Hell's Kitchen or for his (slightly) kinder, more gentler side on MasterChef (love that show!) than for his food.  And that's too bad because his food is amazing!  Rumor has it he is opening a restaurant here in Vegas soon and we can't wait.  But for now, we'll just stick to his cookbooks and one pretty awesome app for the trusty iPad.

We own two Ramsay cookbooks: Gordon Ramsay Makes It Easy and Gordon Ramsay's Maze.  The first is easy to cook from.  The second is like following a maze.  Imagine that.  His app, though, called Cook With Me is super cool.  Every recipe has a short video showing him cooking the recipe from start to finish, along with a flip through presentation with step by step pictures and instructions.  He even includes little tips like how to chop an onion super fast.  These recipes are mostly pretty easy to do, especially with the included instructions, and we've yet to find one we didn't like.

Herb Crusted Snapper is adapted from Ramsay's recipe for Herb Crusted Fillets of Brill with Tomato Salsa, found on the Cook With Me app.

2 large fillets of Red Snapper
olive oil
1/4 packaged bread crumbs (or about 2-3 slices of stale bread made into crumbs)
3 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
1 small bunch of parsley
6 oz cherry tomatoes, halved
2 shallots, sliced thin
1 small bunch of basil
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Season the fish with salt and pepper and then place it in a hot oiled pan and saute for about 1 minute on each side.  The fish should be golden brown.  Place it on a baking sheet and set aside. Add about 1 Tbsp of olive oil to the empty pan.  Heat the oil and then add your tomatoes and shallots. Season with salt and pepper.  Chiffonade the basil.  (Fancy word for chop, follow the link for instructions!) Add that to your tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Now add your bread or crumbs, parmesan and parsley to your food processor and pulse to finely grind them together.  Add a bit of salt and pepper.  Now spoon some of the tomato mixture over your fish portions and then sprinkle them liberally with the breadcrumbs.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.  When they come out, plate the fish and drizzle them with a little bit of olive oil.  

This is a great mild fish to try with kids. The twins' favorite fish so far I think.  It was so easy to flake this into finger friendly pieces and so nice to sit down and enjoy dinner without making a second "kid" meal.  Hope you like it!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fresh Lemon Mousse

My husband isn't a complainer.  He once broke his toe on the morning of our first day on a trip in New Orleans.  He did not say a single word to me about it and we walked all day around the city.  Not until evening when we got back to the hotel and he took off his shoes did I notice that his entire toe was black.  When I asked him why he hadn't said anything, he said there was nothing we could do about it and he'd be fine.  If this had happened to me you can bet I would have whined all day, hobbled along, and  likely spent most of my day sitting down, probably with a glass of wine to make me feel better ;).

So yeah, he isn't a complainer.  Unless I tried to make him a dish prepared with lemon.  Because he was apparently the only person in the world who loved food but didn't like lemon.  WAS.  Several dishes this past summer have cured him of this and Ina Garten's fresh lemon mousse is one of them.  

This is the perfect summer dessert.  Light and fluffy, creamy and tart....yum!  Perfect for a few sweet bites after a dinner and definitely works for entertaining too.  Make sure to serve it with some homemade whipped cream!  The mild sweet flavor of the whipped cream compliments the tartness of the lemon perfectly.

Fresh Lemon Mousse, adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
3 extra-large whole eggs
3 extra-large eggs, seperated
1 c. plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice (4-5 lemons)
kosher salt
1 cup whipping cream
sweetened whipped cream

Whisk together the whole eggs, three egg yolks, 1 cup sugar and the lemon juice and zest in a large heat-proof bowl.  A glass bowl works nicely.  Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water to create a double boiler effect.  Stir egg mixture with a wooden spoon until it thickens to a consistency like pudding.  Ina says this takes her 10-12 minutes but it has always taken me more like 20.  Don't worry if it is taking you a while, you are slowly cooking the eggs and once they cook it will thicken up I promise!  Once it is thickened remove the bowl and set it aside to cool for about 15 minutes.  Then place some plastic wrap directly on the surface of the of the mixture and put the bowl into the refrigerator for at least an hour or until completely chilled.  

Then put half of your remaining egg whites and a pinch of salt into your mixer and beat on high with the whisk attachment.  Add the remaining sugar and beat on high until the egg whites are shiny and form stiff peaks when you lift up the whisk.  Fold the egg whites into the cold lemon mixture until well combined.  Add you cream to the mixer (no need to clean it!) and beat on high until the cream, too, forms stiff peaks.  Fold that into the lemon mixture too.  Pour the whole thing into a souffle dish around 7 inches in diameter and 3 inches deep. I use one a little bigger so I can put a lid on it and keep it in the refrigerator for us to enjoy for a few days. If you are going to serve this at a party, pipe on some whipped cream to decorate.  (Something I need some work on!)   Or if it's just you and your honey... make up the whipped cream in a separate bowl and just put a dollop on each portion.  This way you'll have some left over for tomorrow night....hopefully.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How-To Tuesday! Whipped Cream

Whipped cream is a nice addition to just about any dessert!  But don't grab that can of redi-whip or the tub of cool whip just yet...this stuff is quick and easy to make. Homemade whipped cream is so simple and it tastes so much better than the processed stuff.

Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Put all the ingredients into your stand mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on high until the cream looks shiny and forms stiff peaks. Serve with a slice of pie or fold into a delicious lemon mousse...but that's for tomorrow. :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Alex's Pulled Pork

I've never been a huge fan of BBQ. Gasp!  Un-American I know!  But I'm just too girly to enjoy getting my fingers messy eating ribs and I really don't like most barbecue sauces.  Glorified ketchup in my opinion.  But!  Pulled pork is Alex's specialty and I love this stuff.  Like most people, I think, Alex used to make his pulled pork in a slow cooker and it was good.  But the real magic happened when he decided to use the dutch oven.  Suddenly we had the juiciest pulled pork ever; no need for bbq sauce at all!

This recipe is an easy crowd-pleaser.   Instead of asking us to bring chips and dip or a salad, we have friends who ask us to bring this!  And no problem!  We can make it the day before, and for $10 or so, feed an army.  And since I am apparently breeding a small army of little (if you can call a 27 lb, 10 month old baby little) boys, this is a great recipe for us here at home too.

Pulled Pork
6-8 lbs pork shoulder (or butt)
 - 2 Tbsp. paprika
 - 3 tsp. kosher salt
 - 2 tsp. garlic powder
 - 2 tsp. onion Powder
 - 2 tsp. cayenne pepper
 - 2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
 - 1 tsp. dried oregano
 - 1 tsp. dried thyme

Preheat oven to 300 F.  Mix together all the ingredients for the rub and, um, rub it all over the pork.  Be liberal with it but don't feel like you have to use it all.  We use the leftovers for all kinds of things from sprinkling on roasted cauliflower to burgers.  Put the pork into the dutch oven, and pop it into the oven.  Cook, covered, for 6 hours.  The meat will be falling apart and very juicy! Use a fork to pull the meat apart, then remove it to a large bowl using a slotted spoon to drain away some of the fat. That's it!  Delicious.

The kids seemed to really like it.  It is a great finger food for the babes because the meat is so soft and tender.  No teeth necessary!

Happy eating his new food, even with pork on his cheeks

This is a new face around here, the "GIVE ME MORE" face.  He makes his little fists, screws up his face and sort of growls! Fun.  He's going to be a terror.