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.