Monday, January 31, 2011

How We Built A Children's Play Table

Please ignore the funky leg in the back. The table wasn't QUITE done when I took the picture!

 My husband and I both grew up in homes where if something broke, you called in someone else to fix it. We, however, like to try and do things ourselves, first. We do have our limits. Our fridge is leaking water and I called in a repair guy for that job. But my husband replaced the broken garbage disposal on his own. We love being do-it-yourself-ers!

I have been looking for a good, sturdy, wood children's table for our play area. Unfortunately, the prices on a good wood table starts at $100 and go up from there. As it turns out, you can make one for about $20.

Sometime ago I stumbled upon Ana-White's DIY website. I was amazed at all the furniture people were making and how easy it seemed. Well, it is easy! Actually, I can't believe how ridiculously simple this table was to make. We had the (really bad) cuts made at the store so we didn't need a saw (although we now really want one!). Aside from the wood, the only other thing we purchased was a pocket hole jig. We made some mistakes along the way, but we still ended up with a very usable table.

Ella is in love with this table!

We're still learning our way around the lumber side of the hardware stores and we had a healthy debate about which pocket hole jig to purchase (we finally ended up with a Kreg Jig). But I absolutely love that my husband and I are continuing to learn new skills and that we're brave enough to jump in with both feet and go for it!

I'm going to let Ella help me paint it this week. Then we'll start on the chairs to go with the table!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

White Wine Clam Sauce

I had never had clam sauce of any kind until I met my husband. We were grocery shopping together just after we were married and he pulled down a CAN of clam sauce. It's funny the items we never notice in the grocery store, isn't it? I had never seen the stuff before, but I'm sure it was there.

Unfortunately for my husband, we started not buying prepared foods and so the clam sauce went by the wayside. Fortunately for my husband, I found this fantastically easy recipe for clam sauce! I normally try to avoid canned anything due to BPA concerns, but canned clams are one of the few canned items I will now buy. Until I find an alternative, that is!

Don't worry about the heavy cream if you don't have it. The sauce will be just as good with out it. In fact, we've never had clam sauce with cream - it's good, but not essential. You can also throw in some tomatoes in lieu of the cream if you have them.

White Wine Clam Sauce
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, diced
1 Tablespoon white wine
2, 6.5 oz cans of clams, juice reserved
1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half

In a large pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium high heat until butter is melted. Add garlic and wine and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add in reserved clam juice. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low and add clams and cream. Stir until heated through.

Serve sauce over any long pasta like linguine or spaghetti.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Martha's Baked Macaroni and Cheese

The search for a really good macaroni and cheese recipe ends here. I grew up eating Kraft Macaroni and Cheese out of a box and it is the macaroni and cheese that I LOVE! But all that bright orange nonsense just does not sit well with me now that I'm the mama. Finding a macaroni and cheese recipe that I like just as much, if not even better, than the boxed stuff has been difficult. I should have known to start with Martha Stewart. This recipe takes a few steps, but it is worth every single one!

According to the directions I found, this recipe makes a huge batch of mac and cheese and that it serves 12. So I halved it. BIG MISTAKE. I was feeding three adults and two kids and it was not nearly enough. So DO NOT halve this unless you are cooking for one (maybe two).

I bought Gruyere at Whole Foods, but I also saw it at Sam's Club. Whole Foods was a tad more expensive per pound, but I could get exactly the amount I needed rather than a huge block at Sam's.

I find it convenient to prep and bake in a Dutch oven, but if you don't have one, just transfer the mixture to a 3 quart casserole dish before baking. I'm really sorry I forgot to take pictures! I was just too excited to EAT!

Martha's Baked Macaroni and Cheese
8 Tablespoons butter
6 slices of bread, torn in to 1/4-1/2 inch pieces
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 1/2 cups white cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups Gruyere cheese, grated
1 pound small pasta

Cook pasta in salted water until just underdone. Strain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

Melt 2 Tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan. Pour melted butter in a bowl with bread and toss to coat. Set aside.

Put saucepan back on medium heat and warm milk. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 6 Tablespoons of butter in a large Dutch oven. Whisk in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly pour in warmed milk, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Keep whisking and cooking until mixture bubbles and thickens, about 10 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and stir in salt, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, black pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese and 1 1/2 cup Gruyere. Stir in pasta. Top with remaining cheeses and bread crumbs.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until browned.

Original recipe found at Smitten Kitchen (I only altered the method).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Spinach Stuffed Shells

I'm not very big on "stuffed" pasta because I get really bored standing there filling pasta. But I have a hard time passing up anything with spinach in it. Plus, you can make a double batch of this recipe and freeze it for later. If I'm going to stand there filling the pasta, I'd better be making enough for at least two meals! This recipe actually made a 9 x 13 pan plus a few extra shells in a small casserole dish.

You can use a 10 ounce package of frozen chopped spinach instead of fresh (thaw it first). I used half a container of fresh spinach and it was not nearly enough so I'm guessing it will take three-quarters to the entire container of spinach. Decide how much you like and go with it.

Spinach Stuffed Shells
1 package jumbo pasta shells
1 container of fresh baby spinach
2-3 cloves of garlic, diced
1/2 onion, diced
Olive oil
1 jar of spaghetti sauce (or about 2-3 cups homemade)
3 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 cup small curd cottage cheese
1 egg

Cook pasta shells in salted water just until barely done -- you want them a tad undercooked. Strain and set aside.

In a large pan heat about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Saute onion and garlic until onion is clear. Add in spinach as much as you can, stirring to wilt and cook down. Continue to add in spinach and drizzle with olive oil until all spinach is cooked down. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl mix together, cottage cheese, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg, and spinach.

Pour about 1/2 cup pasta sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Stuff pasta shells with cheese/spinach mixture, placing shells in to the pan. Once all shells are stuffed, pour the rest of the pasta sauce on top of the shells and then cover with remaining mozzarella cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes until cheese is melted and pasta is heated through.

Adapted from Sisters Cafe.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rosemary Onion Foccacia

I have been making pretty much all of the bread we eat for somewhere around 3 years. I am always game for a new bread recipe (I'm trying a honey whole wheat one this week), but I always end up back using the  Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (AB5) method and recipes.  AB5 is hands down the easiest method of making bread with the absolute best results I've found. The recipe is not fussy at all and there is a lot of room for mistakes interpretation. I really can't say enough good things about this method of baking bread and I think if there is one cookbook I'd recommend, it's this one.

I often use the olive oil dough for pizzas, but I decided to try the Rosemary and Onion Foccacia to have with dinner.  You basically put some lightly sauteed onion, dried rosemary, and sea salt on the dough, let rest and bake. Delicious!

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hot Chocolate on A Stick

We have been in the upper 60's and even the low 70's (!) this week so hot chocolate has not been high on our beverage list. But I understand that many of you are still buried in snow and wearing boots and that type of stuff. So for you, I have hot chocolate on a stick.

I first saw hot chocolate on a stick mentioned in a magazine with the website where you could buy it.  It didn't seem to me that it could be all that difficult to make yourself and I was right. Talk about super easy! I used mini-muffin cups for mine, but an ice cube tray would work just fine, too.

I used some melting chocolate, but I'm sure chocolate chips would work. I also made my own powdered sugar by blending sucanat in my blender. It's brown, but that gets hidden in the chocolate.

I did find that these make some VERY chocolatey hot chocolate so you could easily put less on the stick. 

Hot Chocolate on A Stick
1 cup milk or semi-sweet chocolate, diced up
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup powdered sucanat
Pinch of salt

Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Remove from heat once most of the chocolate is melted and stir until the rest is melted. Stir in cocoa powder, sucanat, and salt. The mixture will be thick.

Using a small cookie scoop, spoon, spatula or whatever, scoop chocolate in to chosen container. This recipe made 12 mini muffin sized sticks for me. Add a stick. I used lollipop sticks, but I would recommend stir sticks as the paper on mine started to come apart in the milk. Allow to cool at room temperature.

To use: Immerse stick in a mug of hot milk. Stir to combine. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Giver's Log (she has a ton of info on cooking with chocolate!).

Friday, January 14, 2011

Coconut Cream Syrup

This is the same basic recipe as the Cinnamon Cream Syrup, only I left out the cinnamon and added in coconut extract. I also halved the recipe so we didn't have so much leftover.

Coconut Cream Syrup
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 Tabelspoons sugar
1 teaspoon coconut extract

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and whisk constantly until sugar has melted and the syrup is heated through.

Adapted from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

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German Oven Pancake

I have been making German Oven Pancakes for years. I've tried two different recipes, both of which were fine, but had their issues. This recipe, however, was perfect. The batter puffed up nicely and we had plenty to eat. In fact, we had leftovers, which never happens with German Oven Pancakes around here. I tripled the recipe below and baked 2/3 of the batter in a 9x13 pan and 1/3 in a cast iron skillet.

I almost always have issues with the pancakes sticking and this recipe was no exception, but the pancakes didn't stick quite as badly. I have no idea why the pancakes stick. I've tried every suggestion under the sun to get them not to stick but so far nothing has worked. So just be prepared for a little sticking.

I have no idea why the eggs need to be at room temperature since you mix them with COLD milk. But I did warm them up a bit by placing them in a bowl with some tepid water.

The traditional way to serve these is with a squirt of lemon juice and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. I prefer them, however, with a coconut cream syrup and I'll put that recipe up today, too. But maple syrup is just as yummy!

German Oven Pancakes
3 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Butter a 12" skillet or pan.

Whisk eggs in a large bowl until thoroughly mixed. Add milk and blend well. Combine flour and salt in a medium bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Add the flour to the egg mixture while constantly whisking. Whisk to blend until smooth. Add the melted butter and mix until smooth.

Pour batter into pan and bake for 15 minutes. If you are using smaller pans, the pancakes should be done. If using larger pans, lower temp to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hoe Cake

This "cake" is actually one big biscuit, but the kids loved thinking they were getting "cake"! I would say this recipe ties with the Cream Biscuits for my favorite biscuit recipe. It is quick, easy, light, flaky and just delicious. We ate with eggs and jam, but it would be good with a sausage gravy, too.

You can use whatever "fat" you want in the pan. I used bacon grease and it was beyond words good, but you could also use butter, coconut oil or whatever other healthy fat you like. 

The top view -- just out of the oven

I don't use "regular" shortening because the ingredients scare me, but organic shortening is much healthier and works just as well, if not better, than Crisco. But if you are still using Crisco or the likes, you can use it in place of the organic shortening.

I baked mine in a cast iron skillet, but an 8 inch round cake pan or pie tin would work just as well.

Flipped over and ready to eat!

Hoe Cake
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup organic shortening
1 cup milk

Pour a thin layer of fat (oil, butter, etc) in an cast iron skillet or 8" pie/cake pan. Put the pan in the oven. Turn oven on to 425 degrees and allow to pre-heat.

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut in shortening with a fork or pastry cutter. Create a well in the flour mixture. Add in milk and mix just until wet.

Remove pan from oven and pour batter in to it. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Invert cake on to plate and cut into wedges to serve.

Adapted from Southern Plate.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pancakes for A Crowd

I may have mentioned that we are a pancake loving family. For years I would stand at the stove for what seemed like hours, flipping 1 or 2 pancakes at a time in the largest frying pan I owned. Last year my mother took pity on me and bought me a cast iron griddle. I love it so much and use it so often that it has taken up permanent residency on my stovetop.  I can usually get 5-6 pancakes on the griddle at one time so it has made pancake making quick and easy, but sometimes I want to use the griddle for something else or just don't want to stand there flipping pancakes at 5 AM!

I read a tip somewhere that you could bake pancakes when serving a crowd. I decided to try it out on New Year's Day. I used a pancake mix from my sister and poured it in to a greased jelly roll pan. Then I baked it at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes. Perfect! These were pretty delicate so cutting them up was a bit crumbly.I'll definitely be using this trick again in the future!

Voila! Easy pancakes for a crowd!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

We love beef stroganoff, but I've really struggled to find a good recipe. I love this version! This recipe has a bit of a laundry list of ingredients, but don't let that scare you off. This is super easy and delicious enough to serve to company! I have decreased the amount of sour cream called for in the original because I think it overwhelmed the other flavors and increased the mushrooms because I love them! My roast was frozen solid so I cooked it on high for 2 hours and then on low for another 6 hours.

This recipe starts in the slow cooker and finishes on the stove.

Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff
1- 1 1/2 pound beef sirloin/round steak roast
1 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons flour
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/4cup beef broth (strain and use liquid from slow cooker)
1/2 to 3/4 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Season beef roast with salt and pepper. Place in slow cooker with 1 cup of water. Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. Remove roast from slow cooker and slice (or dice) in to strips (or chunks).

Melt butter in a large pot. Cook onions, mushrooms and garlic for a few minutes, then add in 1/4 cup beef stock. Continue to cook until softened. Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Add 1 cup broth, lemon juice, and vinegar and stir to combine. Add in sour cream and salt and pepper to taste. Heat through, but do not boil.

Serve over egg noodles or (my favorite) toast.

Adapted from Once A Month Mom

Friday, January 7, 2011

Cinnamon Cream Syrup

This is yet another fabulous recipe from The Breakfast Book. I am not a huge fan of maple syrup. I recently discovered Grade B Maple Syrup and I like that better than Grade A, but still it's not my favorite garnish. My all time favorite syrup is coconut cream, but it's hard to find. In fact, I'm thinking of adapting this recipe to make some!

This syrup is delicious and a nice break from maple or if you run out of maple syrup and need something for your pancakes.  They syrup is a bit thin and runny, but that didn't bother me. It keeps well in the fridge for weeks.

Cinnamon Cream Syrup
5 Tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinammon

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and cook until sugar is melted and syrup is hot.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cream Biscuits

I've been on the search for the perfect biscuit recipe for a while now. I want them light and flaky and buttery. But biscuits can be a tad tricky and getting them perfectly light and flaky has eluded me.

Until now.  This is another recipe from Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book and apparently this is a James Beard recipe that never fails. If you've wanted to try biscuits or ever thought they were too hard -- try this recipe! I will never go back to any other way of making biscuits.

Cream Biscuits
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
4-5 Tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Whisk to incorporate together.  While stirring constantly, slowly add in 1 cup cream. Use hands to form mixture in to a dough and add more cream if necessary to form a dough. Knead for 1 minute.  Pat dough into a square that is 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 12 squares. Dip each biscuit in butter, covering completely, and place on a jelly roll pan about 2 inches apart. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Coconut Banana Bread

I am always on the lookout for a new banana bread recipe. In general, my kids eat about 9 pounds of bananas a week (seriously), but every once in a while I get stuck with a bunch that go brown before they get eaten. This recipe is absolutely, hands down the best banana bread I have ever eaten. EVER.  I think it's a combination of the rum and sucanat that give it this fabulously intense flavor.

Coconut Banana Bread
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sucanat
1/4 cup softened butter
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (3 bananas)
1/4 cup vanilla yogurt
1 teaspoon rum extract
1/2 cup flaked coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat sugar and butter together until well blended. Add in eggs, one at a time, beating well to incorporate after each egg. Add banana, yogurt and rum extract. Beat until blended. Add in dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in 1/2 cup coconut.

Put batter in to a well greased loaf pan. Sprinkle 1 Tablepsoon of coconut on top of loaf. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes and then allow to cool on a wire rack.

Adapted from Cooking Light.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Off My Needles: Wristwarmers

I knit these fingerless gloves (or wristwarmers, I'm not quite sure what the difference is) for my sister, Karin, who lives in Northern Michigan. She's a writer so she spends her days typing frantically on her computer and during the winter, her hands get cold. 

The pattern is ironically called KARIN Wristwarmers so I had to use it. The pattern is available on Ravelry. The yarn is Berroco Ultra Alpaca, I think. It was in my stash without the label.

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