Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We've Moved!

 I have been thinking/dreaming/imagining a move for this blog for almost 3 years now.  I lost my domain name for two years, but now it's back! And I've moved the site over to Wordpress.  I'm still learning the ropes and the design is pretty basic right now, but it doesn't make sense to keep posting HERE when eventually I want everything to be THERE.  This site will be left up as is, but I won't be posting anymore. If you are reading in a reader, the RSS feed is set up and should work, but if it isn't please let me know!

So as of today you can find us over here at Growing Up Gabel (version 2.0)! On to bigger and better things!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Babysteps to Homeschooling

Just after we were married my husband and I met a family who helped us navigate our first year of marriage (and a new job and a move 2,000 miles way from our families!).  We were surprised to discover that the children in this family were homeschooled. We were blessed to spend a year being a part of their lives and we both came away fairly convinced that if and when the time came, we'd want to homeschool, too.

Well, the time has come! Ella turned five this month and she is officially old enough for school.  We decided not to start her with a formal Kindergarten program just yet.  The goal is to have her graduating high school at 18, not 17, so we'll wait one more year to make it "official".   But I thought we'd take this year and ease our way in to things.

I'm finding the whole idea of homeschooling overwhelming. I figure if I start homeschooling when it doesn't really "count", I won't be quite so panicked!  My goal for this school year is pretty simple: learn our letters (and maybe the sounds) and numbers and have some fun. That's it!  I'm not even pushing for reading (GASP!).

As we make our way along this journey, I'm planning to share what I'm finding and doing. There are tons of free resources available thanks to the internet and even if you're not homeschooling, a lot of what is available is just plain fun!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Homemade Pudding Pops

These went over like CRAZY around here! My kids loved, my husband raved over them and I didn't think they were too bad, either.  I used a popsicle mold I bought at IKEA about 8 years ago (and this is the first time I've used it!), but you could also use paper cups and popsicle sticks. 

I do brush her hair every morning....

Homemade Pudding Pops
1 batch of homemade chocolate pudding
Popsicle mold or paper cups/sticks

Use a spoon to fill mold or cups. If using cups, cover with plastic wrap and then insert sticks.  Freeze for about 4-5 hours. Unmold and enjoy!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Homemade Chocolate Pudding

Like most kids of the 70's and 80's, I grew up eating Jell-O pudding from the box. I do believe my mom had to actually cook it, though.  We loved chocolate pudding and I still remember the little Tupperware bowls with lids that she'd put the pudding in for dessert later.

While I haven't actually looked at the ingredient list of a Jell-O pudding box in ages, I'm fairly certain it's not a whole foods, whole living kind of list.  I was also pretty certain that homemade pudding could not be that hard to make.

With the idea of making our own "pudding pops", the newly turned 5 year old donned her brand-new Star Wars apron from Aunt Mimi and we set to work.  The texture of this pudding is a bit different from the boxed stuff, but my kids don't seem to care (probably because I've never made the boxed stuff for them).

I don't know where she gets these poses from!

(Arrowroot powder is a substitution for corn starch. You could probably use corn starch, but I haven't tried it. I do, however, substitute arrowroot for corn starch all the time.)

Homemade Chocolate Pudding
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup sucanat
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup arrowroot powder
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 Tablespoons butter

In a medium saucepan whisk together milk, sucanat, egg yolks, arrowroot and cocoa powders and salt.  STIRRING CONSTANTLY, heat over medium heat just until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat and continue to stir until smooth and creamy (mine had some texture at first, but keep stirring and they'll go away!). Add butter and vanilla and mix.  Serve warm, chilled, or frozen.

Recipe from Heavenly Homemakers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Balloon Wreath

This is a super fun, cute and easy craft to liven up your front door for a birthday or celebration.  You could buy specific colors of balloons to match an occasion or theme. I did a multi colored wreath because I want to use the wreath for everyone's birthday each year.  The wreath cost me about $6 total to make (thanks to coupons!).

1 straw wreath (keep plastic on)
1 pack of floral pins
4 packs of balloons

Start pinning balloons to the wreath... and keep pinning and pinning and pinning until it is as full as you'd like it to be! The balloons are only on the front of the wreath so if you want to cover the sides and back, you'll need more balloons.

The Birthday Girl

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How To Bake Bread on the Grill

I'm not sure this really counts as a "how to" post, since I've only baked bread on the grill once and I just threw it together.  But it worked so I thought I'd share.

My go to bread baking technique is the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day method. I baked and froze a ton of this bread in May, but we just recently ran out. With cooler temps this past week, I decided to re-stock the freezer.  On the same evening that I planned to bake bread, we made pizza on our grill so I decided to try and bake a loaf of bread as long as the grill was hot.

I put a sheet of parchment paper in a disposable pie tin. I tore off a chunk of bread dough from my batch, tucked it under (as directed for the "gluten coat") and tossed it in the pie tin.  I did not let the bread rest (AB5 bread usually rests for 40 minutes before baking) -- I just slashed the top.  I baked the bread on the "warming rack" of our grill.  The grill was on high for a good 30 minutes and the top was open and closed as we baked our pizzas.  I kept an eye on the bread as we cooked.  The crust got a bit toasty, but the crust was nice and hard once it was done. It tasted great!

I kept the bread off heat because I didn't want the bottom to char and it was still a bit darker than normal. This is a pretty unscientific method, but worth a shot if you need bread and don't want to heat up your house.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lemon Scones

Scones always make me think of Pooh... and I forgot to take a picture!

If you read this blog at all, you know that I love scones! They are so easy and quick to make.  This is a nice sweet scone with just a hint of lemon and is perfect for a nice summer breakfast.

Lemon Scones
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sucanat (or sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, cut in to small pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
Turbinado or Raw sugar

In the bowl of a food processor (or a large mixing bowl) combine flour, sucanat, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pulse (or whisk) together. Add in butter and pulse (or cut in) until mixture is in small cornmeal type pieces. Pulse (or stir) in buttermilk and lemon zest just until a dough forms.

Dump dough out on to counter and knead a few times.  Gently pat down dough in to a round disk, about 8 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick. Using a pizza cutter (or a knife) cut disk into 8 wedges. Separate wedges and spread out on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle tops of scones with Turbinado/raw sugar.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until edges and tops are just lightly browned.

Adapted from Pennies on a Platter

Image courtesy of Google Images

Monday, July 18, 2011

Happy 5th Birthday!

Today is this beautiful girl's 5th birthday. FIFTH! She requested chocolate for dinner and I'm doing my best to make that wish come true.  This one is a handful, but she also is full of the most delightful surprises. Like telling me that something is "just a splendid idea!"  Or spending hours playing with a twig that she named Sparkles. And loving all things princess, rainbow, unicorn, Star Wars and Godzilla!  Even though she's old enough for school this year, we've decided to wait another year. No use in hurrying things along. She'll have lots of time to grow up, but only a few short years to be a kid.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Girl!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Beer Can Chicken on the Grill

My husband and I first made beer can chicken shortly after we were married.  For whatever reason, we weren't impressed. We had bought one of those metal devices you can use to put the beer can in and balance the chicken.  Fast forward seven years and we're spending a summer night cleaning out our garage (and making two trips with a packed mini-van to Goodwill!) and I find the beer can chicken gadget. I decided that we should give beer can chicken another go.

This time we make the chicken, we live in the desert and it's hot, hot, hot outside. I love using the grill every chance we can get and roasting a chicken outside is perfect for our current lifestyle.  This time, I fall in love with the chicken. The skin is perfectly crisp and the meat is perfectly moist inside.  Our family inhaled a 4 pound bird. We grilled our chicken on a round baking sheet, just for ease of moving the bird in and out of the house.

I saw a website call this "Coq Au Can" - and that's my new name for it!

Beer Can Chicken on the Grill (or Grilled Coq Au Can)
1 3-4 pound chicken
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Italian Spices
Seasoned Salt
1 can of beer, root beer, soda, whatever you want

Remove innards and neck from chicken.  Pat dry.

Prepare rub (this is my husband's "home rub"): mix together salt, pepper, paprika, Italian spice mix, and seasoned salt in a small bowl. Use as much as you like for each flavor, about equal amounts, but watch the salt!

Pour out half the liquid from your can.  Set can inside metal holder, if you have one.  Otherwise, put chicken over can and place on a baking sheet.  Rub chicken all over with olive oil, then rub on the spice mixture.

Turn on the heat on only one side of your grill and allow grill to warm up.  Place chicken on the OTHER SIDE of the grill (cook it off heat). Close the top and walk away.  Half-way through your cooking time (around 30 minutes) rotate the chicken 180 degrees so that the sides of chicken are evenly crisped.

We cooked our chicken with the grill on high heat and it was done in under an hour. I would suggest using a lower cooking temp, but it's not necessary. Just rotate the chicken so all sides are evenly browned. Use a meat thermometer to determine doneness by inserting the thermometer in to the thigh area. Chicken is done at 180 degrees.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce

We take our ice cream very seriously around here. We even have personalized ice cream bowls:

This is some of the best hot fudge sauce I've ever had.  And it took about 10 minutes to make. I used high quality, 70% cacao Sharfen Berger dark chocolate and I'm pretty sure that's what took this sauce over the top. But I think you could use semi-sweet chocolate chips and get a very good sauce.

Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce
4-5 squares dark chocolate (or 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips)
2 Tablespoons corn syrup
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sucanat (or brown sugar)
A pinch of salt
A small dash of vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Put all ingredients in a heavy bottom sauce pan and heat over medium-low until melted together. Serve hot or warm. Store in refrigerator.

Adapted from Soda Fountain Classics: Ice Cream, Sundaes, Milkshakes, and More

(This is an affiliate link. Thank you!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chinese Chicken Salad

Salads are perfect summer meals.  I try to make one "main course" salad a week. I like to make sure to include some form of protein in a main course salad in order to make it feel more like a meal.  The best part is that main course salads are one dish meals. Make the salad and you are done!

We all loved this salad. In fact, we ran out before everyone got their fill (oops!). My uber picky 4 year old did not eat salads so I put aside some of the chicken for her . If your child likes honey mustard for dipping, you could give them some chicken and dressing. I used leftover grilled chicken breasts on the bone when I made this. But you could cook your own, use a store bought rotisserie chicken, use canned chicken - whatever would work.

Chinese Chicken Salad
1 large head of lettuce, torn or chopped in to bite size pieces
2 chicken breasts, cooked and diced
5-6 green onions, diced
Shredded cheese
Chow mein noodles
Honey Mustard Dijon dressing

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. You can pour the dressing on the salad and toss, or add to individual bowls.

Adapted from Tammy's Kitchen Recipes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Honey Mustard Dijon Dressing

There used to be a restaurant chain I loved called Bennigans. They served a chicken salad with a honey mustard dressing and I loved that salad!  They are no longer in business, but this salad dressing is just like the one they served. It would be great on sandwiches or to be used for dipping.

Honey Mustard Dijon Dressing
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons honey
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons mayo
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon olive oil

Whisk all ingredients together.

Recipe from Tammy's Kitchen Recipes

Monday, July 11, 2011

How To Make Homemade Frozen Home Fries

Cooking on the griddle

I love to make home fries! I actually had no idea that fried, diced potatoes were called "home fries" until after I graduated from college. I'm not sure what  I called them before that! But I love home fries with breakfast and especially with a good tuna melt.

I found a bag of potatoes on clearance at the grocery store for  $.75. I just could not pass it up. I know there are "suggestions" out there as to what kind of potato works best for certain recipes. I can never keep track of that so I just use whatever it is I have on hand to make whatever it is I need.  I don't really care if the potatoes I have aren't "waxy" enough. I'll get over it. So use whatever you want and if you don't like it, just use a different kind the next time.

How to Make Homemade Home Fries (To Eat or Freeze)

1. Cook your potatoes. I fill up my Crock Pot to 2/3 full and turn it on high. It usually takes about 2 hours to cook the potatoes (poke holes in them). But you could bake or boil yours. Just don't let them get too soft. You still want some firmness.

2. Dice up the potatoes. Any which way, any size, will do!

3. To freeze: spread potatoes out on a cookie sheet in a single layer and freeze. Once frozen, put them in a freezer bag or container.

Frozen Home Fries ready to be fried!

How to Cook Home Fries

1. If your potatoes are not frozen, simply fry in a pan or on a skillet with a good amount of fat (butter or bacon grease is super yummy!). Allow them to cook for 5 minutes without stirring to get a nice brown crust. Stir and cook so that all sides brown.

2. If your potatoes are frozen: Heat pan or skillet. Melt butter or bacon grease on pan/skillet. Put frozen potatoes on/in pan/skillet and allow to cook for a good 10-15 minutes WITHOUT STIRRING! Then check a few underneath to see if they are turning a nice brown. If they are, stir and cook until all sides are brown. If they are not yet brown, allow to cook until they are brown and then stir. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Macaroni Salad

I am not much of a macaroni salad (or any pasta salad) eater. I prefer potato salad or coleslaw. But my husband loves potato salad so it's a good recipe to have in my repertoire. Plus, I always have some pasta in the house, which makes this a quick and easy side dish to whip up.

I almost didn't make this recipe because it called for roasted red pepper and I didn't have any peppers in the house. Then I realized it meant the peppers in the JAR! I had an open jar in the fridge so that was that!

This was good! Even I liked it!

Macaroni Salad 
2 cups macaroni pasta
1 roasted red pepper, diced
1/4 cup diced green onions
1/3 to 1/2 (or more) cup mayo
1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice
Paprika, salt, pepper to taste

Cook pasta in salted water until al dente (there should still be a "bite" in the pasta). Drain pasta and run cool water over until it is room temperature.  Add rest of ingredients and stir to mix. Chill.

Adapted (slightly) from Simply Recipes.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Horiatiki Salad (Greek Salad)

During law school, I spent a summer abroad studying law in Athens, Greece.  Having spent a lot of time traveling all over the Middle East prior to starting law school, Athens was a real shock.  But after the summer was over, I had come to really love Athens and Greece.

One of the biggest surprises in Athens was the food.  The food I ate in Greece was very different that the American-Greek food I'd had in the United States.  For example, what we call a "gyro", the Greeks call souvlaki and it's either pork or chicken -- not lamb. In fact, I ate more pork in Greece than I have ever eaten!

Likewise, a salad in Greece does not have any lettuce in it. I can remember dying to get back to the States to have some lettuce! Greece, like most of the Mediterranean, has incredibly delicious produce. I am not a fan of tomatoes, but I couldn't get enough in Greece. Now that summer is upon us and we can get decent produce, Greek salads are a great addition to any meal. Add some tzatiki with french fries and a frappe, and you'll really feel Greek!

Horiatiki Salad (Greek Salad)
1 cucumber, seeded and diced in to cubes
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
Black or Kalamata olives
Feta cheese
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Mix all the vegetables in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle olive oil over the salad and stir gently.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Grilled" Brownie Cupcakes

I had intended to make these for Father's Day, but ran out of eggs and time.  We did manage to get them made for the 4th of July, though.  These are really, really easy and super cute. As an added bonus, if you like cinnamon candy (I do!) those Hot Tamales candies are awesome!

These would be cute at any summer get together!

"Grilled" Brownie Cupcakes
1 batch of your favorite brownie mix (I used this one)
1 tube black gel frosting 
1 box of Hot Tamale candy
Orange colored sugar

Bake brownie mix in a muffin pan (using paper liners is your choice!). Allow brownies to cool.

Use black gel to line each brownie cupcake.  Allow gel to set (about 15 minutes). Sprinkle orange colored sugar over brownie tops.  Using a toothpick, draw grill marks on the Hot Tamale candies. Place candies on brownies.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Full Sour Pickles: The Begining

Aren't they GORGEOUS?!?!

The story of pickles in our home is very complex.  You see, I grew up in a small (small, small) farming town on the mid-western side of Michigan.  My family was Catholic turned non-denominational. Walmart built a store when I was in high school and it was BIG NEWS and the nearest mall was 2 hours away.  I grew up eating Vlasic dill pickles out of the jar. It was a major revelation when I discovered bread and butter pickles at a friend's house. I really never gave pickles much thought.

My husband was raised on Long Island in New York.  His family is Jewish. He had malls within minutes of his house and Walmart was (is!) two stories high (it has this cool escalator that you can take your cart on!)! He grew up eating half-sour and full sour pickles (I didn't know what that was until about 8 years ago, either!) at the corner Kosher deli (probably made at that deli).

When we got married our pickle histories collided.  Seriously. Pickles (or the lack of) are a BIG DEAL around here! I refer to my husband as a "pickle snob" because he will not anything other than a full sour pickle.  Full sours are hard to come by in the grocery store and if you find them, they are expensive.

Of course, I had to figure them out and make themself. How hard can it be? It's a cucumber put in something, right?

It turns out that his half and full sour pickles are actually fermented pickles whereas my Vlasic dills are seasoned pickles.  It also turns out that in order to make half or full sour (half vs. full is just a taste preference based on how long the pickle ferments) you put the cukes in a brine with spices and let it sit on your counter.

Yup, it's that easy! Now, mine just started a few days ago and it will take a week or two to get to full sour. I really have no idea if this recipe is working or not. 

But I am so proud of this huge jar of pickley goodness sitting on my counter, that I just had to share!

Results forthcoming.... (keep your fingers crossed for me!)

And just because you were kind enough to read to the end -- a picture of our cats enjoying the open door a few days ago when the whether cooled off (to 100!).  BJ is the orange kitty and Felix is gray.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Homemade Hoisin Sauce

We eat quite a bit of homemade Chinese food. My pantry is stocked with sweet chili sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, yadda yadda.  It can get pricey, however, if you need to buy ALL those ingredients all at once.  So when I needed hoisin sauce for Chicken Lettuce Wraps, I wanted to see if I could make it myself.

You can!  Hoisin is basically a Chinese barbecue sauce. I have no idea how it compares to the bottled stuff in the store, but it was really good!

Homemade Hoisin Sauce
4 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons peanut butter
1 Tablespoon molasses or honey
2 teaspoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 garlic clove, finely minced
2 teaspoons sesame seed oil
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/8 teaspoon black papper

Combine all ingredients and mix!

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Hmmm... doesn't LOOK so appetizing, but they are really good!

It's kind of funny how you get something stuck in your head for no apparent reason and it won't go away until you do something about it! Or maybe that's just me (and it explains a closet FULL of various arts and crafts projects that never happened).  I got it in my head that Chicken Lettuce Wraps sounded like the perfect summertime meal.  The idea of nice fresh lettuce wrapped around a light delicious protein mixture just struck a chord with me. So of course, I had to make them.

I haven't had them at a restaurant in close to ten years so I can't  vouch for whether or not these taste like Pei Wei or P.F. Changs, but they were very tasty! My husband loved them.  I thought the kids would really dig them, but not so much (except our 2 year old son who just pretty much digs FOOD!).

This is a mix of two different recipes -- one from Food Network Magazine and the other from I used ground chicken because I had it, but feel free to dice up boneless breasts or thighs.  I doubled this recipe using 2 pounds of ground chicken and 1 box of firm tofu.  I keep a lot of these Chinese ingredients on hand because we like to cook our own Chinese food.  Most of it will last you a good year or so. I did however, make my own hoison sauce (which I will post).  Be careful of the oyster sauce -- some brands contain MSG, but others don't. Just read the label carefully.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dry white wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons Arrowroot powder (or corn starch)
1/3 cup water

Whisk all ingredients together and set aside.

1 1/2 pounds diced or ground chicken
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon peeled ginger, minced (you can use powdered, but it's not as flavorful)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (WEAR GLOVES!)
4 scallions, chopped in to 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 pound mushrooms, stemmed and diced
3/4 cup water chestnuts, diced (I did not use these)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 head of iceberg, Boston bibb or butter lettuce, cut in to quarters

In a large skillet, heat 2 Tablespoons of oil (peanut is great!) over medium high heat. Cook chicken until cooked through. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon.

Add 2 Tablespoons oil to pan and heat until almost smoking. Add ginger, jalapeno, garlic, scallions, salt and sugar to pan. Cook for 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and water chestnuts and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add sauce and chicken and cook for 1 minute. (Optional: stir in peanuts)

Serve mixture in lettuce leaves and eat like a taco!

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