Tuesday, March 25, 2008

This week in my kitchen (Week of March 24th)

Typing quick because the baby's fussy! :)

Made these for the first time this week - really good!


1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 c. very warm water
1 T. olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 c. ricotta cheese
1 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c. diced pepperoni
1/2 c. mushrooms, green peppers, or other veggie of your choice
1 tsp. dried basil

1 egg, beaten
marinara sauce for dipping

Dissolve yeast in water; add oil, sugar, salt, and 1 cup flour and mix until smooth. Add remaining flour gradually, forming a soft, workable dough. Knead 5 minutes, until elastic. Place dough in oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover and let rise in warm place for about 40 minutes, or until doubled.

While dough is rising, mix together cheeses, pepperoni, veggies and basil and chill in refrigerator.

Punch dough down, divide into two portions. Roll out each portion on lightly=floured surface into thin circle. Top each circle with half of the filling mixture and fold in half, pinching to seal edges. Place on baking sheet and brush tops of calzones with egg.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Serve with marinara sauce on the side for dipping.


On the baking front, my mom's birthday is this weekend, and as always, I'm making the cake! She's requested a basic white cake with my favorite chocolate butter cream frosting. Here's what I'll use, both out of my Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook. The cake is for two layers, but I usually adjust it to make three. I like nice, tall cakes!

White Cake Supreme

3/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 T. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
5 egg whites

Beat shortening at medium speed until creamy, gradually add sugar, beating well.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to shortening mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed after each addition, just until blended. Stir in vanilla.

Beat egg whites at high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold bean egg whites into batter.

Pour batter into two greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes, remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack.

Rich Chocolate Buttercream

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt chocolates together over low heat, stirring often. Beat butter at medium speed until creamy. Add melted chocolate and remaining ingredients. Beat until spreading consistency.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Balancing the Bunny

She did it again, she did. My mind-twin, Megan, has once again posted a thought-provoking blog entry that has inspired me to write out said thoughts as a way of working through them.

I am so, so guilty of ritualistic consumption. Before the birth of my son a few months ago, a Monday just wasn't a Monday without a trip to Starbucks following a grocery shopping run with my daughter. There are certain times of year or even mood swings that simply seem to require the purchase of something...whether it be a new pair of sandals at the first sign of Spring, or a baked good loaded with chocolate when I need a pick-me-up. It's not something I particularly enjoy about myself, but there you have it.

Holiday seasons, however, most definitely bring the most challenges to my love/hate relationship with "stuff". Easter weekend in my childhood years was full of "things"...a brand-new dress, often paired with hat and gloves...a corsage purchased by my father for each of his daughters and our mother...a basket filled with sweets and goodies and hidden somewhere downstairs for us to gleefully hunt on Sunday morning...great memories. Mark and I negotiated this point a bit when determining how to celebrate the season with our kids, as his Easters in growing-up years contained far less...er...fluff. And because, let's be honest, spending money in any capacity isn't something he jumps up and down about. (Love you, honey.) But he's fine with each of the kids wearing a new outfit on Easter morning, so long as it fits the constraints of our clothing budget, and he relented on the Easter basket debate (we keep them verrrrry basic).

I struggled at times with the question of whether or not these froufrou indulgences would diminish the true meaning of the Easter holiday. But I've determined that this no longer concerns me all that much. Even with all of the Easter extravaganza of long ago times, I still very much knew as a child that what really made the day special was the celebration of Christ's victory over death. And I've decided that it's much more important to ensure that both the birth and resurrection of Jesus be truths that are held close in our hearts and minds as a family year-round. The holiday hoopla, reindeer and rabbits, stockings and baskets, candy canes and jelly beans can be modestly embraced without undue paranoia as festive ways to mark the seasons, but we will do our best (God, help us) to make the deeper meanings a part of daily life.

There is an element in all of this that does cause me some alarm, however. And that is the fear that our kids (mine, and in society in general) will pay the price for our growing obsession with stuff, stuff, STUFF. I took a trip to Target the other day to pick up a couple of small items to put in the kids' baskets, and I was in complete shock standing in the holiday-themed aisles. Not kidding, it looked as though the Easter bunny had fallen into a blender along with Dora the Explorer, the Sesame Street gang, Mr. Potato Head and a box of pastel crayons and then someone had turned said blender on high and removed the lid. And don't get me started on the candy. Every form of sweet confection in existence...now in convenient egg form! So. Much. Stuff. And all of it for one season. I stood there reeling in front of the shelves and shelves of chocolate bunny choices and wondered just how much we're all messing up our kids by buying into this. Because here's the thing: as nauseous as it all made me, it got to me too. I found myself picking up several knick-knacks and thinking, "Ooo, Maya would really like this Elmo/bunny Pez dispenser...", and "Hmm...I could spend a bit more money and get her the chocolate bunny that's twice as big and wearing a dress..."

I had to work hard to restrain myself from those purchases, and then I walked away feeling guilty! Why?!? I mean I know that part of it is because I love my daughter and want to give her things that will bring her delight. But I know a lot of it is this keeping-up-with-the-Joneses thing that I so easily fall into. I was part of a conversation the other day where a friend asked, "So, what are your kids getting for Easter?" Totally threw me. Is this what Easter's becoming now? Another Christmas? Because I struggle then too. The part of me that shudders when I see mounds of gifts under Christmas trees wrestles with the part of me that wants to shower my kids with everything I know they'd enjoy...or at least enjoy for five minutes. And now it's happening with Valentine's Day too. There are some circles in which I feel awkward admitting that I *gasp* didn't get my children anything on February 14th. But seriously, when did that become traditional? Did I miss the memo? What's next - 4th of July buckets filled with red, white, and blue M&Ms and Cookie Monster waving a flag? Chocolate turkeys at each child's place at Thanksgiving?

It frightens me, because mine is the generation that is said to have "entitlement issues". But for all of my daily struggles with addiction to STUFF, I didn't have nearly the amount of things handed to me that I could easily hand to my children. And I worry that I will totally mess them up. Or that they'll hate me when they go to school and find out that the Easter bunny brought the kid at the next desk an egg-shaped Playstation or something.

So yeah, that's where I'm at. I've made my peace with a small amount of holiday "stuff", not wanting to fall into the reaction mode of boycotting it altogether. But I do see the downward spiral looming in front of me...and I fear that one day I'll push my Target cart too close to the edge and find that I've set my kids up for a life where they expect everything and are thankful for nothing. Lord, help me...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

This week in my kitchen - Easter edition

It's Easter week!

Maya and I made some yummy "bird nests" treats on Monday. Fun, easy, and she loved the whole process!

Bird Nests

3/4 cup butterscotch chips
2 cups chow mein noodles
candy eggs or jelly beans (we used Cadbury dark chocolate eggs)

Melt butterscotch chips over low heat and stir in chow mein noodles. Drop in piles on cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Make indentation in middle of each pile to form a "nest". When they're cool, place "eggs" in the "nests".


At church this Sunday we're having breakfast together before the Easter service. I signed up to bring muffins, so I'll be taking these - one of my all-time favorite muffin recipes!

French Breakfast Muffins

1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Cream together shortening and sugar. Add egg and beat well. In separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with milk, mixing each time until just blended. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool a few minutes. Mix together cinnamon and sugar. Roll muffin tops in melted butter, then in cinnamon sugar mixture.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Say what?

Ok, so I posted about this on my baby board when it happened last winter, but looking into my backyard this afternoon reminded me of this classic anecdote, and it still makes me giggle. I just had to relive it...

I'm changing Maya's diaper in her room and Mark comes in. This is the conversation that follows:

Mark (softly): There's a body in our backyard.

Me: What, dead?!?

Mark: No, alive.

Me: That's called a person!

Mark: What's a person?

Me: What?!?

Mark: What?!?

Me: What did you come in here and say?

Mark (louder): There's a bunny in our backyard.

Me: Oh!

Turns out he was telling me quietly because he didn't want Maya to get all excited about the bunny if it were to run away before we had a chance to get to the window. (Which it did.) But I couldn't for the life of me figure out who would be in our backyard during a snowstorm, and why Mark would choose to label said person as a "body"!

Ah, yes. Classic.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

This week in my kitchen (Week of March 10th)

I haven't yet decided on my baking project of the week. It will likely be a batch of cookies...maybe peanut butter chocolate chip? Beyond that indecision, however, I do have two recipes to share again this week.

I was introduced to this one by Keara, and it's quickly become a weeknight favorite in our house! The chicken turns out so tender and flavorful, and the BBQ adds a nice kick.

Easy Barbecue Crispy Chicken Melts

Prep Time:15 min
Start to Finish:45 min
Makes:4 servings

3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 cup Original Bisquick® mix
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup milk
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/4 lb)
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (2 oz)

1. Heat oven to 425°F. In 13x9-inch pan, place butter. Heat in oven 2 to 3 minutes or until melted.
2. In shallow dish, stir Bisquick mix and pepper. Pour milk into small bowl. Coat chicken with Bisquick mixture, then dip into milk and coat again with Bisquick mixture. Place chicken in pan.
3. Bake uncovered about 30 minutes or until juice of chicken is clear when center of thickest part is cut (170°F).
4. In small microwavable bowl, microwave barbecue sauce uncovered on High about 30 seconds or until warm. Spoon sauce evenly over chicken; top with cheese.


The next one is a dessert I made for a family dinner on Sunday night. It's a slightly adapted version of a recipe from Great Food Fast, a cookbook by Everyday Food, a Martha Stewart publication. If you're a tiramisu fan and don't have the time to put into the full-on authentic stuff, this is an easy and satisfying alternative.

Easy Tiramisu

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese (or reduced-fat cream cheese)
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cups strong coffee, cooled
2 packages (2-3 oz.) ladyfingers
unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

Beat cream cheese, sugar, and whipping cream with electric mixer until fluffy. In 8-9 inch square or round serving dish, place one layer of ladyfingers. Generously brush with cooled coffee, moistening but not soaking the ladyfingers. Spread one-third of the cream cheese mixture over ladyfinger layer. Repeat layers twice more, ending with cream cheese mixture. Dessert may be refrigerated up to a day. Dust top with cocoa just before serving.



Saturday, March 8, 2008

Lessons from life with a 3-year-old - An ongoing list...

#1 - Concepts often elude them.

(This morning as Mark is in the bathroom, Maya is laying on her stomach outside the locked door, peering under the crack at the bottom and yelling at full volume...)


#2 - Reasoning with them is futile.

(Yesterday, after she requested raisins for her afternoon snack, and I walked by to notice that she had eaten half of them and left the other half neatly in one side of her bowl...)

Me: "Are you going to finish your raisins?"
Maya: "No, these ones are yucky."
Me: "They're yucky? Why?"
Maya: "Because I don't want to eat them."
Me: "Why don't you want to eat them?"
Maya: "Because they're yucky."
Me: "Ok, but why are those raisins yucky?"
Maya: "Because we should throw them away."
Me (taking deep breath, trying one more time): "Ok, what makes them yucky?"
Maya (shooting me an exasperated look): "Me!"

[I give up]

Monday, March 3, 2008

This week in my kitchen (Week of March 3rd)

Ready for another one? Well here it is, whether you like it or not!

This week's baking project is compliments of my friend and fellow baking addict, Stephanie, who alerted me to this Dorie Greenspan recipe last week. Tomorrow morning will find me mixing up these delightful-sounding muffins! I'll be sure to report on my impressions.


Ricotta Berry Muffins


And my dinner spotlight recipe of the week is one that I sampled at a Pampered Chef party last week (where I also placed an order for some fun new kitchen gadgets, much to my delight and my husband's chagrin). It's everything I like in a recipe - easy, tasty, and (as food should be) pretty!


Family-Size Baked Burrito (from Pampered Chef, although I've adjusted the recipe so as not to entirely need their specific products)

2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 cups diced, cooked chicken
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 lime
3/4 cup salsa
1 T. taco seasoning
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 1/2 cups shredded Colby & Monterey Jack cheese, divided
4 burrito-sized flour tortillas
1 can bean dip (I'm substituting a can of fat-free refried beans)
assorted toppings, such as lettuce, olives, snipped cilantro, and Avacado Lime Sauce (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 425. Squeeze juice from lime half into bowl, and add chicken, onion, salsa, seasoning mix, and garlic. Microwave mixture about 3 minutes, or until thoroughly heated. Stir in 1/2 cup cheese.

Arrange tortillas on a baking stone (or baking sheet) in an overlapping, circular pattern. (Tortillas will hang off the edges a bit.) Starting in center, spread beans over tortillas, forming a 10-inch square. Spoon chicken mixture evenly over beans. Fold edges of tortillas up and over the filling in an envelope fashion.

Arrange tomato slices in rows over top of burrito. Sprinkle remaining cheese over burrito, covering completely. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and edges are brown. Cut into rectangles and serve with toppings.

Avacado Lime Sauce: Mash 1 ripe avacado. Stir in 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 T. lime juice, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Drizzle over burrito.