Evan and Chad were kind of rough-housing. Because that’s what boys do. I was ten minutes from putting my favorite veggie burgers on the table, homework was done, and it was shaping up to be a pretty nice evening.
Like when I trick them into eating things they previously pronounced to be “disgusting” or when they tell me 34 times they don’t like something, but then BLAM-O! They clean their plates and ask for seconds and have no idea they are eating spinach or something.
I realize it looks sort of like I’m trying to manhandle my children in this photo. I really only wanted them to stand with me in a picture without making weird faces. But they are 9 and 12. So that’s pretty much not happening.
We planned on corn-mazing it in the daylight, but when we got there they were setting up for the haunted corn maze set to start after dark.
So we fueled up on caffeine and went back. It was totally worth the wait.
What did you do this weekend? Are you having lots of fall kinda fun?
Sometimes I am totally overwhelmed by the sheer volume of awesome things I come across on the daily. I try so hard to remember allllllllll the things I wanna tell you about because they plain old strike my fancy, but then I get distracted by things like baking bread or eating ice cream sandwiches.
Ice cream sandwiches are really distracting.
So before something shiny (OR chocolatey) snags my attention, let me proceed.
One day I came across this proposal video. I watched it twice. Then I made Chad watch it. Also I cried. Don’t judge me.
I’m so ready for fall I can hardly even stand it. I want to wear things like THIS.
I’m a teensy bit obsessed with these… like I think I need to make them yesterday…
Photo Courtesy of Undressed Skeleton
And going back to indisputably true things… I really like it when my little Evan leaves me reminder notes taped all over the house or my Andrew sends me text messages just because he wants to talk to me… about nothing really in particular. I really like it when they solicit my approval on their Crayola masterpieces or beg me to join a card game, or pick me flowers from the yard to tuck behind my ear. I really, really, REALLY like alla that.
Also!! When the little boys rave over my baked goods it’s like a badge of honor.
I also like loaded potato skins. THEY ARE SO INSANELY ADDICTIVE.
Which is a little bit weird because baked potatoes, while pretty good and definitely falling on the list of things I like, don’t really qualify as addictive. Something happens to potatoes when you scoop out the fleshy middle (and save it for hash browns) and replace that middle with cheese.
It might be the bacon that sits on top of the cheese that puts these things over the moon. Or the sour cream that goes on top of the bacon. It could be the slight oniony crunch of scallions or chives or the chewy but crisp bite to the potato.
More than likely, it is all of these things, wrapped up into a few bites of deliciously satisfying appetizer goodness. What’s not to like about all that ?
There is SO MUCH to like about loaded potato skins that this pile grew and grew.
Then it disappeared really fast.
This morning my mind is pretty much stuck on sugary breakfasts (like those pop tarts I showed you before), so before I tell you all about how to make potato skins (which are a decidedly un-sugary breakfast food), I need to show you one more thing I like.
photo courtesy of Joyful Baker
I like these Overnight Cinnamon Rolls so much that I really wish I’d remembered to make them last night. I’m pretty sure they would more than drastically improve my morning. Coffee cake couldn’t hurt either.
Oh! When you make yourself that pile of potato skins don’t forget that ranch dressing is important on the side. It helps the celery sticks. And while you eat, you should totally watch THIS.
Loaded Potato Skins
Russet (or other thick-skinned, good for baking) potatoes, smallish in size and thoroughly scrubbed. I look for potatoes that, when halved, could be eaten in about 3-4 bites.
shredded cheddar cheese
bacon, cooked and crumbled
green onions or chives
coarsely ground black pepper
ranch dressing (for dipping)
Preheat the oven to 400. Rub the potatoes all over with the olive oil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the oven (but leave the oven on, reducing the heat to 350). Let the potatoes cool, cut them in half, and leaving a little flesh all the way around (don’t scoop all the way down to the skin), scoop the middle out of the potatoes. Set the potato middles aside for something delicious like hash browns.
Rub the insides of the potatoes with the olive oil and then sprinkle with the kosher salt. Line the halves up on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle cheese into the hollowed middles of each potato. Then the crumbled bacon. Bake for another 10 minutes or so, watching for the cheese to melt but not burn. the potatoes will become a little more chewy and a bit crisp at the edges.
Spoon sour cream onto each potato half and then sprinkle with green onions.
This morning, a little after 4 a.m., my eyes fluttered open because I heard a noise.
Actually, this is the third time this week that a late night noise has pulled me from my already sporadic slumber. The first two times were weird; once I woke up in a panic and scrambled off the bed around 1 a.m. because I felt certain something was creeping around, and it wasn’t Chad. Chad could sleep through a hurricane, so my scream-and-scramble-for-the-door move didn’t phase him much. He just swung his feet over the edge of the bed towards the floor and sat there rubbing his eyes in the dark, most likely thinking that I’m completely crazy. Then I made him try to sleep all night with the light on.
About the time we both dozed off, maybe around 3 in the morning, the TV in the living room started blasting white noise out of nowhere.
I promise I am not making this up.
Several mornings this week when I have gone into the kitchen to put the coffee on and start breakfast, my oldest son, Andrew, has been perched on the couch with a blanket quietly watching re-runs of The Office. As soon as I flip the light switch and start to wonder why the TV is on, his head pops up from behind the cushions like as if it’s the middle of the day. “Hi Mommy!”
“Why are you up?,” is all I can muster in my pre-coffee before dawn coma.
“Bad dreams… couldn’t sleep. Can we have pancakes?”
So back to this morning at 4 a.m. A noise woke me up and when I sat up in bed to identify the source, I realized it was the TV. Not scary white noise TV like earlier this week, but little boys parked on the floor watching cartoons TV. And sure enough, upon opening my bedroom door and padding through the house, I found two little boys in a mess of pillows and blankets sprawled across the floor watching cartoons at 4:15 in the morning.
And they had yet to fall asleep.
I crashed the middle-of-the-night cartoon party and shooed my boys off to bed, managing to catch a teensy bit more sleep before my morning routine started calling. The only good that came of the whole mess was that they both slept until after noon. When I pressed the issue over cereal and milk at 2 p.m., expecting to hear tales of crazy nightmares or scary bumps in the night, they told me that they were simply staying up to see if they could do it.
Remember when you were a little kid and you just stayed up all night for no reason other than to see if you could? Completely the opposite of now, when I’m thrilled to pieces if I hit the sheets by 11 p.m. Or better yet, 10.
I can’t wait to see what kind of interruptions this night will bring…
Typically I can offer you some clever liaison between what’s going on in my life and the recipe I’ve decided to share, but sleep-deprived as I am this week, It’s just not happening. I made this southwest inspired pizza shortly before we went on vacation. Chad talked about it for a week, so I’m guessing he liked it alright.
I used a whole wheat crust, but a jalapeno cheese crust would have been even better. In place of sauce I made a paste with some leftover black beans, a heap of seasoning, and a bit of chicken broth. I sprinkled corn, bell peppers, red onions, and tomatoes over the black bean sauce. Added a little shredded chicken and a heap of shredded cheddar jack cheese.
And then happily smothered each slice with guacamole and sour cream.
Here’s to hoping for a night without any paranormal activity.
1 can of black beans (or approximately 2 cups cooked), drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
dough for 1 pizza
½ cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
½ cup green bell pepper. diced
½ cup red onion, diced
1 cup fresh tomatoes, diced
1½ cups shredded cheddar jack cheese
½ cup shredded chicken
sour cream and guacamole to garnish
To make the black bean sauce, add the black beans, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times and a thick paste will begin to form. Add in the broth or water a tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency.
Spread the black bean sauce across the pizza dough. Sprinkle the bell peppers, red onions, corn, and tomatoes over the black bean sauce. Cover with cheese and chicken and bake according to the directions for your pizza crust.
When my boys were little bitty there were a bazillion things we did together, no shortage of games we played. They were content to color with me for hours and make a mess with the finger paints. I can remember Andrew crawling through the house with all his might and laughing hysterically at me clambering around in his wake on all fours.
Chutes and Ladders were what it was all about. We would sing ridiculous songs from trippy shows like Bear in the Big Blue House or Caillou and dance in front of the TV with Elmo. “C” is for cookie was our mantra. Tickles and snuggles happened all the time and I cherished that baby giggle that comes from way down deep; that is the sound of the truest sort of happy.
Sometimes the little boys would climb into bed with me in the middle of the night, creeping around so softly I never knew they were there until I woke up with one curled behind my knees and the other tucked under my arm spooning the way only a tiny person can. Those were the best mornings.
My little boys are bigger now, and they can do all sorts of things they couldn’t do back then. Andrew can cut the grass. Evan likes to help Chad work on cars. They can put away their own clothes and put their own dishes in the sink. Neither one of them throw Cheerios at me anymore.
Bigger boys don’t want to watch Sesame Street with Mommy, though. They will occasionally sit down for a game of Skip-Bo or Phase 10 Twist, but mostly they like to talk at me about things like Star Wars and Minecraft that just go right over my head. I learned a long time ago that I am just not coordinated enough to play video games.
Today I tried my hand at Mario Kart again.
I still suck at it.
At my best I can get to about 3rd place on the easiest level. That’s bad news for whichever one of my children decides to be on my team. Evan kept saying, “That’s good, Mommy!” Andrew’s tactic was to not be on my team at all and strike me with lots of lightning. As if I needed any help driving my go-kart off an imaginary cliff.
After about 4 races the game turned into “How-to-Make-Fun-of-Mommy-Playing-Mario-Kart”. It goes like this: The boys take turns picking the hardest levels they can think of (Rainbow Road anyone?!! Anyone?) while snickering to each other because they think they are tricking me. They laugh hysterically when I can’t keep my go-kart on the moving road made of rainbows that is mysteriously located in outer space. Then they shoot turtles at me and laugh some more when I protest and say it’s not very nice. Evan had an attack of conscience after about my 3rd try and willed himself into 12th place so I could feel victorious in 11th.
Maybe I am doing something right.
I decided after the Mario Kart massacre that we would try our hands at something I can actually do. Because even though the little boys are bigger I still really want them to play with me.
These mini-apple pies used wonton wrappers for a light crispy crust. They were so so simple! We mixed up a little bit of the topping we used for the fruit crumble and sprinkled it on top of each one. Baked at 350 for about 10 minutes until the filling bubbled and the wonton crust was a pretty golden brown.
Evan did a super good job lining the mini-muffin pan and spooning the filling into the apple pies. While we waited for these to bake we made a few itty bitty fried pies with the little bits we had left.
We filled these wraps just like we do with ravioli; for step by step photos and instructions click HERE. The only difference is that we pinched together the two bottom corners to make little apple pie envelopes. These babies got dropped in some hot oil until they were crispy and golden and then they were dusted with cinnamon and sugar.
Andrew discreetly made about 15 unnecessary trips through the kitchen to steal one of these teensy fried pies each time he passed.
Evan was way proud of these sweet treasures.
So fun, and no game controllers involved, and they didn’t make fun of me anymore.
Mini Apple Pies and Crispy Apple Wontons
wonton wrappers (I used 24 for the mini-pies and then extras for the crispy apple wontons)
4 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
juice and zest of half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
a dash of nutmeg
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
Topping (for the mini apple pies):
1/4 cup wheat flour
1/4 cup old fashioned oats
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons melted butter
non-stick cooking spray (for the muffin pan)
vegetable oil (for frying the crispy apple wontons)
a bit more granulated sugar and cinnamon (for dusting the fried apple wontons)
Pre-heat the oven to 350. Spray the mini-muffin with the non-stick cooking spray. Tuck one wonton wrapper into each muffin cup and then set aside. In a large bowl stir together the diced apples, lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar. Fill each muffin cup just to the edge of the pan. In a smaller bowl stir together the wheat flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and melted butter until coarse crumbs form. Sprinkle a little of this crumbly topping over each of the mini pies in the muffin pan. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the wonton wrappers are crispy brown and the filling is bubbly. Cool slightly before serving.
Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet or heavy-bottomed pan. Spoon about a teaspoon of the remaining apple pie filling into the center of each wonton. Use water to press the wrappers into a triangle and seal. Fold the bottom corners together and pinch with a little dab of water to make apple pie “envelopes”. Instructions and photos for how to fold and seal the wontons are HERE. Drop each filled wonton wrapper into the hot oil and fry for about 1-2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and let drain and cool on a paper towel. Immediately dust with the granulated sugar and cinnamon.
When I was a little girl I used to go to work with my dad when my parents’ schedules overlapped. I can remember trying to be very quiet in a small unoccupied blue cubicle with my crayons while my dad finished up in other parts of his office. There was a vending machine outside the back door that dispensed glass bottles of ice-cold Coca Cola, and if I was really good I could get one before we went home.
Sometimes my dad and I would go for walks in the small but fast-growing city we’d transplanted to. There were a few tall buildings, bordered by perfectly manicured trees and water fountains. Traffic, noise and sunshine dancing through the tree limbs making patterns on the sidewalk kept my senses stimulated as we walked along hand in hand. One building in particular was white and had vertical black stripes that ran the length of it, stopping just below the second floor.
At six feet and five inches tall, I always thought my dad was a giant. To me he seemed like the tallest man in the whole wide world. When he picked me up to carry me once my little girl legs had tired out I always felt like I was flying through the air, floating above the crowds. I was convinced that my dad could reach the stripes on that building, and I managed to persuade him to walk two blocks out of the way just to try it.
He set me down on the sidewalk and reached as high as he could… but he couldn’t reach the stripe. I am not one to give up easily, so I talked him into trying to touch a different stripe. Dad obliged. Since the stripes were probably a good twenty feet off the ground, my dad had to know he was not going to be able to reach. But he continued to humor me. Perspective is a little off when you’re five. Finally he perched me up on his shoulders, leaned against the sun-baked white concrete of the building, and told me to reach as high as a could.
I was so close.
My mom worked at night so Dad and I usually did our own thing when dinnertime rolled around. He could boil hot dogs. And make peanut butter toast. I think that’s where his culinary skills stopped, though. So usually we went out to eat. Dad and I ate lotsa junk. Hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza… all that stuff is really awesome when you’re small. Once in awhile he would take me out for mint chocolate chip ice cream. His favorite was butter pecan.
A few times a year we would drive back home to Belleville, Illinois and visit family. My dad’s brother lived across the river in a suburb of St. Louis. We would get in the car, just me and my dad, and drive over the Mississippi. It was so cool. Even after I turned six and had a little sister, or when I was eight and had a little brother, too, or when I had another little sister at ten, we would still have our day out – just me and my dad.
My dad appreciated a good meal. I think he’d be satisfied with this black and bleu salad. A bed of crispy romaine lettuce tossed in homemade caesar dressing and then dolled up with sliced roma tomatoes and crumbled bleu cheese. A spicy steak grilled to a perfect medium-rare, sliced and placed on top and then sprinkled with a few homemade whole wheat croutons and a smidge of parmesan…
Black & Bleu Salad
8 ounces of steak per person (I used thin-cut ribeyes)
Liberally season the steak with the spicy seasoning on both sides. Place the steaks in a shallow dish and pour in worcestershire sauce, just enough to coat each piece. Cover and let marinate for at least 30 minutes. Wash the romaine and cut into 2 inch pieces. Slice the tomatoes. Toss the romaine in the caesar dressing – not too much – just let it lightly coat each piece of lettuce. Portion the dressed romaine onto plates. Top with the sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle each salad with the crumbled bleu cheese. Grill the steaks to your preferred doneness (our steaks were very thin and we prefer them medium rare, so only a minute or two on each side using a very hot grill was plenty). Let the steaks rest for just a minute before slicing. Slice them into strips and then toss a few croutons and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese onto each salad.
When I started writing this blog I had approximately a zillion and one ideas about what direction it should go in. I thought about meal planning, and being budget conscious. I thought about my strange kitchen experiments that often yield pretty great results (and sometimes not so great…). I thought about the foods we enjoy as a family and how to incorporate things I just plain old like. I did a lot of mulling it all over and working it all out, and after several pots of coffee I finally decided that what I hoped to accomplish was this:
I WANT PEOPLE TO COOK.
I have always spent a great deal of time in the kitchen - out of necessity, enjoyment, holidays, and employment. I’ve always been the girl that brings baked goods to work, just because I like to share and make people smile (and also because I don’t need to eat it all). I look forward to birthdays and occassions when I get lots of requests and I have extra special reasons to try new things and feed the masses. I get a kick out of trying to reproduce flavors and feelings, and I find the best therapy in measuring ingredients, chopping, dicing, and stirring with my wooden spoon.
What I have learned through my food sharing ventures, though, is that there are two distinct categories of people : those that cook, and those that don’t. The people that fall into the “don’t” category fit there for many reasons, but the reason I come across most often is that they really think they CAN’T.
And to that my reply is, “NONSENSE!”
I learned my way around the kitchen when I was about 9. I can distinctly remember spinning the lazy-susan round and round until I found all the ingredients listed for banana bread on the batter-splattered pages of my mom’s church cookbook. I probably asked a gajillion questions and I learned as I went. It’s true what my momma told me: if you can read, you can cook.
The prospect of blogging about cooking for me was probably as daunting as the actual cooking is for the “don’t” cookers. When you read pages of amazingness in places like Smitten Kitchen, Joy the Baker, or Can You Stay for Dinner, it’s very easy to be intimidated by the writing, the photography, the sheer volume of clever talent.
At first I thought, “I can’t do this. I don’t have pretty dishes, table linens, or marble countertops. I cannot afford a $1500 camera. I don’t have the extra budget to buy fancy cupcake liners, or candy melts. I don’t have time to drive to 15 stores on the quest for green shoestring gummies.”
Then I remembered my first apartment and making “grilled” cheese on a cookie sheet in the oven because I didn’t have butter or a skillet to put on the stove. I thought about the fact that we all have to eat everyday. I considered the things I’m able to pull off in the kitchen even though I don’t own a food processor or a bundt pan or a fancy stand mixer.
So I decided to forge ahead using my cell phone camera, Google (in place of any actual knowledge about computers or web design), and recipes I’ve been making for so long that I have to slow down to judge the measurements.
Sometimes I post recipes calling for prepared tomato sauce or boxed cake mix. I think we can all agree that homemade sauce or from-scratch cakes will win out on taste every time. But in the real world, people love Classico. They don’t always have time to stew their own tomatoes. They don’t know what a food mill is and definitely don’t have one. Almond extract does not live in their pantries.
They do still need to eat, though. Recipes that call for 48 ingredients you don’t currently have in the cupboard seem daunting. It’s easier to hit the drive-thru or buy some Tuna Helper.
I wanted this to be a place for recipes that are plain old useful. Not intimidating or fancy or out of reach. I wanted to use ingredients that people can ACTUALLY find… even when they are forced to shop at the worst grocery store on the planet way out in the boonies. Once I read a chicken recipe that called for fines herbes. I searched high and low, came up empty, decided to make my own, and discovered that unless I grow my own by tomorrow, chervil and tarragon do not exist in my zip code. I had to scrap that recipe and move along. It was sad.
But Chicken Gyros? That I can do.
And I make a mean egg salad.
And if you take a few minutes to read a few recipes, try maybe just one new thing, you can, too!
In all the time that Chad and I have been together, he has made me exactly three things:
bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches
peanut butter pie
oatmeal (which he accidentally salted because the box told him to… it produced some pretty special results…)
We both had to work on our first Valentine’s Day together, so like many people do, we chose to celebrate the weekend before. Specifically, the Saturday before.
I used to work on Saturdays. EVERY. SINGLE. SATURDAY.
While I was working Chad kept sending me strange text messages. One asked, “What is confectioner’s sugar? Is that different from regular sugar?” It was shortly followed by, “Where is the peanut butter?” and then, “How do you soften cream cheese?”
I was beginning to wonder just exactly what sort of disaster would be waiting for me when I got home?
Then came the frantic phone call. It went something like this:
Chad: “Hey. How do you fold something?”
Me: “Are you asking me how to do laundry? Are you doing laundry?!”
Chad: “No, no. I mean when you’re cooking. Like if the recipe says to fold it in… what’s that mean?”
Me: “So no laundry, then?”
But there was pie. Peanut butter pie. Executed perfectly, folding and all.
Today is my birthday.
And for my birthday, Chad made me his now famous no-bake peanut butter pie.
He also managed to get his hands on my cupcake decorating kit and with a pastry bag and a Wilton #230 tip he piped the words on my birthday pie with Nutella.
I think he loves me. **Note: Before I publish this I am supposed to tell you that Chad DOES know how to spell “birthday”, but the Nutella got away from him. If you look closely the lower case “r” just rolls right on into the cross of the “t”**
I caught him in the act this time, measuring peanut butter ever so carefully and folding Cool Whip into softened cream cheese.
And because this pie is so completely delicious, so creamy and cool and rich with peanut butter and that sandy graham cracker crust, I photographed Chad’s efforts. Here is my gift to you:
Chad’s No-Bake Peanut Butter Pie (original recipe HERE)