January 30, 2010

Ellie the Elephant Cake

I had the privilege of making an elephant cake for a fun 4 year old birthday. I based this cake on a recipe I saw at Taste of Home. I added the pink bow and the rose to make her more girly. The top of the cake is icing that I patted down with a paper towel to make wrinkly elephant skin.

January 29, 2010

Sauteed Apples

Simple, delicious and everyone loves these. Peeled and sliced apples, sauteed in a frying pan on med heat in a little butter with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice (really any "apple pie spice" you have). Stir around until the apples start getting soft, but not mush. Maybe 10-15 minutes depending on your apples. These are yummy for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack time. Apples keep so well, these have been in the fridge since the beginning of this month, maybe not perfect for eating out of hand, but they are perfect for this simple side dish.

January 26, 2010

The RIGHT Way to Eat Chili

All month long we've been participating in this Eat From the Pantry Challenge inspired by my favorite coupon blog. Here is what I've learned about my cooking habits after doing it for 3 weeks:

  • I have enough food in our house to feed my family for three months at any given time! I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a crazy thing.
  • I am terrible, really terrible about planning a menu ahead of time. My cooking is guided by "what I feel at the moment" so I'm constantly changing the menus I had planned.
  • We have leftovers at least twice a week and call it Refrigerator Night. We just pull everything out and each person decides what they want to eat from the stash. I usually make so much on cooking nights we would be wasting food if we didn't do this. 
  • I love to cook but not the same things over and over. I don't cook the same thing twice in one month, sometimes I won't cook that same thing twice in one year. We love variety so eating the same thing over and over just doesn't work for us.
  • I can't live without lettuce and milk. I did breakdown midway and buy both of those things along with some grapefruit. 
When we have dinner, we almost always have a meat and a couple of different frozen or fresh veggies (which thanks to my neighbor we have enjoyed carrots this week and last). I often serve homemade bread if we are not having rice, pasta or potatoes. Many times, the husband and I will have salad to go with our meal. The kids will only eat salad if it has ginger dressing on it. And only the Makoto Ginger Dressing will do the trick. This stuff tastes JUST like what you get at a Japanese Steak House. If you like those house salads, don't waste your money trying other ginger dressings from the store, because they are terrible. Makoto is really fresh and gingery tasting. (FYI, Makoto also carries the white sauce they give you for your vegetables.)

Here's what we ate for dinner this month while we were trying to whittle down our stockpile:
  • Venison Chili with Beans - served over rice with cheddar cheese and sour cream; the kids love it this way (pictured above)
  • Vegetable Beef Soup and Sourdough Cornbread - leftovers I stored in the freezer
  • Spaghetti - a Christmas gift from my amazing Aunt Sharon
  • Corn Potato Chowder - with homemade bread and salad
  • Roast Chicken and Sauteed Cabbage - the chicken roasts quickly in my convection microwave that came with our house
  • Spinach Salad - will post my soon-to-be-sister-in-law's tasty dressing soon 
  • Chicken Broccoli Devine - hubbie's childhood fave
  • Venison Meatloaf - with corn and mashed potatoes, comfort food at it's best
  • Homemade Pizza - with sourdough crust
  • Venison Stroganoff over Egg Noodles- I tried a new recipe we didn't like, I'll go back to the onion soup and sour cream deal next time
  • Baked Fish with Parmesan Cream Sauce
  • Venison Tacos - using the chip and dip tray method
  • Tomato Soup and Grilled Ham and Cheese
  • Sweet Meatballs with Rice - you know the kind of sauce made with grape jelly and chili sauce
  • Pumpkin Ravioli with Chicken Sausage - will post more on this later as I used wonton wrappers to make the ravioli and it was very easy
  • Spiral Sliced Ham with Cherry Sauce- frozen ham leftover from Christmas a friend gave me cherries her mother had canned and I made up a recipe for the sauce
  • Breakfast for dinner - omelets (from our fresh eggs), sourdough pancakes, and venison sausage
  • Broccoli Cheese Soup - leftovers I froze, made with lamb stock and very yummy
For this week, we had the chili last night. We'll have stirfry one night, but I have no idea for the rest of the week. I imagine it will involve chicken, since I'm kinda tired of venison. I'm excited about going to the grocery store and giving in to my gluttony and desire just to cruise the aisles. Ahhh, fresh fruit, crisp veggies, and dairy products, how I long for you. I'll have to be careful not to overspend on next Monday!!

January 25, 2010

Fish Supper

Last week this was my favorite meal - fish over a bed of spinach, glazed carrots, and broccoli. Since we are still doing the Eat from the Pantry Challenge, I decided to use some our frozen tilapia we got in from Sams. I'm not a huge fan of frozen fish, but it was dirt cheap and it keeps forever. Usually when you buy fish like this it needs to be "doctored" since it doesn't have that lovely fresh flavor to stand up on it's own. I found a recipe from Southern Living that was amazing!

Baked Fish with Parmesan Cream Sauce
1 1/2 lbs of white fish
8 oz sour cream
1/4 c Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp seasoned breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp melted butter

Put fillets in greased 13x9" pan. Stir together the sour cream, cheese, paprika, salt and pepper.  Spoon over the fish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Drizzle with butter (I only used 1 Tbsp). Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 mins. Makes 4-6 servings.

There are times when I bake bread that it just flops. I can't bear to throw the heavy, yuck loaf away so I just keep them in the freezer and then grind them up in the food processor to use as bread crumbs (or chop them up into small squares and toast them into croutons). It's a great substitution if you need breadcrumbs, just throw some bread in the freezer until it gets hard and it will make perfect breadcrumbs. For this recipe my current breadcrumbs were sourdough which made this dish extra yummy because they added some tanginess.

The family loved this so much, we didn't have any leftovers and the kids were begging me for more. I wish that happened everyday!

January 24, 2010

Homemade Hummus Photo Tutorial

Making hummus is one of those things that you do once and kick yourself for not doing it sooner. Homemade hummus is cheap and easy. Store bought hummus is tasty, but expensive. My family especially loves the creamy kind which seems to be the most expensive version at the store. I started out making hummus with canned garbanzo beans aka chick peas, but then I quickly realized how cheap dried beans were. I think I got this 1 lb bag on sale for $2!  Using dried does require the extra step of soaking them in water overnight and cooking them. Those are both tasks I just take care of while I'm already in the kitchen. They sit on my counter or stovetop (while it's off) overnight and then I cook them while I'm cooking something else. The directions for cooking them are right on the bag.

January 21, 2010

Help Yourself Oatmeal

I was out with some girlfriends the other night and a discussion of oatmeal came up. Most of the ladies said they wished their families ate oatmeal since it's cheap and nutritious. For some reason their kids didn't like oatmeal. That prompted a discussion about how my family LOVES to have oatmeal. Why would it be any different served at my house you ask?

I set up a chip and dip tray with toppings in the middle of the table.  Then I make a big pot of plain oatmeal (if I'm really on top of things I cook the oatmeal in my rice cooker with the timer).  Everyone gets a bowl full and then chooses their own toppings. The two-year old had milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, and dried strawberries that we dried last summer.  I chose dried apples, pecans, craisins, and brown sugar for a yummy fall taste.
This chip and dip tray idea also works for us when we have taco night or when we make our own pizzas. Really just a way to re-purpose something we wouldn't ordinarily use often.

January 20, 2010

Hot Cocoa Cones

These creations were what got me hooked on Family Fun magazine in the first place. I saw the article in Family Fun at a doctor's office and asked to take home the magazine. This was back when I only had one child and he was an infant, but I knew I would want to make these one day. I ripped out the page and kept it with my Christmas decorations for a few years. A few years later, when my son went into preschool, I whipped out the magazine page, all matted and folded, but readable and made these for teacher gifts.

These are so fun and easy for the kids to make. The kids had no problems putting the toppings on. We made our own hot chocolate mix with cocoa powder, instant milk, sugar and a little cinnamon for kick.

Hot Cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups powdered instant milk
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp cinnamon (optional)
Mix all together in a large bowl. Will keep for all winter. You use about 3 Tbsp with hot water for yummy hot cocoa.

Put some of the hot chocolate mix in a cone shaped cello bag and then double bag it in another. Then roll the inner bag down and tuck it in. Put all of this in a sturdy mug to hold it up for the kids while they do the next part. The kids add toppings, some had peppermint, some had instant coffee (for the mailman and the bus driver). We used a red gumdrop on the top for the cherry. I think these would be a great favor gift for any winter birthday party. Maybe an activity for the tween sleepover?? You could use sugar snowflakes inside to make them more wintery or crushed hard blue mint candies.  Or make it more "adult" and use candied ginger or dried orange zest.  Yummy!


January 19, 2010

Creamy Corn Potato Chowder

We are still working on the Pantry Challenge, but I think I have to break down and go to the store for milk and a few other things. I needed to come up with dinner from the pantry and found a few potatoes lurking in the bottom bin of the fridge that I needed to use up. I always have frozen veggies on hand, so I made this yummy chowder from Family Fun online. The soup was really creamy and fabulous even though I substituted half and half for the heavy cream. It's the perfect soup for dreary day.

Creamy Corn Potato Chowder
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
5 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 large all-purpose potato, peeled and diced
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt, to taste
1 cup heavy cream (or use half and half)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Black pepper, to taste
Fresh dill or parsley for garnish, chopped (I used dried chives)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan or medium soup pot. Stir in the onion and celery. Partially cover the pan and cook the vegetables over moderate heat for 9 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock, corn, potato, and salt and bring the mixture to a low boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for about 7 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream and flour. Stir the mixture into the soup with the pepper. Bring the soup back to a low boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 8 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with herbs.

January 18, 2010

Dinner and Dessert in a Glass

My Aunt Machel amazes me with her inventive packaging. I'm not talking about just presents (although those are pretty creative too). She created both of these dish presentations. The first one was for my birthday last year. She rimmed the martini glass with coconut, then added vanilla ice cream and chocolate chip cookies.  The bottom one is simply mac and cheese with chicken nuggets and green beans (all homemade of course). Such basic food elevated (literally) to company worthy status. Wow!

January 17, 2010

Lego Birthday Party

For Super Bear's 6th birthday party, he requested a Lego themed party. Of course, I happily obliged since I  LOVE Legos. I knew I needed to make something for his party at school too and decided cupcakes were easiest. Yes (gasp) I did use a cake mix for these cupcakes! I figured they are kindergartners and really don't care. One can't always be Julia Child. While those were cooling I made the Lego bricks for the toppers. I melted small batches of white candy melts in the microwave according to the package directions. Then I used a little paste food coloring to color small batches of the melts into the primary colors like Legos. After I had a batch colored, I poured it into the Wilton bite sized brownie silicone pan to form the small square shape. After these were cooled I piped a tiny dot of icing (I should have colored it as well, but I was tired by this time). On top of each dot of icing I put a single piece of primary colored candy confetti (I found this at Walmart) to form the nubs on each brick.

After the cupcakes were cool I made a buttercream icing and put it in a big piping bag with a 1M tip to create the swirled look. You could just squeeze it on with a snipped ziplock bag for a smoother look or use those cupcake icing bags in the grocery store. Then I sprinkled the icing with the primary colored confetti and stacked one candy Lego piece on the top of each swirl.
For the birthday party cake, I wanted to use buttercream icing, but I just couldn't get the sides to form squared corners. Silly me, I thought this would be an easy cake since it was just squares. I'm not a very patient person, so I probably could have done it, but I decided now would be the perfect time to learn about fondant. I had bought a packed of pre-colored primary fondant just in case. I was waaay easier to work with than I imagined. I had the cake pieces already cut and frosted with buttercream, so I could just peel off the fondant if it tasted gross (which is what I've heard) when it came time to serve the cake. The buttercream also served as a "glue" for holding the fondant on. I opened each package of fondant and rolled it out using a little powdered sugar to keep it from sticking to my counter. Then I placed it over the piece of cake I was working with and formed the corners by cutting away portions and wrapping it around like a present. I used the left over fondant from each color to cut out the nubs. I had to stack a few circles together because I had rolled it pretty thin for the cake. I put a little sprinkle of water in between each circle to hold the stack together. After those were positioned on the cake, I piped "Lego" on the each nub. Again, if I wasn't so tired this night, I should have done each in the coordinating icing color.

For the invite, I scanned some legos and a lego plates. These formed the background of the invitation and I wrote the details in a fun font.

When the kids arrived, we had some games to play. We gave each child a large foam rectangle to make two-dimensional Lego place mats, aka mosaics. They glued small foam pieces on the big foam sheet and then I brushed the whole thing with ModPodge to seal it and make it hand washable. We did this first, since it needed time to dry.  We also had a Lego spoon race where the kids carried the Lego's in spoons from the starting line to a bucket at the end. They learned quickly that speed was not good in this race and they needed steady hands. The girls did really well in this contest.

We had a giant jar set up with Legos inside the kids all tried to guess how many were in the jar and submitted their guesses throughout the party. I had bought a huge lot of mixed used Legos on EBay. They were really cheap and so I gave the winning guess the whole jar of Legos. We used the rest of the Lego lot for a building contest. We dumped the huge pile out on the floor and gave the kids 15 minutes to create anything they wanted. We had each child tell us about their model and then told them it was so fabulous they could keep it. You should have seen their reaction, it was priceless. I think the goody bags paled in comparison. It was a Lego-tastic birthday.

January 15, 2010

Snow Chickens

We had a rare snow day here in Georgia recently. Our chickens are definitely southern chickens. They had no idea what to do and really did not like the white stuff. We let them out to forage and they wouldn't go anywhere. They just stayed right outside of the coop waiting for someone to let them back in!

January 14, 2010

Kid Sized Cake Decorating

What do you do with all of those left over cake pieces when you are carving a shaped cake? I save them and put them in the freezer wrapped tightly with plastic wrap. Then on a dull day, we take them out and I whip up a little icing and let the kids "decorate" their own cakes. A dollop of icing, a plastic knife, and a some cake pieces and you have at least a half hour of entertainment.

January 8, 2010

Romantic Weekend in a Yurt

Are you going "green" for 2010? You might want to check out the Cedar House Inn & Yurts in Dahlonega, GA. You can actually stay in a yurt. These yurts are made of canvas, the traditional ones you've seen on NatGeo in Mongolia are made from animal hides. They are meant to be very portable because the people are nomads. At Cedar House, you can stay in a yurt "out back" from the big house or stay at the Inn. Either way, breakfast is included and was wonderful! Super yummy.
It was a great Valentines adventure one year for us because it was private, out of the ordinary and cozy. I would not want to stay in the yurt during the summer because they get a little toasty even with air conditioning units, but it was perfect for a winter snuggle. Check 'em out next time you want a romantic getaway.

January 7, 2010

Bee Bim Bop

This is Bee Bim Bop, or "mixed up rice" in Korean. My brother spent some time in Korea while he was in the Army. He brought back a love of Korean food and shared it with the family. Since then we occasionally go out for Korean food, but it's kinda pricey at a restaurant.

When the kids and I were at the library one day, I came across this book, "Bee Bim Bop" by Linda Sue Park. I knew we had to check it out. As a bonus, there is a recipe for bee bim bop in the back of the book!! In truth, bee bim bop is as unique to each family as vegetable soup and cornbread is to southern families, each house putting their own "spin" on it. But we did follow the recipe pretty faithfully and it was delicious. Better than the version we'd had at the Korean restaurant. I highly recommend giving this a read and making "mixed up rice" for dinner one night.

Bee Bim Bop

2 c rice
1 lb sirloin tip beef, sliced thinly
2 carrots, peeled and julienned (cut into thin strips)
1 lb spinach
1 lb mung beans
4 eggs
cabbage, sliced into strips (optional)
salt and pepper

Beef Marinade:
2 minced cloves of garlic
2 green onions, chopped
5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp seasame oil
1/8 tsp pepper

Put all marinade ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Add beef and mix well. Throughout the cooking of this meal, mix the beef so the marinade coats everything.

Cook rice according to package directions or in an awesome rice cooker like this. I recommend long grain or sushi rice.

Heat a little vegetable oil in a small skillet. Whisk eggs in a bowl until combined. Pour 1/4 of the eggs into hot skillet and then flip to make an egg pancake. Cook all four eggs like this. Stack them on a cutting board and cut thin strips of eggs. Place on a warm platter. (If you keep this platter in the oven on a very low heat, everything wil stay warm.)

In the same hot skillet add more oil if needed and saute the julienned carrots until tender. Put on platter.

In the same skillet add 1/2 c water and 1/4 tsp salt. When the water steams, add the mung beans and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and put on platter.

Now heat a large skillet with another bit of oil. Add fresh spinach to the skillet and saute until tender about 3 minutes. Add to platter. Repeat this same step with cabbage.

The last step is to cook the beef. In the large hot skillet add a little more oil. When hot add the beef and the marinade and cook for 2-3 minutes until the meat is browned. Add the meat to your platter. Bring the marinade beef juices to a boil for 1 minutes. Pour the juices into a gravy boat or mug.
To serve: put a scoop of rice into a bowl. Let each person pick out toppings including the beef and veggies. Pour a little of the pan juices over the top. Then mix it all up with your chopsticks (hence the name Bee Bim Bop) and enjoy!

January 5, 2010

Oatmeal Bread

The deal with wild yeast (what most folks call sourdough starter) is, you can use it to make any kind of yeast bread. This was a wonderful loaf of oatmeal bread that I adapted from one of the Taste of Home cookbooks. A good rule of thumb for converting a store bought yeast recipe is 1 c of starter and replaces 1 packet of yeast (1/4 of an ounce) PLUS one cup of liquid. There are lots of recipesout there for "catching" the wild yeast out of the air (think of it as good mold) or you can purchase a starterfrom several places. Your other choice is to get starter from someone you know. See caring for your starter for more info on how to take care of it.
This recipe called for 1 1/4 c of water, so I just substituted my well fed starter. It smelled so good coming out of the oven, that I cut into too early, which is why it looks a little mushy in the middle. I have trouble resisting that fresh hot bread smell and taste. This bread went perfectly with tonight's dinner from the freezer of vegetable beef soup.
Honey Oatmeal Casserole Bread makes 12 wedges
1 c starter
1/4 -1/2 c warm water
1/4 c softened butter
1/4 c honey
2 eggs
1 c quick cooking oats
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 c flour

In a large bowl put 2 c flour and all other ingredients. Mix well (or you can do this in a stand mixer with the bread dough hook) until smooth. Then mix in the remaining 1 1/2 c flour. This should form a nice soft dough that pulls away from the bowl a little or is binding around your wooden spoon. Dump the dough into a clean well oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Put it in a warm draft free place (like your oven with the light on) until it has doubled in size. This should take around 12 hours, so you could do it overnight. The way you know if it has risen the right amount is to gently poke it. If it springs back, it has not risen enough, if it leaves and indent, it's perfect and ready.  If it collapses, you need to knead it again and let it rerise because it's over risen.
After the first rise, you gently deflate it (if your poking didn't already do the job) and form it into a ball.  The best way to do this is to tuck the edges under into the middle, going around and around, until you have a smooth ball. Place the ball into a round well greased casserole dish (think Pyrex). Spray the top of the dough with a little cooking spray too. Put your plastic wrap over it and put it back into its warm home. Let it rise for 6-8 hours until it passes the poke test again.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Bake the bread for 35-40 minutes until golden brown. You know it's done when you tap the top and it sounds hollow. Cool for 10 mins in the dish and then gently shake to loosen. Dump it out on a wire rack and let cool (unless you are like me, then just start eating).

January 1, 2010

Eat From the Pantry Challenge

Count me in. There is a blog I read, moneysavingmom.com that has tons of great couponing deals and she and a friend decided to host a challenge for the month of January. The idea is to grocery shop as little as possible and eat from your pantry/ freezer stockpile...for the WHOLE MONTH! This is doable, but I might run out of milk and I'll certainly miss lettuce. I know our pantry is always stocked and the freezer is exceptionally full right now mostly because a whole shelf is taken up with deer meat.

My personal goal is to not shop for any groceries - except milk. This means I need to plan ahead for Banana Girl's birthday party and I'm sure I'll have to do some crazy substitutions. What about you...are you in?


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