June 30, 2010

Gorgeous Grapes for Snacking

My kids love grapes in the summertime and I have to say I'm a big fan too. Crisp and cool they burst in your mouth. I have found keeping a bowl of washed grapes in the fridge is the perfect summer snack for the everyone. I'd like to share a little tip I've discovered for making grape eating easier. After you get the grapes washed put a paper towel in the bottom of your bowl to absorb the extra water and then snip the vines in small sections. That way the kids can open the fridge pull out a small bunch and close the fridge door. Before I started doing this, I was forever saying, "close the refrigerator" as they stood there and tried to pick off grapes and shove them into their mouth.  Cutting them into small bunches also means one particular child can put his in the freezer for later to enjoy frozen grapes. Any way you pick it, this tip makes grapes the perfect on the go snack.


June 28, 2010

Hydrangea are the Easiest Flowers

I have a TON of hydrangea bushes growing in my yard. They are so easy, requiring very little upkeep. They will reward you with gorgeous blooms all through the summer. These plants like to live in wetter ground, so if you have an area of your yard that always seems to drain water slower than the rest and has a little shade in the summer, they would be perfect to plant in your yard. You can buy them anywhere, including the grocery store florist. When you are ready, just plant them in your yard. 

Some blossoms are white, blue, pink, or purple. I know some people put lime around their bushes to turn the flowers a different color, but I just let mine actual their natural color. If a friend has a color you covet, you could always pull a branch down to the ground and place a rock on it. The branch will root itself and by next year you could have a "baby" bush to dig up and take to your house.

Hydrangea flowers make for beautiful and easy arrangements. I try to cut my flowers in the morning, because they often look sad and droopy by the afternoon in the heat. Always cut more blossoms than you think you'll need and cut the ones that are falling to the ground with their heavy weight so you won't even notice you've taken them off the bush. When I bring them in the house, I put them in my kitchen sink filled with room temp to cool temperature water. The whole flower goes in, blossom and all. This usually perks any wilters right up since they love water. Strip the leaves off the stems by running your fingers down the stem from top to bottom. You should leaf strip all flowers because leaves below the water line will generate mucky smelly water fast.

I start placing the flowers in my chosen vase, trimming the length of the stem so the flowers sit at the right height. I think an arrangement that is shaped like a mound is perfect for hydrangeas, so my center flowers are higher than the rest. Sometimes I add a little greenery or another flower that compliments the hydrangeas. Whatever you choose, your arrangement is sure to look lovely and bring you joy. Put one in your bathroom, one in the foyer and one in the family room, so you have flowers wherever you are. It will feel like a luxury, when it's really a fast and inexpensive treat!

June 23, 2010

Summer Fresh Caprese Salad Appetizer

This is a show stopper of an appetizer. My brother and sister-in-law served these at their wedding. We recently had my Dad over for "linner" (you know lunch-dinner) and he brought all of the ingredients to make these. I think he fell in love with them at the wedding. My Dad has always loved eating food but this interest in cooking is pretty new. I'm still getting used to the fact that my Dad knows his way around a grocery store! Since he brought everything, it was very easy and fun to put it all together with him. (Excuse the piles of sippy cups drying in the background! Those plastic things never dry enough in the dishwasher, such is my life.)
All of my family enjoys the fresh taste of caprese salad, but these morsels are tiny finger food versions of the famous salad, which was perfect for my brother's wedding cocktail hour. Caprese salad consists of sliced tomatoes, sliced buffalo mozzarella cheese, layered with fresh basil. All doused in a wonderful balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing. Delicious when those items are fresh and in season, which is really what Italian cooking is all about. (See my post about loving the food in Italy here.) This version is perfect for people milling about waiting for the grill to finish your Disappearing Pork Loin or Easy Roasted Chicken and not feel like they are tied down to a plate. This would also be a fantastic recipe to bring to someone's house because it can be served as an appetizer or as part of the main meal.

Summer Fresh Caprese Salad Appetizer
Smaller cherry tomatoes
Buffalo mozzarella (this is NOT the same as mozzarella you use for pizza, Buffalo mozzarella is tender and soft and made from a combination of cow's milk and water buffalo's milk - hence the name)
Fresh basil
Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin or virgin olive oil

Slice the mozzarella into cubes around the same size as the tomatoes. Pull the leaves of basil off the stems and slice them into smaller pieces. Thread each toothpick with a tomato, a chunk of cheese, a basil leaf and repeat, leaving the toothpick ends showing out of both sides, which makes it easy to pick up. Place the completed sticks on a platter. Drizzle the appetizers with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, going easy on each. Taste your work and see if it needs more oil or vinegar. Serve with a sprig of basil on top for garnish.

June 19, 2010

Poached Eggs for Father's Day

We always have eggs around here and I like to try to find different ways of using them. We celebrated Father's Day this morning because we have to be at church very early tomorrow (cereal anyone?). I wanted to make a hearty, but fresh breakfast for the wonderful father of my children. He loves scrambled eggs, grits and toast like his mom used to make, but I wanted something a little fancier. I decide to poach eggs and set them on veggies and toast. They were delicious! We make poached eggs on toast with cheese occasionally, but these were much better.
Fresh Veggie Poached Eggs
roma tomatoes
fresh herbs like dill, basil, oregano, parsley

salt, pepper and granulated garlic

Chop tomatoes and avocado and put in a bowl. Add herbs, salt, pepper and garlic to taste. Mix well and let sit off to the side.

To poach an egg you can buy one of those egg poacher inserts that sit in your pan. They also make poachers for the microwave, but we had trouble with ours exploding the lid open. So I've given up on beautiful looking eggs and we settle for a more rustic look. Bring about 3 inches of water to a low boil in a shallow pan or skillet. Carefully crack the eggshell in half and cradle the egg in one half of the shell. Slide the egg into the pan ever so gently to keep it together. Don't cook more than can fit in your pan without touching. Cook for about 3 mins unless you like your yolk firmer, than maybe a minute longer.

While the eggs are poaching, toast your bread and then butter it. Set toast on plate and top with tomato mix. When eggs are done, carefully lift them out of the water using a slotted spatula so the excess water drains off. Set egg on prepared toast and top with salt, pepper, more herbs, a slice of tomato or avocado, whatever you like. Serve immediately with knife and fork. Your man will love you for it!

June 15, 2010

Free Movie Passes for Atlanta Area

I had to share...a new Movie/ Grill place just opened in Alpharetta. To celebrate their Grand Opening, they are offering FREE movie admission for two. It's one of theaters that serves you dinner while you are watching the movie. And with deal, my hubbie and I might be able to afford a babysitter and actually go! It's been so long since we've seen a movie at the theater, I was shocked to find out how much tickets costs - yikes.

So here's how to get the freebie, click on this link below and then (here's the important part) when you get to their website, click on the "generate more free movie passes by clicking here" link they have posted. This will give you a unique barcode insuring your pass is valid.

Click Here for Free Movie Passes

I remember back in my dating days I loved going to the Cinema and Drafthouse. At that place I remember the food was not that good. I'll be curious what you all think of this place. Here the general info on Studio Movie...

Sudio Movie Grill Info and Showtimes

June 14, 2010

Homemade Soft Pretzels

These were a big hit at our house. The kids have seen the soft pretzels at the mall, but I'm the kind of Mommy who "always says no". It's rough to be one of my children. I decided I could say yes to pretzels if we made those chewy soft delights at home. At home they would be inexpensive!

Soft Pretzels
3 1/2 c flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 package commercial yeast (the kids were not going to wait for this to be a sourdough pretzel, I'll have to try that one another time)
1 c water
1 tbsp shortening
6 c water
1/4 c baking soda
pretzel toppings: course salt, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, cinnamon sugar, parmesan cheese, you name it

Combine only 1 c of the flour with sugar, salt and yeast, whisk together in mixer bowl. Heat 1 c water and shortening in microwave until hot, but still touchable (100 degrees). Add warm liquid to the flour mix, blending mixer at low speed so you don't have flour flying everywhere. Then you can raise the speed to med and kneed the dough (this is a great time to use your dough hook if you have one). Add more flour as necessary. The dough should form a soft ball around the dough hook and pull away from the sides of the bowl. If it's still really sticking to the sides you need more flour, but don't add too much at once because you don't want dry pretzels. Put dough in a clean greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put in a warm place to rise (this time of year that means just about anywhere in my house!).  The dough will double in size (about 45 mins).

Get your cookie sheets greased and ready.When dough is risen, punch it down and divide it into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a 16 inch rope (or snake as the kids called it). Twist the ropes into pretzel shapes. I had to help the kids with this one at first, but they finally got it down. Be sure to pinch the ends down into the bottom of the pretzel. Put them on the cookie sheets, cover with plastic wrap again and let rise about 15 mins.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and move a rack close to the top of the oven. Combine the 6 cups of water with the baking soda in a shallow saucepan. Bring mix to a boil. I would have liked to get a photo of this next step, but it required all my hands and concentration. This is the part I wasn't sure about, but it was much easier than I expected. You gently pick up the pretzels (I used a slotted spatula) and set them into the boiling water. It only takes about 15 seconds of cooking on each side, so this goes quickly. As you take them out of the water allow the excess water to drain off a little and then put them back on the cookie sheet. Sprinkle with your topping choices.
Bake each sheet of pretzels on the top rack for about 10 mins. Watch them carefully because mine got brown really fast and I moved them to the middle rack for about the last two minutes. Of course the kids wanted to eat them as soon as they could smell them - oh how divine! I made them wait a few minutes while they cooled on wire racks, but they were still warm when we broke them open. I really think they were better than any soft pretzel I've ever had!

June 10, 2010

Hot Summer Water Fun for the Kids

This is something I save for a hot day with the littlest ones when I don't want to drag out a kiddie pool and watch their every move. I got out random containers from the recycling and our cabinets, measuring spoons, stirring spoons, cups, you name it. Then I fill a bunch of them (but not all) with water and let them go to town. They LOVE this and have such a ball making a big, wet, mess. Finally the water all ends up spilled out and we clean up everything. It's not a lot of work and it keeps them entertained for at least 30 mins.

June 6, 2010

Fast & Easy Goat Cheese Appetizer

Delicious and easy - what could be better?  I mentioned in a previous post I made this for a book swap party. It was a new recipe for me, but once I tried it I knew I'd be going back to it again and again. I garnished with some blueberries that have just ripened from our bushes out back, but you could use strawberries or raspberries or even some herbs.

Salty Sweet Goat Cheese Appetizer

1 log goat cheese
salted sesame seeds already shelled
Pour the sesame seeds onto a dinner plate.  Roll the goat cheese in the seeds until it is well covered (use your fingers to press them in if needed). Be sure to cover the ends of the log. Place the cheese on your serving plate and drizzle with honey. Garnish and serve with crackers. Now seriously, how easy was that???

June 5, 2010

Goodlife Cake

A fun cake to make for just about any occasion. I'm not a huge fan of clowns but they are whimsical and easy to create in icing. The body is made of icing and the head is a plastic pick you just stick in the top of the body. I used a striping bag technique to color the clown's body. You simply take a bit of paste food coloring on a toothpick and stripe the inside of the piping bag with a little of the color (be sure to use disposable parchment icing bags). Then add the icing to the bag. When you pipe it out, you get cute stripes of color on the icing!

Cake decorating tip of the day: when you want a smooth base icing finish like this one, dip your offset spatula in hot water between swipes which will help "melt" the icing smooth. 

June 3, 2010

Citrus Meringue Pie

This post is for my new friend Karyn. I recently took this pie to a book swap at her house and she asked that I share the recipe. I never expected anyone to be that thrilled about the pie I brought, I myself was more impressed with my appetizer (which I promise to share also) but noooo, it was the Citrus Pie that garnered rave reviews.

Meringues are not hard (in fact I have a Pavlova in the oven as I type) they just require a little patience, but nothing complicated. For my family, it is a great way to use up all of our chicken eggs because they use so many eggs in one recipe. Some hints to keep in mind when making meringues: First you want to make sure your egg whites are pristine, no bits of yolk in them and the metal bowl must be clean too, no traces of grease. Next, be sure to let the egg whites sit out and get to room temp (about 30 mins).  As you beat the egg whites, they will get a little foamy, this is time to add your sugar. Then you need to beat them on high for few minutes until they are spiky and hold those spikes even when you stop the mixer. Don't be tempted to beat them more than this, more is not better in this case. You will end up with over beaten, breaking apart white tips in your meringue.

Citrus Meringue Pie

1 Prebaked pie shell (make your own or purchase one and bake it according the package directions)

(Lemon Filling)
1 c sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 c milk
4 eggs, separated (put yolks in a small bowl and whites in a big mixing bowl)
1 tsp grated citrus rind (you can be traditional and use lemon, but I like to use orange or grapefruit)
1/3 c lemon juice
3 tbsp butter

1/2 tsp cream of tarter
1/4 c and 2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degree.
Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in saucepan. Gradually add milk, stirring until blended. Cook on med heat. Keep stirring and mix will thicken and comes to a boil (stand back or you may get splattered on). Boil 1 min (don't stop that stirring) and then remove from heat.  In small bowl, beat the egg yolks with whisk until they are thick and pale yellow. Add a little of the hot milk mixture to the egg yolks to temper them. This is a fancy way of saying you don't want to end up with scrambled eggs in your lemon pudding. You add a little hot milk mix to warm the egg yolks slowly. So stir a little in and then add a little more hot milk mix to the egg yolks until your small bowl feels pretty hot in there. Then it is safe to add the egg yolks directly to the hot milk mixture. Put back on med heat and stir, stir, stir about 2-3 mins. (Yes there is a LOT of stirring in this recipe, but it's worth it.) Remove mixture from heat and add citrus rind, lemon juice and butter. Stir again until it's all incorporated. Congratulations, you have just made homemade pudding! Pour this yummy glop into the pie shell.

Then in your large mixing bowl beat the egg whites and cream of tarter on med high until they are foamy (about a min). Turn down the mixer to med and gradually add the 1/4 c and 2 tbsp sugar. Then turn the mixer back up to high and let her rip. Creating the perfect spiky peaked egg white foam takes about 2-4 minutes. This is where I love having a KitchenAid stand mixer because I can walk away and do something else while the mixer does the work. It's also nice because every time I use the mixer I get an upper body workout - the thing is so darn heavy! After you have stiff peaks, beat in the vanilla. Then carefully pour the egg whites onto the pie filling. Seal the egg whites all the way to the edges of the pie crust so it doesn't pull away when baking. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes and the top will be a golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack and then you can put in the fridge for a couple of hours if you like it cold. Don't worry if the meringue "sweats" it won't change the taste.


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