Category Archives: Recipes

A Space-Themed Birthday Party: The Food Edition

In my previous post (A Space-Themed Birthday Party: The Decoration Edition) I shared a few fun crafts and decorations for a kid’s space-themed birthday party.  Here I’m going to share a bit about the food that we served.  I’m still learning the ropes about choosing how much to try to pull off by myself and how much to purchase premade. When planning the food for a party, some of the best advice I’ve heard was from Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame.  Ina suggests choosing one dish from each of three categories: made from scratch, partially home made (taking some premade products and sprucing them up into your own dish), and completely premade (where the only labor should be opening the package and pouring its contents onto a platter).  Depending on the number of guests you can increase the number dishes from any or all of the categories, but just be sure that you don’t make your “made from scratch” category too prominent.  As I look at our Space Birthday party in hindsight, I front loaded the “made from scratch” category, but I’ll get the balance right next time.  😉

In my case I was doing good until I gave Little Man the option of homemade baked chicken strips.  With Little Man being dairy intolerant we have to be very careful with the premade food we buy, reading ingredient labels carefully.  Homemade baked chicken strips are a relative staple in our household, and one of Little Man’s favorites, so it seemed a “no brainer” to ask if that’s what he’d like for his party.  However, I didn’t take into account the quantity of chicken strips that we’d have to make and the fact that since we bought the chicken breasts frozen and defrosted them for breading and cooking, we would not be able to refreeze the left overs due to food safety concerns.  Oy!  The short version is that the night before Little Man’s party, Dave and I were up breading, baking, cooling and refrigerating homemade chicken strips until 1:00am.  Ugh…  Like I often say, I am a fast learner.  I shorten my learning curve by skipping trial and heading straight for error.  I do have to say that the chicken strips were quite tasty, especially with the homemade Dinosaur BBQ sauce.  Due to the late night processing, I didn’t even try to take photos so I’ll post that recipe another time.

In terms of partially homemade foods, we bought a massive bag of french fries from Costco and baked those up the morning of the party.  We also put together a Planetary Fruit Plate, similar to the Rainbow Fruit Platter we have done in the past.  The planetary shape was fun, but I think that the rainbow wins out both in terms of ease of putting it together, as well as the fact that whenever we do the rainbow shape the platter is devoured.

The Planetary Fruit Platter.

The Planetary Fruit Platter.

Rainbow Fruit Platter served on a rectangular bamboo cutting board.

Rainbow Fruit Platter, always a winner.

We were woefully short on the completely premade foods, with only a lovely bag of Cheezies specifically requested by Little Man.  Next time I’ll have this side more fully stocked.

Aside from the other food items, there are two things that I want to make sure we do from scratch every time; the cake and the punch.  Part of this is that it just seems special to put the effort into making his cake.  When I make the cake that means that Little Man gets to help me with the cake itself and the decorations, as well as the fact that I can control the ingredients ensuring there is no dairy and the sugar ratio remains something reasonable.  Someday we may need to put the cake into the premade food category, but for now I want to keep that fun for myself.  Similarly with the punch, it’s one of those things to make from scratch that takes a bit more effort than simply removing the cap off of something bought from the store, but the final product is so much better that I can’t stand the thought of the alternative.  The actual labor in making the punch isn’t much AND I can control for the amount of sugar, dyes and other unpronounceables used, staying away from the 50 shades of corn syrup and chemicals found in most store products.  Yuck.

Rocket Ship Birthday Cake

The birthday boy making off with a handful of rocket flames (aka M&Ms).

The birthday boy making off with a handful of rocket flames (aka M&Ms).

Sticking with our Space theme, Little Man had a rocket ship birthday cake.  This was a super simple shape to cut and decorate, and didn’t require any reinforcing of layers or fondant hoopla.  For the cake itself I used a Chocolate Wacky Cake recipe.  Apparently this is a type of cake made famous during the Depression Era as it doesn’t use eggs or dairy, two expensive items at the time.  It’s also a bit kooky in the little divots you make to hold the vanilla, vinegar and oil, swirling everything together in the pan you bake it in (If you so desire.  I mixed it with the divots in a bowl and then poured it into the pan.).  The only thing I wasn’t happy with for the cake was the amount of sugar.  For this one occasion I did not halve the amount of sugar used since I wasn’t sure what that would do to the cake itself.  I’ll try a healthier version next time… which might just be next week.  For the frosting I used the Vegan Chocolate Frosting that I wrote about in the Mini Chocolate Cupcake post, and it turned out amazing as always.  Here are the links for the cake and frosting recipes, as well as the cake shape.

Chocolate Wacky Cake: This cake can be done in a variety of different flavors, but is especially fantastic for anyone with egg allergies since it doesn’t contain any.
Vegan Chocolate Frosting: I’ve written about this “stupid good” frosting before since we used it for Little Man’s birthday Mini Chocolate Cupcakes.  The recipe comes from Chocolate Covered Katie and cannot be praised enough.  ‘Nough said.  Just try it.
Rocket Ship Cake Shape: For Little Man’s party I made one 9×13 cake in a rectangular glass baking dish, and that was plenty big for our modestly-sized party.  I love how the bits that you carefully carve off to shape the nose cone become the fins for the rocket.  Waste not…

Things got crazy and I don't have a full picture of the birthday cake, but this is the shape.  It was frosted with the amazing Coconut Chocolate frosting and embellished with M&Ms, Little Man's main request for the cake.

Things got crazy and I don’t have a full picture of the birthday cake, but this is the shape. It was frosted with the amazing Coconut Chocolate frosting and embellished with M&Ms, Little Man’s main request for the cake.

Planetary Punch
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One of the recipes that I was most excited about trying for Little Man’s party was Planetary Punch.  The basis for this punch is the Apple and Mint Punch from Giada de Laurentis.  I quadruple the recipe whenever I make this for a party, and general cut the sugar in half.  What made the punch special for Little Man’s Space Party were the frozen juice spheres floated in the punch.  Dave has a silicon mould for making ice spheres for cocktails, so for the week leading up to the party we froze spheres of fruit juice (all fruit juice, none of the crazy corn syrup stuff here, please) in various hues to be floated in the punch as planets.  This would have worked perfectly… except that when making the simple syrup for the punch I ran out of white sugar and had to resort to coconut sugar instead.  While the punch still tasted fine, it was no longer a lovely shade of pale green, but instead the tawny shade of brown coconut sugar.  The planets were therefore a bit hazy to see through the punch.  I’ll be making it again in a couple of weeks with actual white sugar so that I can have the correct effect of the floating planets, and I’ll forward the pictures along when I do. 😉

The ice planets floating in space.

The ice planets floating in space.

While I did overload myself with a bit too much “from scratch” work, in the end we all ate well, yet managed to avoid the crummy tummies that sometimes results from party food.  Good naps were required by all.  Happy partying!

A Space-Themed Birthday Party: The Decoration Edition

Space, the final frontier…

I hadn’t realized how fulfilling it would be to write that line, and I have to admit that am rather pleased with myself for doing so.  🙂  However, this is not our final birthday frontier, but just the beginning.  Little Man is already talking about the party themes he wants to have next time, although to him “next time” means tomorrow.  Not gonna happen.  In the meantime, let me share with you some of the fun space-themed party decorations and foods that we did for Little Man’s fourth (how can he possibly be four years old already!?!?!) birthday party.

When we were giving Little Man options of what his birthday party theme could be, we had no idea that “space” would be such a difficult one to fill.  I figured that with all the cartoons, etc. there must be some options out there for plates and table cloths, right?  Not so much…  Luckily our local dollar store had a good selection that if not directly related to space (like a really cool bag of marbles that look sort of like planets) could be spun that way (like the little finger lasers).  Combine that with Pintrest, and we were off and running.
IMG_3352Here are some of my favorite things that we did.  I’ll post the food tomorrow.
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Decorations and Activities
Since there weren’t any nice space-themed decorations in the local stores (and I searched them all), I made most of the decorations with supplies from the local dollar store.  My main focus was on the cake/food table backdrop, but I also wanted to have a fun play area for the kids, as well as decorations that extended across the room to make it all look more festive.  My favorite things that we did are the Galaxy Backdrop, the Hanging Planets, a Poppin’ Pluto Dance Floor, a Rocket Ship and Glittery Stars.

Galaxy Backdrop

IMG_3294For the Galaxy Backdrop, I followed the directions from the excellent Elephant of Surprise website for Galaxy Pillowcases that could be used for floor/ground pillows.  I “upgraded” the project by using a twin-sized flat sheet so that I could use it as the backdrop on the wall above the cake/food table.  Aimee’s directions on the website are great, so other than the size difference between my twin flat sheet and her pillow cases the process was virtually the same.  Just be sure to use the real deal, cheap bleach.  I first tried this with my environmentally safe bleach and couldn’t figure out why the fabric didn’t bleach.  Ah well…  When using the “real” bleach, you should see the fabric change color almost immediately.  I ended up doing the spray bleach step twice since I didn’t quite get the results I wanted the first time.  Then after the galaxy sheet was washed and dried, the next two steps were to add a little white fabric paint and then some glow in the dark fabric paint.  Taa daa!

Here’s what you’ll need: a black twin-sized flat sheet, bleach, a spray bottle, white fabric paint, and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint. Elephant of a Surprise website link.

The swirled and scrunched sheet ready to be sprayed with bleach.

The swirled and scrunched sheet ready to be sprayed with bleach.

The bleach should immediately start to change the color of your fabric.  Here mine started to turn red almost instantly.  I let it do its magic for 10 minutes and then into the wash. I repeated this step twice to get the swirly galaxy that I wanted.

The bleach should immediately start to change the color of your fabric. Here mine started to turn red almost instantly. I let it do its magic for 10 minutes and then into the wash. I repeated this step twice to get the swirly galaxy that I wanted.

Here is the galaxy after the bleaching, washing and drying.

Here is the galaxy after the bleaching, washing and drying.

Then I randomly sprayed and sprinkled the galaxy with white and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint.

Then I randomly sprayed and sprinkled the galaxy with white and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint.

Hanging Planets
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This project was so much fun, and the effect of the Hanging Planets suspended in front of the Galaxy backdrop is pretty spectacular, so the DIY craftiness really paid off here.  Another bonus is that we are also in the process of “upgrading” Little Man’s room to change the decor he’s had since being a baby to actual little boy decor (Sob!).  After seeing his party decorations, Little Man asked if the Hanging Planets and Galaxy Backdrop could hang in his room, so now a Space-Themed bedroom is in the works and the major decor is something that resulted from his party.  That makes me doubly happy since the effort wasn’t only for his birthday, but now the decorations will be enjoyed for quite some time.  A further bonus is that all of the supplies should be available from your local dollar store, and if you do crafts with your kids you might have some of the equipment already.

Here’s what you will need:  9 styrofoam balls of varying sizes, bamboo skewers, 4-5 (depending in the size) florist foam blocks, an array of acrylic paints (I used combinations of red, blue, yellow, white and black), multicolored glitter, a wide foam brush, a smaller bristle paint brush, a plastic paint palette for mixing colors, push pins and golden crocheting yard.

Step 1: Cut the bamboo skewers in half, insert one end into the foam ball and then the other into a foam block. This will let you hold the “planet” by the skewer while you paint it, then you can put it back into the foam block to let it dry while you move on to another planet.  I was able to fit two planets each on the smaller blocks, and three on the larger one.  Just be sure that the balls don’t touch each other or it will smear the paint.  I then pinned planet names to the blocks so I could remember which ball was to be painted like which planet.  As you will notice, I also included Pluto.  While technically a Dwarf Planet, this party is more about fun than planetary fact checking.  And, I thought that my mom would like Pluto included here too.  🙂

Prepping your planets for painting and other awesomeness.

Prepping your planets for painting and other awesomeness.

Step 2: Paint a base layer of whatever the predominant color for that planet (for ideas see my color examples below).  To do this, simply remove the planet by its skewer from the foam block and use the wide foam brush to apply a good layer of paint to the planet.  The planet might spin a bit, and when that happened I just stuck the skewer in a bit tighter.  The goal here is to cover the sphere, not to be painstakingly precise with your color.  Once a planet is fully coated with the first layer of paint, return the skewer to the foam block and move on to another.  Make sure to let the paint dry completely before moving on to your second coat.  With 9 planets this shouldn’t be a problem, as by the time you get the base coat on all nine the first one should be dry again.  In terms of color choices, please remember that my field is not astronomy, and I painted these planets to more or less represent their “astronomical” look.  Google images helped with pictures of the planets, but I followed whimsy more than scientific fact in their creation.  See below for the colors I chose for each planet.

The base layers for Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

The base layers for Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

The base layers for Mars and Mercury.

The base layers for Mars and Mercury.

Step 3: Go back over each planet with a second coat of paint, adding whatever details can be individual to the specific planet.  Depending on the details you want to paint, use either the wide foam brush or the narrow paint brush or both.  I played fast and loose with planetary features here, so remember that the goal is fun not accuracy.  Jupiter got its storm, but I didn’t go into the detail to give Saturn 3-D rings.  Instead Saturn got rings painted around its equator.  Earth, as usual is the most problematic with the continents, but again this isn’t about a geography lesson.  Get the continents more or less on there, give Earth white on both poles and move on.

Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

What is key to this step is that the instant you finish with the secondary painting, have your glitter sprinkles ready and apply them immediately.  My planets were drying quickly, so if I hesitated for even a breath the glitter wouldn’t stick well.  For each planet I had my glitter jar opened to the correct color and a layer of newspaper laid out to catch the extra sparkles.  The moment I set my paint brush down, I grabbed the glitter and sprinkled away.  See my description of Mercury for an idea of what to do with the mixed glitter at the end.  Once one planet is complete, return its skewer to the foam block and move on to another.  Let the planets dry completely before moving on.  I let mine rest overnight.

The finished planets.

The finished planets.

Here are the color schemes I used for the planets:
Venus: Base coat of bluish green.  Secondary coat of bright green bands.  Green and gold glitter.
Earth: Base coat of bright, turquoise blue.  Secondary coat of green continents, with white at both poles.  Green glitter more or less on the continents and silver more or less on the poles.
Mars: Base coat of red.  Secondary coat of red with just a drop of black in random swirls.  Red and gold glitter.
Jupiter: Base coat of white with just a drop of yellow and brown. Purplish swirled band around the equator with a large swirly “eye” for the storm, as well as two yellow bands just off from the poles.  Purple and gold glitter.
Saturn: Base coat of muted yellow with a couple drops of purple.  Secondary bands of red and purple around the equator.  Purple glitter.
Uranus: Base coat of bright blue.  Secondary white and darker blue bands just offset from the northern pole and one near the equator.  Blue glitter.
Neptune: Base coat of bright blue.  Secondary coat of midnight blue (blue with just enough black so that you can still see a predominate blue color), applied not too evenly.  Blue glitter.
Pluto: Base coat of bright blue.  Secondary swirls of dark blue and yellow.  Yellow and blue glitter.
Mercury: Base coat of dark gray.  Secondary coat of black applied not too evenly.  Sprinkled all over with the combined dregs of sprinkles from the other planets.

Mars and Mercury were two of my favorites.

Mars and Mercury were two of my favorites.

Step 4: Once the planets are completely dry they can be suspended.  I cut varying lengths of golden crocheting yard and secured each end to a push pin.  I then put one end of the pin into a planet (close to where I removed the skewer) and the other end we pushed into the ceiling.  See more below.

Planets Backdrop
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Before you set up your backdrop, decide where you want the focal point of the room to be.  Position your cake/food table in that spot, then hang the Galaxy Backdrop above the table.  Decide on the order you want your planets hung in.  The plan was to put them in actual astronomical order, but as you can see in the picture I switched Mars and Earth.  Ah well… More artistic license I suppose.  I’ll get that fixed before hanging them in Little Man’s room.  The correct order should be from left to right: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.  Hang Jupiter first since that gives you your midpoint.  We then hung Mercury and Pluto on either end of the backdrop, and spaced the remaining planets between them.  We then hung a “Happy Birthday” banner across the top and wrapped a cool strand of changing color star lights around the whole thing.  Taa daa!
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Poppin’ Pluto Dance Floor
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This was almost one of my best ideas ever… almost…  I was inspired by the picture posted on Design Dazzle where for an outdoor party they simply unrolled some bubble wrap and let the kids run around on it.  For Little Man’s party, I knew we wanted to do some dancing and I thought that using the bubble wrap to make the dance floor would be perfect.  And it was… almost…  What I didn’t take into account was my sensitive child’s sensitive ears.  The other kids LOVED the popping bubble wrap, but Little Man was happier once the bubble wrap went away and he could groove to his heart’s content.
IMG_3348Here’s what you’ll need: 1-2 large rolls of large bubble wrap (not the tiny bubbles), clear packaging tape, glow-in-the-dark bracelets, rainbow light disco ball (optional but super cool)

Step 1: Decide where your dance floor (outside or indoor) will be.  Unroll your bubble wrap, cut it into long strips and then tape them together to make a square or rectangular “dance floor.”  We used 2 rolls for our area.  Then roll up your dance floor and stash it until ready to use.  Bubble wrap is near irresistible and unless you have armed guards protecting it, if it is laid down when the kiddos arrive, they will pounce.

Step 2: When you are ready to dance, activate and coil the glow-in-the-dark bracelets and place them on the floor where the dance floor will be.  The darker your room, the brighter the bracelets (aka planets) will be.  Unroll the dance floor over the planets, start your rainbow disco ball and unleash some tunes.  Little Man’s party dance music of choice is still Imagination Movers: Rock-o-matic.  It was awesome!

The DJ station.

The DJ station.

 Cardboard Rocket Ship
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There are a surprising number of cardboard rocket ship designs out there.  We wanted something that would be a great backdrop for pictures, but also that the kids could play in.  As long as it survived the party, I was happy.  It is just cardboard after all, and you should be able to get empty boxes for free from any selection of local stores.  Recycling can be fun!

Here’s what you’ll need: multiple large cardboard boxes, wide masking tape, a box cutter, spray paint, and acrylic paint.

For this craft I don’t have specific construction steps since this will vary wildly based on the shape and size of rocket you want to make.  I used a large cube-shaped box for the body, opening out the flaps and taping it all together to make a long rectangle.  If your “rocket” feels a bit unsecure in places, take some of your remaining boxes, cut strips from them and tape or hot glue these reinforcing strips on the inside of your rocket.  Once the body is complete, spray paint it silver.  After the silver paint is dried, shape fins for your rocket, hot glue them on and hand paint them dark blue with acrylic paint.

We made our rocket in two pieces so that it wouldn’t break whenever it fell over.  With another large box, shape a cone (or pyramid) top for your rocket.  Once the cone is shaped and secured with interior structural strips, spray paint it red.

After everything is dry, I cut a round window in the front and a door in the back.  Make sure your door is big enough for the kiddos to fit in, but don’t take it all the way down to the floor.  Leave a little bit that the kids need to step over in order to keep the base of your rocket strong.
IMG_3311Glittery Stars
IMG_3301Even though these popsicle stick stars (or snowflakes) are a pretty ubiquitous craft, I included them here since it was something that Little Man could have an active hand in creating.  I wanted him to be able to feel a bit of ownership in this DIY adventure, and to be able to see his art work hanging in the party space.

Here’s what you’ll need: : Large craft popsicle sticks, hot glue gun, craft glue, sticky jewels, silver glitter, silver and blue glass gems, sparkly yarn to hang them with.

Step 1: Adults, using a hot glue gun, glue two sticks into a plus sign.  Do this with the remaining sticks that you want to use.  Little Man and I made 8 stars, so we completed 16 of the plus signs.  Then glue two of the plus signs together to create the star (or snowflake) shape.

Step 2: Kiddos and adults, you can now bedazzle the stars to your hearts content.  I put a little glue on a disposable plate for Little Man and gave him a paint brush.  He could then paint the glue onto the bare star, and then place the glass gems.  Be careful to not use too many glass gems on a single star, since they can become quite heavy.  We used 4-5 glass gems per star, with the remaining space filled with sticker jewels and squiggles of glue encrusted with silver glitter.  Let your stars dry completely.
IMG_3301 (2)Step 3: Adults, once your stars are completely dry, cut lengths of your sparkly yard for hanging them.  Tie the ends of the yard together in a small knot, then hot glue the yard to the back of top arm of your star.  I used the knot in case some of our stars were heavy enough to pull the yarn through the glue, but if your stars are light you might not need to do this.  We then hung them across the ceiling with push pins.

The whole effect... except for lots of screaming... more or less.

The whole effect… except for lots of screaming… more or less.

I hope that you enjoy these ideas for a Space Themed kids birthday party.  Please feel free to share any other ideas that you come up with or that you’ve seen elsewhere.  I “pinned” a ton of ideas to my Pintrest page under Kids Birthday Ideas, and only had the time (and gumption) to pull off a few of them.  Have fun!

The party in full swing.

The party in full swing.

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes

Someone once read me a quote that describes time as a whirlwind, swirling faster as you move away from the center out towards the edges.  Time moves slowest at the center of the whirlwind and this is full of people trying desperately to slow down or hold onto time, mostly young lovers and the parents of young children.  As Little Man turns four both Dave and I find ourselves manically flip-flopping between being excited for what this new year will bring (aka let’s please get out of the threes… please…) and sappy nostalgia for the baby that Little Man used to be.  Sob!

Right now the excitement for four is winning out, and I can’t wait to see what this new year will bring.  To start his fourth year out right we wanted Little Man to be able to bring a special dessert to his day care, but still have it be something we can feel good about him eating.  I haven’t written about it yet, but much of last year has been a struggle to figure out if Little Man is dairy/lactose intolerant or not.  Many of the recipes that I have been working on recently are dairy-free versions of family favorites.  In many cases I’ve been able to simply swap out cow’s milk for almond or coconut milk.  In a few examples, the transition hasn’t been that easy.  The main thing for this birthday treat, however, was that we wanted it to be something that Little Man would be hugely excited for and that he and his “classmates” would have no idea that the treat they were eating was good for them (or at least not as bad as the refined flour and white sugar versions can be).

These mini muffin/cup cakes are delicious treats on their own.

These mini muffin/cup cakes are delicious treats on their own.

Last year Little Man and I brought mini-muffin sized versions of my Banana Chocolate Muffins, which were also one of my first posted recipes for this site (more nostalgia…).  This year I wanted to bring it up a notch and make it more cupcakey.  The first step was to revamp my previous recipe making it nearly dairy-free.  I say “nearly dairy free” since it does have semisweet chocolate chips and those contain milk.  If you want truly dairy free you can simply omit the chocolate chips, or use a dairy-free/vegan alternative.  I haven’t found one that I’m happy with yet, so standard semi-sweet chocolate chips won out.  These muffins, mini or otherwise, are delicious on their own and are treats that I feel good about Little Man eating.

But what really sets these mini muffin/cupcakes apart is the frosting.  Oh, the frosting…  This frosting is the first thing that I’ve every come across that deserves the phrase “stupid good!”  It’s amazing.  Four ingredients.  30 second to whip it up.  The hardest thing is not devouring the entire bowl before frosting your cupcakes or cake.  Seriously… This stuff is ridiculous, and I cannot take a single iota of credit for it.  The frosting recipe comes from an amazing blog called Chocolate Covered Katie.  I’ve included a link to the Vegan Chocolate Frosting Shots here, as well as in the main recipe below.  For Dave and I, we were happy leaving it just barely sweetened with a little powdered sugar, but for the kiddos I added probably about 1/2 cup total of powdered sugar to take the edge off of the bittersweet chocolate goodness that this creates.  This “frosting” could be served as a chocolate mousse in a fancy coupe and no one would be the wiser.  Seriously, it’s that good.  I doubled the recipe to make enough frosting to cover these cupcakes.

My sous chef had a great time playing "baker," though it took a bit of persuasion to convince him that wearing an apron was a good idea.

My sous chef had a great time playing “baker,” though it took a bit of persuasion to convince him that wearing an apron was a good idea.

OK, back to the awesome cupcakes…  Since these cupcakes were for Little Man’s day care buddies, it only seemed fitting that he help me make them.  You’ll notice that in the pictures from this recipe are, shall we say… a bit more messy than usual.  They often have ingredients all over the counter, with Little Man’s grubby mits sticking out of the bowl at any given time.  We had a blast.  While I “controlled” the situation enough to make sure that the end product was delicious, I wanted this to be super fun for Little Man.  He got to taste the ingredients and saw that flour did not taste good good, while brown sugar was quite tasty.  I measured, he dumped, and a good time was had by all.  By the time we were spooning batter into the muffin cups, he was pretty done with the whole procedure, but that was fine since the motor skills of filling little muffin cups cleanly is still a bit beyond him.

In terms of planning, I made the cup cakes two days in advance, the frosting the night before, and then frosted and decorated the cakes in the morning before day care.  You can certainly frost them the night before, but you would need to either leave them uncovered in the refrigerator or keep them in a container that does not touch their tops.  The frosting stays soft to the touch, so plastic wrap won’t be an option.  Your hardest hurdle to clear will be not gobbling them up before sending them off to school.

Little Man got to help sprinkle the baby planets over the frosted cup cakes.

Little Man got to help sprinkle the baby planets over the frosted cup cakes.

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes (Dairy Free)
Ingredients
:
4 very ripe bananas
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup silken tofu
2 eggs
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF and line a mini muffin pan with paper liners. A regular muffin pan can be used, but the cupcakes will spread out a bit rather than growing tall.

    I don't own a mini muffin pan, so we simply used a regular sized pan with mini muffin cup papers.  Little Man had a blast dropping single cups into each hole in the pan.  Of course this task was made more fun with a generous mug of Auntie Erin's Hot Cocoa, hence the straw in the photo.

    I don’t own a mini muffin pan, so we simply used a regular sized pan with mini muffin cup papers. Little Man had a blast dropping single cups into each hole in the pan. Of course this task was made more fun with a generous mug of Auntie Erin’s Hot Cocoa, hence the straw in the photo.

  2. In a large bowl add the bananas, oil, tofu, eggs and brown sugar. Beat them on medium high with electric beaters (or a stand mixer) until well combined. There may still be tiny flecks of tofu sprinkled throughout, but that’s fine. It will melt right in.

    Wet "more or less" ingredients.

    Wet “more or less” ingredients.

    Not the most photogenic image, but no matter how fast I whisked I couldn't get the tofu to incorporate like I wanted it to.  So I switched to the electric beaters, and they did the job.

    Not the most photogenic image, but no matter how fast I whisked I couldn’t get the tofu to incorporate like I wanted it to. So I switched to the electric beaters, and they did the job.

  3. In a medium bowl add the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda. Whisk the ingredients together to combine.

    Dry ingredients, mostly in the bowl.

    Dry ingredients, mostly in the bowl.

  4. Gently add the dry ingredients to the wet, being careful to not over mix the batter. Fold in the chocolate chips if using.

    The rich, chocolate batter.  Make it truly dairy free by omitting the chocolate chips or using a vegan substitute.

    The rich, chocolate batter. Make it truly dairy free by omitting the chocolate chips or using a vegan substitute.

  5. Spoon a couple of teaspoons of batter into the prepared muffin pans.

    This was Little Man's pan that he filled.  If I had a small cookie scoop for this, it might have been easier for him.  As it was, the two teaspoons were a fun, artistic adventure.

    This was Little Man’s pan that he filled. If I had a small cookie scoop for this, it might have been easier for him. As it was, the two teaspoons were a fun, artistic adventure.

  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

    Once on they were on the rack, it became difficult to to convince Little Man that they weren't there as immediate snack treats.

    Once on they were on the rack, it became difficult to to convince Little Man that they weren’t there as immediate snack treats.

  7. Decorations: Frost the cupcakes with Vegan Chocolate Frosting, then decorate as whimsy dictates. Sprinkles are always fun, or you could use sugared flowers for an upscale look. Little Man’s birthday party this year is space-themed, so he chose tiny sphere sprinkles since they look like “baby planets.”

Click here for a printable version of the Mini Chocolate Cupcakes (Dairy Free) recipe.

Now we're talking...

Now we’re talking…

 

Fluffy Wheat Bread and That Darn Cat

While I absolutely love my Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread, there are times when I want something that is a little lighter, a little fluffier.  That’s where this delicious, fluffy, whole wheat bread comes in.  This recipe is adapted from one that was taught to me by a friend.  It makes three loaves or rounds of bread, and I like to bake one off immediately while freezing two dough portions to thaw and bake later.  Ever since I started making the Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread and this Fluffy Whole Wheat Bread, I end up making a batch of dough every few weeks and haven’t bought bread from the store in about a year.  Yes, that means that every few weeks I go through the labor of making my own bread dough, but it’s something that I love to do and since Santa brought me a stand mixer last year, the active labor part is quite short.  It always has the feeling of play as I shape the loaves, and it makes the house smell great to boot.

I do have one word of warning… be careful where you put your shaped loaves to rise.  Just this New Years Eve I set a beautiful round of Fluffy Whole Wheat Bread dough in front of our wood burning stove to rise.  Dave was making an amazing surf and turf dinner that included mussels in a butter and white wine sauce, so I was making bread to soak up all of that delicious mussel broth.  When I went back downstairs an hour later to get the risen dough, I was greeted with the sight of a very comfortable and pleased-with-herself cat grinning at me as she lounged on top of my beautiful bread.  Doh!  She was not pleased when she was unceremoniously removed from her bready pillow, but at least the plastic wrap and towel covering kept the dough more or less safe.  It was a bit squished with a cat imprint on one side, however.  Dave found this amusing.  Lesson learned.

Fluffy Wheat Bread
A soft, fluffy, whole wheat loaf that is perfect for sandwiches, toast, or just fresh with butter. This recipe makes three loaves, so I like to bake one off immediately and freeze the other two portions to use later.
Yield: 3 loaves

Proofing Yeast Ingredients:
¾ cup water
1 tsp. honey
2 packages of yeast (or 4 ½ tsp.)
Bread Dough Ingredients:
8 cups whole wheat bread flour
1 tbsp. salt
2 cups water
1 egg
2 tbsp. honey
¼ cup canola oil

Directions:

  1. Combine the water and honey from the proofing yeast ingredients in a microwave safe bowl and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir in the yeast and set the mixture aside to proof for 10 minutes. The yeast should get nice and foamy. If it does not get foamy then you likely have a bad batch of yeast and need to start over.

    Happy, bubbly yeast.

  2. Combine the whole wheat bread flour and the salt in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and stir the salt into the flour briefly. Salt can inhibit yeast growth, but it also gives bread great flavor. So we want to distribute the salt so that it doesn’t hit the yeast in one big clump.
  3. Add the rest of the bread dough ingredients to the flour and salt mixture, and then add the proofed yeast. Stir to combine.  If using a stand mixer, once the ingredients are nearly combined (you may need to turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl once or twice) switch to mixing speed 2 and “knead” the dough for 6 minutes. Be sure to follow manufacturer’s guidelines for processing dough in your mixer. If making the bread by hand, scrape the thoroughly mixed of the bowl out onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand for 15 minutes. Dough will likely be slightly sticky, but avoid adding extra flour as much as possible.

    Almost all of the ingredients...

    Almost all of the ingredients…

    Everything into the pool.

    Everything into the pool.

    Switching to Speed 2 to actually knead the dough.

    Switching to Speed 2 to actually knead the dough.

    While I like to knead dough by hand, when I'm making the dough regularly I really like the speed of my stand mixer.

    While I like to knead dough by hand, when I’m making the dough regularly I really like the speed of my stand mixer.

  4. Once the dough has been thoroughly kneaded, place it in a large, warm bowl that has been lightly coated with oil. Flip the dough ball over and cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap. Then cover this with a clean towel and place it somewhere warm to proof. This should take 45 minutes to an hour, or as long as it takes for the dough to double in size.

    Lightly oil the bowl.  In cold weather I like to heat the bowl in warm water before oiling it and proofing the dough.

    In cold weather I like to heat the bowl in warm water before oiling it and proofing the dough.

    Place the dough in the oiled bowl and then flip it to keep the top moist during proofing.

    Place the dough in the oiled bowl and then flip it to keep the top moist during proofing.

    Tuck the dough in nicely with a loose layer of plastic wrap and then a clean kitchen towel.

    Tuck the dough in nicely with a loose layer of plastic wrap and then a clean kitchen towel.

    Happy, risen dough.

    Happy, risen dough.

  5. Once the dough has doubled, gently press down on it to release the built up gasses. There’s no need to punch it, just press it down and let it rest for 8 minutes before continuing.

    There's absolutely no reason to get violent with your dough.  Just give it a good bit of pressure to release some of the built up gasses, then let it rest again.

    There’s absolutely no reason to get violent with your dough. Just give it a good bit of pressure to release some of the built up gasses, then let it rest again.

  6. After the dough has rested divide it into three roughly equal pieces. On a lightly floured board shape one piece into a roughly 8×6 inch rectangle. Tightly roll the rectangle into a long cylinder, tucking the ends in as you go. Seal the cylinder along its base so that no seams are visible. Set the cylinder aside and repeat this step with the remaining two pieces of dough.

    No need to get fussy with exact measurements here.  Just divy it up and keep moving forward.

    No need to get fussy with exact measurements here. Just divy it up and keep moving forward.

    Shaping the dough.  Start with a rectangle, then roll it up into a cylinder.

    Shaping the dough. Start with a rectangle, then roll it up into a cylinder.

    Creating the loaves.

    Creating the loaves.

  7. To freeze for future use: Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and then place them into large, resealable plastic bags. Seal the bag and place it on a flat surface in the freezer. The dough can be frozen for 2-3 months. Remove the dough from the freezer and thaw in a well-buttered loaf pan for a few hours or overnight and then proceed to baking instructions.

    Wrap the cylinders up loosely in plastic wrap.  They'll continue to expand as they freeze, so if you wrap them too tightly they will burst.

    Wrap the cylinders up loosely in plastic wrap. They’ll continue to expand as they freeze, so if you wrap them too tightly they will burst.

    Getting the dough ready to freeze.  When you are ready to bake them off, just let them defrost overnight to do their second rise.  Be patient and give them time.  The dough's cold, so needs some time get nice and fluffy.

    Getting the dough ready to freeze. When you are ready to bake them off, just let them defrost overnight to do their second rise. Be patient and give them time. The dough’s cold, so needs some time get nice and fluffy.

  8. To bake immediately: Place each piece of dough into its own oiled loaf pan. Cover the pan(s) loosely with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Set the pan(s) aside to let the dough rise for about 45 minutes to an hour. Proceed to baking instructions.
    IMG_3070

    Nicely risen dough, without any squished marks from being sat on by a cat.  Like I said, lesson learned.

    Nicely risen dough, without any squished marks from being sat on by a cat. Like I said, lesson learned.

    IMG_3076

  9. Baking Instructions: Preheat your oven to 350ºF and bake the bread for 20 minutes. The bread is done when it is brown on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. You can also check its internal temperature to ensure that it has reached 190ºF. Cool on wire racks and enjoy!

    This bread is just calling for butter and jam.

    This bread is just calling for butter and jam.

    This loaf was destined for a dinner of tuna and smashed avocado sandwiches.  They were perfect.

    This loaf was destined for a dinner of tuna and smashed avocado sandwiches. They were perfect.

Click here for a printable version of the Fluffy Wheat Bread recipe.

Warming Up

Hello again!  Please forgive my LONG absence.  The semester is done.  I had a fantastic time back in the classroom, but it’s also nice to have mental space for creative writing… and eating.

Now that I get the chance to write here again, I feel the need to warm up a bit, to flex that part of my brain that writes creatively rather than academically.  That is part of why I named this post “Warming Up.”  The other part is that it is COLD here!  We’re back from our short winter wanderings (which were awesome, by the way…), but it doesn’t take long in our home warmed only by a wood burning stove to reach near arctic conditions if the stove isn’t in use.  Just a couple of days without a fire burning or people cooking and it takes a solid day of big fires in that stove to make it possible (forget about pleasant) to walk on our wood floors without serious slippers.  The floors will suck your life force right out of your soles.

So that first day back as we unpacked, kept the fire burning, and tried to find the rhythm of our schedule again, all I wanted was a nice pot of this spiced Masala Chai simmering away on the stove.  Well… that and a nice scone to go with the chai… but one step at a time.  A shopping trip is necessary before the scones can be a reality, but the chai is ready to go.

Masala Chai is a hot, spiced tea inspired by Indian culture.  “Masala” more or less means “mixed” or in this case “mixed spice,” and “chai” means “tea.”  So the next time you order a “chai tea” at your favorite coffee shop, know that you are ordering a “tea tea.”  😉  Making your own chai gives you a double bonus, not only do you actually know what spices (and no additives or preservatives) are in your tea, but it makes your house smell awesome as well.

Here are just a couple of thoughts about making yourself a lovely pot of chai.  First, it might sound odd to add whole black peppercorns to your tea.  Don’t worry.  This won’t make your tea taste like pepper, but the peppercorns (like the cinnamon) add a nice, warm spice to the tea.  It’s the warmth that you feel in the back of your throat that feels like it’s warming you from the inside out.  Second, the spiced tea is finished with milk and brown sugar at the very end, so you can add more or choose to add less based on individual choice.  I generally make mine with skim milk, but whole milk would make a wonderfully decadent version, or non-dairy milks could be substituted in as well.  Coconut milk would be great, as would rice or almond milk.  Just be aware that if you use sweetened rice milk, you might want to hold back on some of the brown sugar so the chai isn’t too sweet.  Also almond milk can add a bit of bitterness to the chai, so you might want to add a bit more brown sugar to balance things out.  Enjoy!

Masala Chai
Ingredients
:
12 green cardamom pods
1 tablespoon fennel seed
12 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 ½ inch piece of ginger root
10 black peppercorns
7 cups water
6 bags of black tea (regular or decaffeinated)
3+ tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup milk (any kind will do: skim, whole, coconut, rice, etc.  Just know that almond milk can add a bit of bitterness)

Directions

  1. Gather all of your ingredients so you’re ready to go, but don’t combine anything yet since two of your ingredients need to be prepped. Crush the cardamom pods with the back of a large spoon to release more flavor during boiling. There is no need to peel the ginger (you can if you prefer), but slice it thinly into matchsticks.

    The spice ingredients for the chai.

    The spice ingredients for the chai.

  2. Combine the cardamom, fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon stick, ginger root, peppercorns and water in a saucepan large enough to hold 8+ cups of liquid.

    Make sure your saucepan is large enough to easily hold the boiling liquid, as well as the sugar and milk added at the end.

    Make sure your saucepan is large enough to easily hold the boiling liquid, as well as the sugar and milk added at the end.

  3. Bring the spice mixture to a boil and let it bubble away vigorously for 5 minutes.

    The boiling spices will start to make your kitchen smell fantastic.

    The boiling spices will start to make your kitchen smell fantastic.

  4. Remove the pan from the heat and let it steep for 10 minutes.

    Not much is happening yet, but you can start to see the change to your tea base as the spices steep.

    Not much is happening yet, but you can start to see the change to your tea base as the spices steep.

  5. Add the tea bags to the pan, place it back on the heat and bring to a boil. Once bubbling reduce the heat and simmer the tea gently for 5 minutes.

    The color changes immediately after adding the tea bags.

    The color changes immediately after adding the tea bags.

    After the steeping the tea starts to have the gorgeous majogany color.

    After the steeping the tea starts to have the gorgeous mahogany color.

  6. Strain the mixture into a heat-resistant bowl, discard the spices and then return the tea to the saucepan.

    The spices have done their part, imbuing the tea base with amazing heat and flavor.

    The spices have done their part, imbuing the tea base with amazing heat and flavor.

    The strained masala chai tea base.  All that's left now is to tweak the flavor to taste.

    The strained masala chai tea base. All that’s left now is to tweak the flavor to taste.

  7. Stir in the brown sugar and milk. Taste the masala chai and add more sugar if you prefer it sweeter. Serve immediately.

    Oh yeah...

    Oh yeah…

    A delicious mug of masala chai.  All that's missing is the scone...

    A delicious mug of masala chai. All that’s missing is the scone…

  8. Left over chai can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator and reheated on the stove or in a microwave. This chai is great with a lightly sweet scone, like my Blueberry Cinnamon Scones.

Click here for a printable version of the Masala Chai recipe.

The Tyranny of Cucumbers

“Did you ever think in your life that you would have made so many pickles?”

Dave recently asked me this at 1am in the morning as we were wrapping up a marathon pickling session.  I gave one of those chuckles that comes from pure exhaustion and set the timer for the processing of the last four jars of cured pickles.  The answer to Dave’s question was a resounding “no” not in a million years would I have ever thought that I’d have made any pickles, forget about the 40 some odd liters… yes liters… of pickles I’d made over the last few weeks.

When the lady farmer landlord asked if I’d be interested in making pickles, I’d jumped at the chance.  Almost literally.  Then I realized how many cucumbers one healthy plant can produce, forget about the fact that the cucumber bed at the farm has 7-8 hills of cucumbers, each hill housing 2-3 vines.  Oh my…

If you’ve ever seen cucumbers grow, you would know that they are ninja vegetables.  Their camouflage is so perfect they put invisibility cloaks to shame.  The lady farmer landlord and myself and Dave and Little Man would comb over a vine, plucking any cucumbers we would find.  Little Man’s contribution is a bit quesitonable here.  It mainly consists of him dropping an action figure into the plant accompanied by much “argh, I’m faaaaaalllllliiiing…” and then demands that his figure be saved.  We would pick it all, from the tiny pinky finge- sized cukes to the fat field cucumbers that are too big to be whole pickes, but would make good relish or pickle slices.  I state that all 3-4 of us were combing through each fine, picking everything, and 15 minutes later we’d see the vine from a different angle and find 3 more cukes hiding there.  Then the next morning when I’d be watering the garden I’d see more smirking at me from under the leaves.

We’ve now put a kaybash on picking cucumbers for pickling.  Anything else can be done with them, eat them raw with a little vinegar, make a delicious cold soup or dip (for a cold cucumber yogurt soup, check out my Turkish Cucumber and Yogurt Soup (aka Cacik) recipe), slice them with fresh tomatoes and drizzle them with a little olive oil and balsalmic vinegar for a sliced salad, and the list goes on.  You can make jewelry with them for all I care, just don’t ask me to make more pickles…  please…  🙂

Grape leaves for keeping pickles crisp.

Grape leaves for keeping pickles crisp.

Kosher-Style Dill Pickles

One of the biggest hurdles to deal with in making pickles is how to keep something submerged in water crisp.  One way is to use a fresh grape leaf in each jar.  Grape leaves contain alum, which helps to keep the pickles crisp.  Also, the blossom end of the cucumbers contains and enzyme that softens pickles.  So trim off a little of both ends of the cucumbers to make sure that those enzymes are removed.  Now get pickling!

Ingredients
8 lbs. small pickling cucumbers (such as Kirby)
1 cup pickling or kosher salt
3 tbsp. pickling spice
9 cups water
7 ¾ cups white vinegar
7 small, fresh grape leaves
7 bay leaves
7 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
7 dill sprigs and heads, halved

Directions

  1. Wash and scrub the cucumbers under running water. Trim 1/8th of an inch off of both ends of every cucumber, and then poke them all over with a fork.

    A big pile of cucumbers waiting to be pickles.

    A big pile of cucumbers waiting to be pickles.

    Poking holes to aid in curing the cucumbers.

    Poking holes to aid in curing the cucumbers.

  2. In a large, non-reactive bowl create four layers of cucumbers each one topped with ¼ cup of the kosher salt. Once the layers are completed, fill the bowl with cold water to submerge the cucumbers by ¼ inch. Use a plate to weigh down the cucumbers, and let them sit for 12 to 24 hours.

    A first layer of cucumbers.

    A first layer of cucumbers.

    A layer of kosher salt.

    A layer of kosher salt.

    The final of four layers of cucumbers and salt.

    The final of four layers of cucumbers and salt.

    The cured cucumbers after soaking in the salted water for 24 hours.

    The cured cucumbers after soaking in the salted water for 24 hours.

  3. Prepare your canner (or large stock pot), jars and lids.
  4. Drain, rinse and drain the cucumbers again.
  5. Wrap the pickling spice in a double thickness of cheese cloth and tie it securely. In a large pot combine the packet of pickling spice, water and vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil and continue at a hard boil for one minute. Discard the packet of pickling spice, and keep the brine hot.
  6. Working with one jar at a time place one grape leaf, one bay leaf, one half of a garlic clove, and one half of a dill head at the bottom of the jar. Pack the jar tightly with cucumbers. Place one half of a garlic clove and one half of a dill head on top of the cucumbers. Pour in the hot pickling liquid leaving ½ inch head space. Remove air bubbles and add more pickling liquid if necessary. Wipe the rim and place a hot lid disk on the jar. Skrew down the band to fingertip-tight.
  7. Place jars in the canner and return to a boil. Process for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let the jars sit in the hot water for another 5 minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the hot water and place them without tipping on a towel-lined counter top. Let the jars stand for 24 hours, then check the lids to be sure they are all sealed. Any jar that is not sealed can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Jars with good seals can be cleaned and stored. If any pickles protrude above the brine in their jars, simply turn the jars over weekly in storage to keep the different ends from drying out. Enjoy!
    20140731_155425

Click here for a printable version of the Kosher Style Dill Pickles recipe.

 

Date Night

The semester began and I don’t think we’ve stopped running yet.  I can’t wait to carve out the time (and energy) to share some of the ideas and dishes that I’ve been working on,

Anniversary Date Night

Anniversary Date Night

To begin, I can’t believe that Dave and I just celebrated our 9th Wedding Anniversary!  Our actual anniversary fell in the middle of the week, so we did our big date night on the Friday night.  On the “real” night we had a great dinner at home of Chicken Taco Casserole, but to start I made an amuse buche that we’d had at our wedding.

Date Night Dates

Date Night Dates

These Date Night dates are a simple combination of a whole pitted date stuffed with walnuts and Parmesan cheese.  If you have it in your budget, these are superlative if done with mejdool dates.  Our budget didn’t quite run that deep, so instead I used whole pitted dates from the bulk bins at our local supermarket and they tasted fantastic.

Date Night Dates

Ingredients

8 whole pitted dates
8 whole or 16 halved walnuts, no shell
8 shards of Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. With a small, sharp knife cut an opening slit into the top of each date.
  2. Depending on the size of the dates, insert a whole or half walnut into each.
  3. Insert a shard of Parmesan into each date.
  4. Serve on a nice plate with fancy beverage of choice. Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Date Night Dates recipe.

Amuse Buche

Here’s to more amazing memories!  Love ya, Dave!

“Sort of” Migas: A Fast Meal for Busy Days

This dish is one of those “go to” meals for an evening when there just isn’t enough time or energy to do something from the regular routine.  The inspiration for my “Sort of” Migas came from reading one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen.  In the post I was reading, Deb Perelman described a dish of Migas and from her description I knew I had to try it.  At its most basic form, Migas are scrambled eggs with spicy ground meat and tortilla chips all cooked together.  Deb’s Smitten Kitchen version was an amazing Migas with a Spicy Tomato Chipotle Coulis.

While the Smitten Kitchen version of Migas sounded phenomenal, I didn’t have the energy to even consider making it all from scratch.  In fact, when I stumbled onto Deb’s recipe I had been quickly perusing the internet in a desperate search for inspiration for a fast meal using ingredients that I actually had at home.  Now while I love living on Vancouver Island, finding good Mexican food has proven… shall we say… difficult.  This is the first place that I have ever lived where you cannot buy corn tortillas.  Seriously.  No where on the island… Doh!  This is a long way to say that I am in constant longing for good Mexican food, and therefore have to make it at home.  When I read the Smitten Kitchen post, I knew that I wanted those Migas and that if I stripped it down to its basic ingredients I could pull it off.

That said, please know that my “Sort of” Migas are not authentic in any stretch of the imagination.  Instead of Mexican chorizo I use well-seasoned ground turkey.  And I use jarred salsa.  Need I say more?  What is missing in authenticity, however, these “Sort of” Migas make up for in great taste.  They are fast, delicious, and have been endorsed by Little Man.  Enjoy!

“Sort of” Migas
Ingredients
:
1 tsp. olive oil
½ lb. ground turkey
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
Salt and pepper
6 eggs, beaten
4 cups tortilla chips
1 small jar salsa

Directions:

  1. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the ground turkey and break it apart with a wooden spoon. Add the garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, and coriander, stirring to combine the spices with the ground turkey. Add salt and pepper to taste, continuing to stir and brown the meat until it is well cooked, about 7-10 minutes.

    It's just not easy to make raw ground turkey look nice in a photo.

    It’s just not easy to make raw ground turkey look nice in a photo.

    Since the ground turkey is taking the place of Mexican chorizo, you need to add a lot of spice.  I dialed down my spice inspirations so that it would still be Little Man safe.  If you don't have to keep spicy-timid taste buds in mind, feel free to add some cayenne or chipotle.

    Since the ground turkey is taking the place of Mexican chorizo, you need to add a lot of spice. I dialed down my spice inspirations so that it would still be Little Man safe. If you don’t have to keep spicy-timid taste buds in mind, feel free to add some cayenne or chipotle.

  2. Lower the heat to medium low and add the beaten eggs. Stir the eggs in the seasoned turkey to scramble the eggs. When the eggs just start to set add the tortilla chips and stir to coat the chips in the turkey and egg mixture, breaking some of them while stirring. When the eggs are set remove the pan from the heat.

    Add in the beaten eggs and let then sit for just a moment to start setting up.

    Add in the beaten eggs and let then sit for just a moment to start setting up.

    When the eggs start to come together, then you can add the tortilla chips.

    When the eggs start to come together, then you can add the tortilla chips.

    When you add the tortilla chips to the pan, don't be afraid to break them up a bit.  This isn't a dainty dish, so you don't need to be gentle with the ingredients.

    When you add the tortilla chips to the pan, don’t be afraid to break them up a bit. This isn’t a dainty dish, so you don’t need to be gentle with the ingredients.

    Here is Little Man's portion on one of his planet plates.  It didn't look like this for long as he dug right in.

    Here is Little Man’s portion on one of his planet plates. It didn’t look like this for long as he dug right in.

  3. Serve the “Sort of” Migas with the salsa and remaining chips.

Click here for a printable version of the “Sort of” Migas recipe.

"Sort of" Migas

A Tale of Two Parties: Deb’s Swiss Apple Pie

We’ve made it!  We’re at the end of the recipes from Dave’s Graduation Party!  It seems fitting  to end this party series with a dessert taht is perfect for feeding a crowd.  It tastes amazing, but is one of the easiest pies to make AND it comes giant sized.  This was taught to me by one of my favorite New Yorkers, Deb, of the famous Deb’s Jello Salad post.  It is from Deb that I was first introduced to the magic invention of the apple peeler/corer/slicer all in one.  Brilliant!  And it is especially brilliant for this recipe for the Apple Slices layer.  a few cranks of the handle and all you have to do for your presentation apples is slice them in half and fan them out.  If you have one of these inventions gathering dust in a dark corner of a kitchen cup board, this is the perfect dish to bust it out for.  You won’t regret it.

Deb's Swiss Apple Pie

Deb’s Swiss Apple Pie
Ingredients
:
Apple Filling:
4 large apples, peeled, quartered, cored and cubed
½ c. butter
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
Apple Slice Layer:
5 medium apples, peeled, cored, halved and thinly sliced
2 tbsp. cinnamon sugar (see recipe)
Pastry:
5 1/3 c. flour
4 tbsp. sugar
2 c. butter
4 eggs
Custard:
2 c. heavy cream
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, making sure you have about 1 inch of overhang on two sides.
  2. Apple Filling: Put the apples, butter, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until the apples begin to soften, about 7-10 minutes. Remove the apple filling from the heat and cool slightly.

    The apple filling ingredients.

    The apple filling ingredients.

    The apples are just now starting to soften.

    The apples are just now starting to soften.

  3. Pastry: Depending on the size (or presence) of your food processor you might need to blend this in two batches. If you have a large processor, or if you are mixing this by hand, do it all in one batch. In a processor blend all of your pastry ingredients until it looks like a wet sand with bits of butter throughout. If doing this by hand, combine all of your ingredients in a large bowl and cut the butter and eggs into the dry ingredients. However you blend the ingredients, once well combined dump your pastry ingredients onto a lightly floured board and press them together until they form a unified dough. Roll your pastry into a large rectangle that will fit your sheet pan. Carefully drape the pastry over your rolling pin and move it to your sheet pan. Gently press the pastry into the corners of your pan and crimp the edges if you want a decorative finish.

    The crumbly pastry ingredients.

    The crumbly pastry ingredients.

    It doesn't look like it will hold, but it will...

    It doesn’t look like it will hold, but it will…

    Ta da!

    Ta da!

    The pastry just fits into the baking sheet.

    The pastry just fits into the baking sheet.

    A simple crimping of the pastry edges.

    A simple crimping of the pastry edges.

  4. Apple Slice Layer: Spoon your apple filling into the pastry shell. Arrange the sliced apples on top of the apple filling in neat rows, overlapping them slightly. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the apple slices.

    The apple filling layer in the pastry crust.

    The apple filling layer in the pastry crust.

    The apple slice layer.

    The apple slice layer.

  5. Bake the pie for 10 minutes at 425, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for a further 20 minutes. Watch your pie and if it starts to brown too quickly or “over caramelize” cover it loosely with foil.
  6. Custard: Gently beat the heavy cream, eggs, vanilla and nutmeg to combine. Pour this custard over the apples, doing your best to pour it evenly over the pie. Return the pie to the oven and bake for a final 10 minutes. Cool the pie before portioning.

    The custard mixture.

    The custard mixture.

    The finished product.  Delicious!

    The finished product. Delicious!

  7. Slice the pie into squares and either serve directly from the pan or place the slices on a pretty platter. The pie can be served warm or cold, and can be made a day or two in advance. Be sure to refrigerate the cooled pie until ready to serve.

Click here for a printable version of Swiss Apple Pie recipe.

Including a “recipe” for cinnamon sugar seems a bit odd at first, but it’s one of those things that no one should ever have to buy premixed.  There’s just two ingredients, cinnamon and sugar.  No stabilizers, preservatives or other ingredients that you can neither pronounce or guess as to what they do.  For me cinnamon sugar is more about proportions than anything else.  I want to be able to smell and TASTE the cinnamon.  It should do more than simply create a light beige sugar.  It should be redolent with cinnamon, enough that if you sprinkle it generously on buttered toast (it makes the best cinnamon toast ever!), you should get the sweetness of the sugar, but more importantly the warm heat of the cinnamon.  There should be no doubt in your mind about what you are eating and enjoying at that moment.  ‘Nough said.

Cinnamon Sugar

Cinnamon Sugar

Cinnamon Sugar
Ingredients
:
½ c. white sugar
1 tbsp. cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Put both the sugar and cinnamon into a jar with lid, seal the lid and shake vigorously to combine. Conversely you can combine the two ingredients in a small bowl and transfer the finished cinnamon sugar to a jar or other container to seal it for future use.
  2. This can be used for an excellent cinnamon toast or sprinkle it on top of muffins before baking them for a sweet finish. Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Cinnamon Sugar recipe.

Deb's Swiss Apple Pie

A Tale of Two Parties: Half Moon Cookies

We’re getting there, my friends.  Just two more recipes from Dave’s Graduation party and we’ll be done.

The recipe I am sharing here today is for Half Moon Cookies, or Black and White Cookies for Seinfeld fans.  I first tasted the cookies from this recipe at my bachelorette party when my two bride’s maids made them for my female guests.  The party was amazing, we had a henna artist giving everyone traditional henna tattoos, and a friend who is also a belly dancer and dance instructor gave us all a dance lesson and danced for us as well.  It was an amazing evening topped off with tastes of upstate New York, like the Half Moon Cookies of Utica fame.  Thank you Jen and Georgia for the fantastic evening (I can’t believe that was nearly 9 years ago!), and thank you Jen for the great recipe!

For Dave’s Graduation Party, he immediately thought of these cookies for a dessert, and with Little Man’s love of the moon I thought they were a great fit.  I baked and decorated the cookies the night before Dave’s party, and our home smelled of rich chocolate and sugar for hours and hours.  Warning, you’ll definitely want a nice tall glass of cold milk with these!

Cookies, cookies and more cookies...Half Moon Cookies
Ingredients
:
For the Cookies:
3 ¾ c. flour
¾ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. butter, softened
¾ c. cocoa powder
¼ tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ c. milk

Fudge Icing:
3 ½ oz. bittersweet chocolate
3 ½ oz. semisweet chocolate
1 tbsp. butter
4 ¼ c. powdered sugar
2 tbsp. corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt

Vanilla Icing:
7 c. powdered sugar
1 c. butter, softened
Scant ½ c. milk
1 tbsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. For the Cookies: In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside. In a large bowl beat the sugar, butter, cocoa, and salt until it looks like dark, wet, chocolate sand. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating to combine. Add half of the milk and combine. Add half of the flour mixture and combine. Repeat with the remaining additions of milk and flour, blending well after each addition.

    The flour mixture.

    The chocolate cookie base.

    The chocolate cookie base.

    Little Man's curls as he "helped" me beat up the cookie batter.  He's obsessed with all things chocolate, so I had to get those eggs in there fast before he started tasting.

    Little Man’s curls as he “helped” me beat up the cookie batter. He’s obsessed with all things chocolate, so I had to get those eggs in there fast before he started tasting.

    The mixing additions begin with half of the milk.

    The mixing additions begin with half of the milk.

    Then half of the flour.

    Then half of the flour.

    After the first half of the milk and flour were mixed in.

    After the first half of the milk and flour were mixed in.

    Then the last of the milk...

    Then the last of the milk…

    Then mixing in the last of the flour...

    Then mixing in the last of the flour…

    The final batter is quite thick.  Be careful to NOT let the batter get warm.  If you kitchen is warm, keep the batter bowl in the refrigerator between baking batches of cookies.  If the batter gets too warm, it gets soupy and the cookies will melt flattly on the pan, rather than setting up nice and fluffy.

    The final batter is quite thick. Be careful to NOT let the batter get warm. If you kitchen is warm, keep the batter bowl in the refrigerator between baking batches of cookies. If the batter gets too warm, it gets soupy and the cookies will melt flattly on the pan, rather than setting up nice and fluffy.

  3. Spoon the batter onto the prepared baking sheets in 3-inch rounds about 2-inches apart. Six dollops of batter should fit on a sheet.

    Lovely dollops of batter ready for the oven.  I don't have a small scoop for the batter, but if you have one that would be fantastic.

    Lovely dollops of batter ready for the oven. I don’t have a small scoop for the batter, but if you have one that would be fantastic.

  4. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the cookies are set, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking time. When done slide the entire parchment sheet onto a rack to cool. Use a clean sheet of parchment for further batches. Once cool remove the cookies from the parchment and set aside until you are ready to decorate them.

    One sheet down... For the number of people coming to our party I had many, many more to go.

    One sheet down… For the number of people coming to our party I had many, many more to go.

    Lots of cookies cooling on the racks.

    Lots of cookies cooling on the racks.

  5. Fudge Icing: Melt both of the chocolates and butter in a double boiler over simmering water (I used a medium-sized metal bowl over a simmering pot of water). Add the powdered sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, salt and 6 tbsp. boiling water (use the water from your double boiler). Mix until smooth, but stiff. The icing should fall in thick ribbons from your spatula. Use more boiling water to thin the icing if necessary, adding it one tbsp. at a time. Be careful to not thin it too much.
  6. Vanilla Icing: In a large bowl beat the powdered sugar, butter, milk, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy.
  7. Decorate the Cookies: Spread about 1 tbsp. of warm fudge icing on half of the flat side of each cookie. If the icing starts to seize up, just put it back over the double boiler until it loosens. Then spread about 1 tbsp. vanilla frosting over the other half of the cookie. Keep going with the rest…
    Cookie Platters 2 (3)
  8. These cookies don’t stack well, so do so at your peril. They do not store well either, so they are best eaten within a day or two of frosting them. This shouldn’t be a problem.

Click here for a printable version of the Half Moon Cookies recipe.

Cookies, cookies and more cookies...

Cookies, cookies and more cookies…