Gabriel’s S’More Truffles

This is my sweet boy, Gabriel. He just turned 9.

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I call him Pie, short for Pumpkin Pie Guy which is what I called him when he was a wee bit. But the nickname proved prophetic.

This child of mine likes to cook.

He has his own sharp knife, given to him by Sue. He learned to make her sauce before I did.

He can light our grill and cook some steak. He likes to season the meat, but after a foray into “secret ingredients”–cinnamon in the hamburgers–he has to clear his recipes with me.

But this one, something he cooked up on the stove over Easter break, is a winner.

He calls them S’more Truffles.

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Ingredients:

12 oz chocolate chips

½ cup half and half

Mini marshmallows

Graham crackers

Directions:

In a double boiler over medium heat, melt the chocolate chips and half and half.

Spread parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Using a spoon, drop the melted chocolate into circles about two inches wide. Top with marshmallows and crushed graham crackers. Freeze for at least three hours.

Gabriel wants me to say that if you have one of those fancy blowtorches, you could brown the marshmallows before serving. But he’s not allowed to use one yet, so he’s only guessing that would be good.

I love these because they are a light and delicious mouthful. Not too heavy, not too much. Just perfect for summer twilight dessert time!

I Suck at Cakes

Vanessa, from Suburban Mama Goddess, posted before Christmas that she baked an ugly cake. I felt her pain.

I was ten the first time I made a cake all by myself. It was from a box, but I still took it very seriously. While it was in the oven, I didn’t go outside and play with my brothers. I sat on a chair in the service porch and read my book.

When it was done, I took it out and turned it upside down on a rack to cool. There was a nice breeze coming through the back door, so I set the cake on the chair to cool faster.

Then I set the timer for 30 minutes, grabbed my book and sat down on the chair to read.

Girlfriend, yes I did sit on my cake.

Ten years later, I was home for winter break from college, and my mom asked me to bake a cake for my grandfather’s birthday. I got all fancy and tried to make two layers. I had no Food Network to tell me to even the layers before I tried to frost them. It was crazy lopsided. I honestly thought that a good thick buttercream frosting would make it look even. But I used margarine, and the frosting broke and slid all over the top of the cake. Then I left it in a spot on the counter that takes afternoon sun, so when I came back, the frosting had melted down the cake, over the plate and onto the counter.

In desperation, I dug through the baking cupboard and in the way back found a shelf-stable tube of green frosting that had only expired the month before. I tried making green roses on the pink cake.

When my grandfather saw it, he wanted to know who let the green owl in the house.

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A few years later, I decided to make an egg nog cheesecake for Christmas dinner. I will admit to not being 100% sober when I made it, so I was pleasantly surprised when it came out of the oven with nary a crack. I stenciled some stars on the top with grated nutmeg and carried it off to my parent’s home.

After dinner, I carried my cheesecake proudly to the table. I cut my brother a slice and passed it down. He took a bite and chewed. Then he started laughing.

Which of course made my other brother dive for the cheesecake with a folk and scoop a big bite into his mouth.

Then they both were laughing. By the time my dad took a bite, my first brother had spit it out: “It tastes like playdough!”

In fact, it did. I was mortified. “What happened?!” I wailed. My aunt asked me about the recipe. I didn’t remember it exactly, because Coors Light, but when I got to “three cups of flour” she stopped me. “Three cups???” she asked. “Are you sure?”

When I got home, I double-checked. Turns out, Coors Light and I misread 3 tablespoons as 3 cups and never looked back.

Every now and then I try again. For Father’s Day a few years back, I tried to make a scratch lemon cake in a sunflower cake mold for Shea. When I turned it over to pop it out, only the petals came. The center of the flower stayed in the pan. You better believe I cobbled that thing together, frosted it and served it up, gaping hole in the middle and all.

And for this past Valentine’s Day, I decided to bake a Paula Deen coconut lime cake for the family.

It was a three layer cake, but I only have two cake pans, and had to pick the kids up from school. So I tried to remove one of the cakes way too early to bake the third one, and this happened:

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Shea came home and saved it, thank goodness. It tasted amazing:

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I can bake a cookie that will make your heart melt. I perfected that egg nog cheesecake, and cheesecakes in general—you should try my key lime cheesecake. Pumpkin pie. Pecan pie. Gingerbread. Nutmeg sugar cookies. Last Christmas I made a chocolate cinnamon loaf with a whole dang pear in the middle:

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But I suck at cakes.

Well. Somebody has to.

Chicken Soup. Basic. Healthy. Yummy.

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People are sick around this time of year.  Kids are dropping off left and right from Mazie’s preschool class.  My friend and writing partner is currently quarentined up in her bedroom, diagnosed with the flu.  I’m not jealous of the sick part, but there’s a part of me that is jealous of the quarantine part.  And the codeine.

If she were still local, this would be simmering away for her this very minute.  Then I’d drop it on her porch and run for the hills.  I guess I could overnight some in a big pot… or jump on a plane with an delicious smelling carry-on.  But alas, I’m staying in California, just sending up some good prayers for her.  And I’m posting this chicken soup recipe for you here today.  I found it when my dad was super sick from chemo a few years ago.  I wanted something that wasn’t too fancy, and easily separated, so that he could just drink the broth, or add the chicken, or add the carrots, onions and celery, whatever sounded good to him.  This recipe hits the mark perfectly, and is super nourishing.

It comes from my all-time domestic hero, Martha Stewart.  I’m including the link to the video right here and I think you should totally watch it because she cuts up that whole fryer like a boss.  I love her.

So Jen, feel better.  And Shea, this is suuuuper easy.  Just sayin’.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds), cut into pieces (including back)
  • 8 cups water
  • Coarse salt
  • 3 medium onions, thinly sliced (4 cups)
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 6 medium carrots, sliced 1/2 inch thick

DIRECTIONS

  1. Bring chicken, water, and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil in a large stockpot. Skim foam. Add onions, celery, and garlic. Reduce heat. Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove breast, and set aside. Add carrots. Simmer, partially covered, for 40 minutes.
  3. Remove remaining chicken; discard back and wings. Let cool slightly. Remove meat from bones, and cut into bite-size pieces.
  4. Stir in desired amount of chicken; reserve the rest for another use. Skim fat. Season with salt.

 

Fall Canning ~ Jen

In Southern California, one of the harbingers of Fall is the Santa Ana winds.

These winds blow strong and unbelievably dry for days at a time, sometimes cold, but mostly hot, hot, hot.  If you are not from So Cal, you may have heard this term related to some huge, catastrophic brush fire that occurred near Los Angeles. Every Southern Californian knows to scan the horizon often on days that the Santa Anas blow.

But these winds also signal a change in the weather. Summer is over, no matter how warm the temps during the day. The nights are cooler and backyard pools no longer hold the heat. The rest of the nation is digging out their jeans and sweatshirts—and it has snowed in the Rocky Mountains—and we’re still wearing shorts. But it’s Fall for sure when those Santa Ana winds blow. And when they do, I am pulled to my kitchen by thoughts of cinnamon, apples and pumpkins.

The other day, I pulled Dana with me. Over the weekend, my family made a quick jaunt to our local apple tree mecca, Oak Glen and picked 30 lbs of apples. Oak Glen is this special place, like someone carved a piece out of Colonial Massachusetts and plopped it down in the low mountains of San Bernardino.

Braeburns at Riley's Apple Farm in Oak Glen

Braeburns at Riley’s Apple Farm in Oak Glen

Miss Annie picking her first apples!

Miss Annie picking her first apples!

In a few weeks, these trees will be a gorgeous shade of yellow

In a few weeks, these trees will be a gorgeous shade of yellow

Mr. Scarecrow guarding the pumpkin patch

I called Dana and invited her to come over and make apple butter and apple pie filling. She’s never canned before and we both thought this would be a good time for her to see what it’s all about.

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We peeled and cored and sliced. Then we did it some more. Sixty apples are a LOT of apples to face down. But we did it.

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A natural hazard of cooking with organic apples: stowaways.

A natural hazard of cooking with organic apples: stowaways.

And since we were on such a roll, I roasted a pumpkin and made some pumpkin butter.

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Pumpkin Butter

Pumpkin Butter

Six hours of cooking and canning got us six half pints of apple butter, four half pints of pumpkin butter, three half pints of applesauce, three quarts of apple pie filling and enough pumpkin puree to make muffins or bread. Whew!*

All my canning recipes were from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

Apple Butter:

4 lbs apples

4 cups sugar (I used 2 for a lower sugar option)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

I also added 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Wash apples; peel, core and quarter. Combine apples and two cups of water in a pot; simmer until apples are soft. Using a food mill or food processor, process apples until they are pureed.

Combine the pureed apples, sugar and spices in pot. Cook on low until mixtures darkens and thickens (usually two hours or more). Stir about every 15 minutes to prevent burning on the bottom.

Apple Sauce:

2 1/2-3 1/2 lbs apples

Water

Sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

Wash, peel, core and quarter apples; simmer in pot with just enough water to prevent sticking; mash apples in pot; add sugar and spices (optional); bring applesauce to a boil.

Apples for Baking:

10 to 12 lbs of apples

Ball Fresh Fruit Protector

1 cup sugar

2 cups water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Wash, core and peel apples; cut them lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices; treat with Fresh Fruit to prevent darkening (see directions on package).

Meanwhile, combine sugar, water and lemon juice in a large pot, stirring to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Drain apples and add to mixture. Simmer for five minutes before water processing.

Roasted Pumpkin

Take a pumpkin, any pumpkin (most recipes suggest sugar pumpkins for baking, but I have used the ones they sell for jack o’ lanterns with no problems). Cut off the stem, then cut the pumpkin in half. Clean the pulp and seeds, set aside. Place the two halves face down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and scrap flesh from inside. Puree in a food processor.

This is exactly what comes out of the can when you buy pumpkin in a store. Proceed to your favorite pumpkin recipe!

Pumpkin Butter (courtesy of www.eatingbirdfood.com)

  • 5 cups fresh pumpkin puree (or 1 29 ounce + 1 15 ounce can of pumpkin puree)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (or sucanat)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • Pinch of sea salt

Preparation:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a crock pot/slow cooker and stir to mix well.
  2. Set on low heat and cover loosely, leaving a little space for the steam to escape so the mixture can reduce and thicken.
  3. Cook for about 6 hours. The pumpkin butter should have cooked down and thickened. If it’s not as thick as you would like it, just take the lid completely off and let it cook for another 30-45 minutes.
  4. Let cool, remove from crock pot and put pumpkin butter into jars or airtight containers.The pumpkin butter will last a week or so in the fridge, but you can also freezer preserve it by storing it freezer safe containers (or jars).

* I am not a canning expert. If you are interested in canning, please visit www.freshpreservingstore.com for products and guides, or www.foodinjars.com for recipes and how-to. Also, turns out it’s not safe to water process pumpkin butter at home, because of the chemistry.

Welcome Autumn! ~ Dana

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Well, it’s official.  Autumn is finally here!  And no, I don’t mean just the arrival of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks (although that is quickly becoming one of my favorite things of autumn!).

I’ve always loved autumn, and when I moved to Austria, I fell in love with it even more.  The changing of the seasons is visible everywhere there. The local restaurants begin to change their menus to represent the seasonal fare.  My favorite restaurant in our town had something called Wild Woche or Wild Week in which they slow-roasted venison, wild boar, wild hare, all of which had been caught in our forest, and served them up in wonderful, hearty sauces, with earthy root vegetables, all meant to fatten the townspeople up, steeling us against the harsh winter that was sure to come.

But more than the beautiful colors, the comfort food, the inviting scents, there’s just something different in the air once autumn comes.  I’ve always felt it, that magic electricity.  It’s like in Mary Poppins when Burt sings “Winds in the East, mist comin’ in, like somethin’ is brewin’, about to begin!”

This past Sunday was the Autumnal Equinox, a time of equal light and equal darkness.  The balance has tipped and we descend into darkness.  This happens not only literally as the nights are now longer than the days, but for many people, it happens in a spiritual sense as well.

The bright warm days of summer, which beckon us outdoors to the beach, the mountains, or even just the backyard, are over.  As the temperatures cool, we turn our focus inside, many of us decorating for fall and burning pumpkin-scented candles.  Our tendency, when things get dark, it to turn on more light, to fill our already busy schedules with even more things.

But I invite you this autumn to take some time in the darkness, to sit quietly with your soul and take stock of what you have done this year.  How have you grown?  What seeds did you sow in the spring and tend in the summer that are now coming to harvest?  How can you prepare yourself for the craziness that the holiday season can bring on?

Pull out your favorite snuggly sweater or blanket.  Get some pumpkins to put on your front porch.  Put some gourds on your mantle.  Make some of your favorite comfort foods.  And if you want a new favorite fall recipe, I’m sharing my very best one with you, A Kitchen Witch’s Pumpkin Spice Bread.  And have a glorious autumn, everyone!

A Kitchen Witch’s Pumpkin Spice Bread

Ingredients:

2 cups pureed pumpkin (fresh roasted or canned)

3 cups sugar

1 cup water

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

3 1/3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon nutmeg

¾ teaspoon ground cloves

Instructions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, water, vegetable oil, and eggs.  Beat until well mixed.  Measure flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, nutmeg, and ground cloves into a separate bowl, and stir until combined.  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture, beating until smooth.

Grease two 9×5 inch loaf pans and dust with flour.  Evenly divide the batter between the two pans.  Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool 10-15 minutes then remove from pans by inverting them onto a rack and tapping the bottoms.  Slice and serve plain, buttered, or with cream cheese.

Homemade Bread ~ Jen

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Our Friday update:

Dana’s daughter is down with the stomach flu. They are playing the 48 hour Russian Roulette of “Who Will Get Sick Next?” Bad way to spend the weekend.

And my kids are out of school today. Welcome summer. Ish. SAHMs, you know what I’m talking about.

I’m working on a wedding post for next week, in honor of June. Tentative title: “What I learned from fainting on the altar at my own wedding”. Oh yeah.

But today, we want to leave you with something a little bold in the homemade department.

Whole Wheat Bread.

I resisted this for a while, because it seemed so Little House on the Prairie. Or I Love Lucy.

 Lucy and bread from oven

I tried a few versions and a bread machine. The kids complained that the loaves were dense and dry. Shea complained that the loaves from the bread maker had a giant hole in the bottom, which interfered with his sandwich making skills.

Finally, I found a recipe that worked for us: No Fail Whole Wheat Bread. It makes two loaves. We freeze one while we eat the other.  It’s light and moist and by far the easiest and least time consuming of the recipes I’ve tried. I can make the two loaves in two hours, but I really only have to stand over the mixer for five minutes. The rest of the time is waiting and baking time.

I have a Kitchen Aide 6 quart stand mixer with a dough hook. Mine was a gift, but Kitchen Aides are expensive. I did some research and there are lots of reasonably priced (under $100) stand mixers out there. Or you can use a hand mixer for the first part and then hand knead the dough for five minutes after mixing.

Thanks to Progressive Pioneer (www.progressivepioneer.com) for this recipe!

No Fail Whole Wheat Bread

Ingredients:

3 ½ cups warm water

1 ½ teaspoons yeast (I buy Fleishmann’s Active Dry Yeast in jars because I use so much)

¼ cup honey

7 cups whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons salt

2 generous tablespoons olive oil

2 loaf sized baking pans

Directions:

Combine water, yeast and honey and stir gently. Allow to sit for ten minutes so the yeast will activate (it will start to look foamy).

Add 3 ½ cups flour, all the salt and olive oil and stir together. Let sit one minute. Add the rest of the flour and mix. If you have a stand mixer, use the dough attachment on high for 7 minutes (this will mix and knead). If doing by hand, you need to hand knead it for 5 minutes after you mix it.

Let it sit in bowl for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. When it is ready, turn it off (you just need some heat in there for the dough to rise.

On floured surface, cut dough in half, shape into loaf and plop into both pans. Stick in the oven (it should be OFF) and let rise until the top of the dough is at the top of the pan (about 45 minutes).

Remove pans from oven; preheat to 350. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Let cool ten minutes then turn out on flat surface to cool.

I store mine in ziplock bags. One I leave out for sandwiches and the other I freeze until we need it.

Nutritional Information (2 loaves, 14 slices each)

132 calories per slice; 1.3 g fat; 0 g cholesterol; 168 mg sodium; 26.4 g carbs (2.6 g sugar); 3.3 g protein; 1% calcium; 8% iron; health grade: B+

No preservatives. No chemicals.

I promise, promise, promise that this is a fast and easy recipe for busy moms. And it’s cheaper, once you get the ingredients in your cupboard. Try it once and see what you think.

PS: there is NOTHING like this bread right out of the oven. A little butter, a little honey. Heaven.

How meeting your friend from high school turns into strawberry cream pie ~ Jen

I was Facebook resistant for years. Years.

Then my niece convinced me I could lock a Facebook page down so tight that my name wouldn’t even appear in a search. I was ok with that.

I have 42 friends. That’s all.

Thankfully, one of them is my friend Jeannette from high school. We reconnected last summer through our other friend, Kristen.

Jeannette lives an hour away. But it is an hour that all Inland Empire Californians are happy to drive. When it is 117 degrees in my town for the entire month of July, it is a sea-cooled 80 in coastal North County.

Which means that while the rest of the nation is digging out from that last Spring snow, or sandbagging for the Spring thaw, in Southern California, we have this:

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The other day we piled up the kids and went to a U-Pick field.

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Kate had the bucket for 10 minutes and not one strawberry made it in. Not one.

And yes, she did accessorize it up for this adventure.

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Gabe took picking seriously, so much that he was standing in six inches of mud to get the best berries. “I had to” he told me.

(Sigh. See previous post.)

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Annie was mostly unimpressed, but that’s because I woke her up from a nap.

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At the end, the kids had strawberry juice everywhere. Evan is actually dripping in this picture.

Luckily, I had wipes. We cleaned them up before we walked backed to the car, past the sign that said “No eating while picking”.

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On the ride home, we talked about what to do with all our strawberries. Gabe and I decided we would make a strawberry cream pie. So we turned this:

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Into this:

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I had to hurry, because every moment, there were less and less berries in the bowl.

Shea blames Lizzie, but I’m on to him. Her fur is white. If she was eating berries, I would know.

Thanks to Go Bold With Butter (www.goboldwithbutter.com) for the recipe:

Strawberry Cream Pie

Vanilla Cream Filling:

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons flour

¼ teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sugar

3 cups half and half

6 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla

Crust:

1 ½ cups chocolate cookie crumbs (I used chocolate Teddy Grahams and processed them in the mini-prep)

½ cup butter, melted

1 quart strawberries

Directions:

Begin by making the filling. In a medium-size saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, flour, salt and sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together half-and-half, egg yolks and vanilla. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the cornstarch mixing, whisking constantly. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. When it thickens, remove from heat, and push through a fine sieve. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours. This can be made 24 hours ahead of time.

Hull strawberries, cut in half and toss with a tablespoon of sugar. Let rest for two hours.

To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350°. Mix the cookie crumbs with melted butter and press into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes, cool completely on a rack.

Pour the vanilla filling into the cooled crust. Arrange strawberries over the top of the pie.

Keep the pie in the fridge until ready to serve.

Nutritional Information (10 servings):

Calories: 408; Fat: 23; Cholesterol: 181 mg; Carbs: 43.9; Protein: 7.7;

The recipe got a grade of D in terms of health. But it’s homemade. And it has 68% of required daily Vitamin C.

That counts for something, right?