Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Letter to Littlest: 11 Months

"May the LORD bless you and keep you. May the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious unto you. May the LORD lift up the light of his countenance on you and give you peace"

Numbers 6:24-26

Littlest Climbing the Stairs

Dear Kenny,

Every night Daddy and I pray a blessing over you from Numbers 6:24-26. We earnestly desire that you would be close to God and that you would understand the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. That's why we pray this blessing over you.

We also pray this particular blessing over you because its the blessing that Grandpa Tim (my Daddy) gave to me when I was a kid. Every night that he put me to bed, he would give me this blessing. Even when I got too old for him to tuck me into sleep, Grandpa Tim would sometimes stop me, give me a hug, and pray this over me.

Although this particular blessing is one that is close to my heart, the Bible is full of prayers of blessing that the people of God pray, and it is full of examples of our generous God blessing his people.

Mischievous Smile

Why all this talk about blessings?

Right now, we are in the middle of selling our condo in Minneapolis, so Daddy and I have been anxious about our finances. Of course, nobody likes to lose money, but being anxious tells God that we fear that he is not a good God. We need to fight our sin and our temptation to worry and to feel that God is not blessing us because we don't like our circumstances.

That's why we have to remind ourselves of the biggest and most important blessing of all; Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that we can be with God! Isn't that wonderful, Littlest? We get to be with God because Jesus took the wrath for us. I hope that God gives you eyes to see that this is the biggest blessing of all.

This blessing from God is the reason that we can be thankful in all circumstances. In all circumstances, God has given us grace that we do not deserve.

Children are a blessing from the LORD

Kenny, in the eleven months that you have been with us, we have learned that this is so true. You are a blessing and a joy, even when you aren't easy to deal with.

These days, you are going through a clingy phase. In fact, tonight I made pancakes with you strapped in a Baby Bjorn- This is dangerous and something I swore I would never do. Until tonight. You would not be consoled by Cheerios, or Raisins, or Daddy, or anything but being held by me. When you get like this, I tell you, "Stop with all the Llama Drama!" But I secretly love to hold you, and I love that I can comfort you.

Drama aside, you love to have fun. This was your first selfie!

You also are a lot of fun to be around. Daddy and I love to take you to ultimate frisbee. Last weekend, you found an unusually bold bird, and you chased it around for at least ten minutes before the bird got fed up with the game and flew off. You love to take coasters out of the coaster container and then put them back in.

The world of sound is starting to fascinate you, and you make noises with your hands, your mouth, and anything within your grasp. You love blowing bubbles in the tub, and you like making loud shrieking noises. We finally feel confident that you know the words Mama and Dada, but you still like to say Dada best.

You now have eight teeth, and you are starting to cruise (which means you walk along our ample furniture by yourself). You accidentally stood up on your own (because Daddy moved his arm before you could reach it), but you don't seem to have a lot of interest in repeating the experiment.

One of the biggest joys of being your Mama is watching you "Work" with Daddy. He will talk about all the home improvements that he is making, and you will happily sit by his side. When I look at the two of you together, I feel like I can see the present and I have a hope for how your relationship with Daddy will grow over the next decades.
Littlest and the Mad Scientist Hard at Work

Other than the coasters, and the world of noise, and the random things that you pick up off the ground, your favorite toy is your yellow stuffed giraffe from Miss Lori. Every morning, when we come downstairs, you find the toy and cuddle with it.

I love you so much Kenny, and I pray that God will bless you by his grace.

Mommy and Daddy

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Today I published a Review of The New Southern Table on my Cookbook Review site, CookbookAuthority.com. In addition to the review, I provide the full recipe for Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce. The recipe for the Gnocchi comes from Brys Stephen's cookbook, but I actually made up the Sage brown butter sauce myself (I was inspired when I found out we have a sage bush growing in our backyard!)

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
The Gnocchi is chewy, but light with just the right hint of sweetnees. The brown butter sauce is tangy, decadent and delicious! I was a bit intimidated to make gnocchi, but it turns out that it's really easy to make.  Stop on over and get the recipe for Sweet Potato Gnocchi. The Mad Scientist, Littlest and I all loved it, and I am definitely going to make it again.
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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

BBQ Chicken Pasta Bake

BBQ Chicken Pasta Bake! A hearty plate of YUM!
I haven't updated the blog with a new recipe lately because there's been a lot of this going on lately:
The Littlest One is climbing the stairs, and sliding down on his belly!
Not to mention this!
The Mad Scientist is working on doing some extensive home repair!
Thankfully, the bathroom is now complete :)
And having to make this...
Yes, that is mold growing in our grout lines, and on our shower floor.
Into this! (Do you require power tools to clean your shower, because we do.)
Okay, so it's not picture perfect, but at least I don't need a shower after my shower.
In the midst of all this craziness, I'm still trying to maintain my sanity, work, and write cookbook reviews! Needless to say, I'm looking for simple, easy, and delicious ideas that will get me from fridge to table a little faster. While a cookbook is great for planning out meals, and trying complex new recipes, I find that winging it gets dinner to the table a little faster.

Enter this BBQ Chicken Pasta Bake.

This recipe is basically a new spin on Baked Ziti, which was one of the first dishes I learned how to cook without a recipe. It's a super simple recipe if you've got leftover chicken on hand (which I always do lately due to my obsession with beer can chicken.)

You've got tender pasta, ooey gooey cheese, virtuous vegetables, juicy flavorful chicken and tangy barbecue sauce.  In less than ten minutes of time, you've got dinner in the oven, and you can get back to life- like wiping the boogers off of your son's face.

So, if you need a recipe when life comes knocking, try out this BBQ Chicken Pasta Bake.

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BBQ Chicken Pasta Bake
Just about the easiest meal you will make this week :) BBQ Chicken, pasta, veggies, cheese sprinkled with cilantro and a dash of love.
  • 12 Oz Penne Pasta
  • 2 Cups Shredded Chicken
  • 1 Cup Bell Peppers Chopped
  • 1/2 Red Onion Chopped
  • 6 oz Grape Tomatoes Diced
  • 4 oz Colby Jack Cheese Shredded
  • 1/2 Cup BBQ Sauce
  • 1/4 Cup Cilantro
1. Boil Pasta according to package instructions minus one minute (pasta should be very al dente). Meanwhile pre-heat your oven to 3502. Mix thoroughly Pasta, vegetables, chicken and bbq sauce. You may want to add more or less bbq sauce to suit your tastes.3. Pour pasta mixture into an 8X8 glass baking pan, and top with a generous layer of cheese4. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 until cheese is just starting to become brown. Pasta will be tender, and everything will be delicious.5. Top with fresh cilantro to serve.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4 Servings
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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fancy Veggie Sandwiches

Leftover Veggies... That's a wrap!
Nearly a week ago, I promised to show you how to use up the leftover perfect grilled veggies.  I hope that you weren't waiting with bated breath, because you would be dead now.  I also hope that you found something to do with those veggies, because they really only last for about 4-5 days in the fridge.

The reason for my delay is that I've decided to start another blog where I write cookbook reviews. My inspiration for this blog originally, was to share recipes that I've adapted from around the web, but I've found that my day to day cooking tends to be inspired more by cookbooks than from websites.  Go figure.

Starting the cookbook review website (called Cookbook Authority) was a natural extension of this website, but I think the cookbook review website has more monetization opportunity than this one, so this site is now officially a hobby website, where I can post whenever the fancy strikes me.  Which I hope is often, as I've been thoroughly enjoying writing and cooking for this website.

And onto the sandwich.

This sandwich is one of the more wonderful tasting sandwiches that I've made primarily because it's eaten on fresh, warm, homemade tortillas, and it has a fancy sauce called Remoulade.  In case you were wondering, Remoulade is nothing but fancy mayo, whereas aioli is nothing but fancy mayo with garlic.

In addition to the warm, bready tortilla, and the tangy sauce, the sandwich has creamy avocado, perfectly seasoned leftover vegetables, and delicious roasted chicken.  It has so many unique flavors and textures going on, but they all work together perfectly.

Now, before I give you the recipe for this sandwich, I want you to know that I will not give you sandwich assembly directions.  This is because one of my earliest cooking memories was getting a Kraft Recipe Magazine, and I showed my Dad a recipe for a sandwich and he remarked how ridiculous it was that they gave assembly directions, as if a person didn't know how to assemble a sandwich.  I don't know why that has stuck with me so much, but since it has, I will only give you directions on the parts that require directions.

The most important part of this recipe is the homemade tortillas, which are as ridiculously quick and simple as they are delicious.  They come from a cookbook called Djiboutilious which is written by my old babysitter, Rachel Pieh Jones who is a ridiculously cool person and a fabulous writer (at least it appears that way online, I haven't seen her in about 20 years, so I can't say for sure).

If you need to use up those leftover veggies, this is definitely the way to do it, enjoy!

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Fancy Veggie Sandwiches
A Delicious sandwich on homemade tortillas from Rachel Pieh Jones' book Djiboutilicious
  • 2 Cups Flour + Extra for sprinkling
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegetable oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Warm Water
  • 1/3 Cup Mayo
  • 1.5 Tablespoons Ketchup
  • 1.5 Tablespoons Mustard
  • 2 Teaspoons Paprika
  • 2 Teaspoons Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground black pepper
  • 1.5 Avocados- Sliced
  • 2 Cups Leftover Vegetables- sliced
  • 2 Cups Leftover Pulled Chicken or Roasted Chicken
1. In a bowl, combine water, flour, oil and salt and form a ball.2. Break dough into 6 balls of equal proportion.3. Roll out tortillas using a rolling pin (For wraps like this, I prefer to roll an oblong shape as opposed to a perfect circle)4. Place tortilla on a hot griddle or a hot dry frying pan for about 60 seconds per side.5. To make the remoulade, combine mayo, ketchup, mustard and all spices.6. Assemble sandwiches, using toothpicks to hold them together.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6 Servings
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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Perfect Grilled Veggies

Grilled veggies are the perfect side for your Memorial Day Picnic
Do you have a distinct memory of the first time that you thought you were an adult? My first memory of feeling like an adult centered around food.

When I was about seven or eight years old, my family hosted an exchange student from Thailand. When we hosted her, my mom started cooking tons of stir fries. It seems like we ate stir fry every night that Tum lived with us, and after that, my mom didn't throw in the towel with the stir fries because she rightly thought that stir fry is pretty much the most delicious weekday meal that you can make.

I didn't mind the stir fry craze that was sweeping the kitchen, but there was one part that I didn't like... the vegetables. I tried really hard to be a good healthy kid, but I didn't like how the vegetables tasted in the sauce. Now this is not to say that my mom did a poor job cooking vegetables.  No, my mom is one of the most wonderful vegetable chefs that I know.  I simply did not like the vegetables in stir fry; I only liked vegetables raw.

This distaste persisted for years, mostly as a repressed feeling as I sadly ate an appropriate serving of vegetables, so I could guiltlessly indulge in the delicious meat, rice and sauce.  If I complained about the vegetables, I apologize.

Then in eighth grade, my friend Laura broke her femur.  She was regulated to a wheel chair for the entire summer, so I biked over to her house every day and we hung out.  We made caramel corn, did puzzles, read Gone with the Wind, and otherwise passed the time doing not that active of activities.

One afternoon, she asked me to pick a few snap peas from her parents garden, which I did, and then she decided that I would make stir fry for our lunch.  It would be a vegetarian stir fry since the internet told us horror stories about Salmonella poisoning and E. Coli, so we were terrified of touching chicken lest we kill ourselves in the process.

I wasn't overly fond of the idea, but I didn't have any better one (no pizza in the freezer), so I went with it.  I don't remember the exact ingredients, but it was pretty basic. Maybe just a little sweet and sour sauce and some soy sauce in a frying pan with a few vegetables, but the aroma was enticing.

I remember watching the vegetables cook and thinking, "I want to eat this. I actually want to eat vegetables."

I felt so responsible, cooking a nutritious meal for me and my friend, and when we sat down to eat, I downed that plate of vegetables, and I liked it!  Right then and there, I felt like and adult because I liked vegetables.

That day was a turning point for me, and since then, I've started to love vegetables, and I enjoy making them the star of my meal especially when I don't have to sacrifice flavor.

These grilled vegetables are my quintessential example where the vegetables are the star.  Sure, we will eat rice or chicken or something else with these vegetables, but honestly a plate groaning with these vegetables is just about the perfect summer meal for me.  The balsamic vinaigrette marinade imparts an almost meaty quality to the mushrooms, and it brings out the natural sweetness of the others, and a charcoal grill gives these veggies a smoky flavor.  

The peppers end up smoky, sweet and acidic; the mushrooms are tender and meaty, and the strength of the onions gets neutralized by the marinade and the grill resulting in a sweet, mildly pungent side.  I can't quite find the word to describe the squash and zucchini, so I am going to say that grilling them brings out the planty flavor that I couldn't quite get enough of, so I kept coming back for more and more and more.

My recipe has been adapted from Julie and Charles Mayfields' book Paleo Comfort Foods which is one of the best cookbooks in my arsenal, and I don't even pretend to eat Paleo. (Link is an Amazon Affiliate).

When you make these veggies, make more than you can possibly eat, because they make the best leftovers.  For example tomorrow I will share a chicken and veggie wrap, or you can make a seriously awesome omelette with any remaining veggies.

You know who else loves vegetables? My little man.

He looks like such a little man now.

Do you have any food=adulthood moments? If so let me know in the comments.

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Grilled Veggies
These perfect grilled veggies are the perfect side for your summertime picnics
  • 3 Small Zucchini - Thinly slice lengthwise
  • 4 Small Summer Squash - Thinly slice lengthwise
  • 1 Red Onion - Thickly Sliced
  • 5-6 Mini Sweet Red Peppers - Sliced
  • 12 Mushrooms- Sliced
  • 1/2 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian Seasoning
1. Place mushrooms and peppers in a small bowl, and squash, zucchini and onions in a larger bowl.2. Whisk balsamic, oil, and spices thoroughly.3. Pour 2/3 of marinade on squash and onion mixture, and pour the rest onto the mushroom and pepper marinade4. Let veggies marinade for at least 30 minutes.5. Lay zucchini, squash and onions on open grill with a low flame.6. Place Onions and peppers on foil or a grill pan also over a low flame.7. After about 8-10 minutes flip zucchini, squash and onions.8. After another 5-7 minutes begin removing vegetables. They should be tender but not limp.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4 Generous Servings
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Monday, May 19, 2014

Texas Caviar

Texas Caviar: Only you can decide if this is a salad or dip.
Texas Caviar is an all time favorite recipe from my childhood.  I remember being up at my grandparent's cabin and eating enormous mixing bowls full of it with my cousins over the Fourth of July weekend every year.  When my cousin, Bjorn, first brought his girlfriend, Ann, up to the cabin, she volunteered to bring a dip.  She brought the world's most enormous container of Texas Caviar.  My other cousin and I took a test bite, and then another, just to be sure it was as delicious as it seemed.

As soon as Ann was out of the room, my cousin said to me, "I can tell she's a keeper; look at how much salsa she brought!"

Sure enough, the next summer Bjorn and Ann got married.

Texas Caviar is an awesomely popular and widely adapted recipe, and this recipe comes to you courtesy of my Mom's best friend Jeri.  

I have, of course, taken more than my fair share of liberties with the recipe, but I think we can all agree that a great recipe like this is like a great house.  You might change from Victorian furniture, to shag carpet, to DIY vintage, but the bones of the house stay the same.  It's the same thing with this recipe.  I might have added a few ingredients, and subbed out a few ingredients, but the heart of the recipe remains the same.

My riff on Jeri's recipe reminds me of one of my favorite passages in Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, a book that my mom gave to me for mother's day. Niequist writes, "I'm not really a recpie girl. My Mom teases me about it, knowing that when I say I used a recipe, all it means is that at some point, some list of ingredients and techniques were involved as I threw things in pans, as I sliced, poured, salted and peppered with seeming randomness.  She does not particularly appreciate this cooking style, and sometimes she has to leave the kitchen because my loosey-goosey approach makes her nervous."

When I was making this Texas Caviar, I had a hard time deciding if it was a salsa or a salad. I've landed on both, but mainly because we ran out of chips, and I did not want even a single bite of this delicious dish go to waste.  

The black eyed peas and garbanzo beans form the tender and mild backbone of this Texas Caviar, but the real flavor party starts to happen when you add sweet peppers and ripe corn, the lightly acidic bite of grape tomatoes.  Creamy, rich avocados contrast with the sweet and acidic vegetables, and the pungent zest of red onions and cilantro highlights all of the flavors.  But to make this dish sing, you really need Jeri's balsamic vinaigrette. Her dressing is a perfectly simple and balanced dressing that soaks into the beans and the vegetables causing each distinct flavor to harmonize, like a very small symphony...in my belly.

The specific recipe I made is below, but leave a comment to let me know your favorite adaptations.  I'm going to be making this again on Saturday, and I'm always looking to try something new.

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Texas Caviar
Texas Caviar is a bean salsa. Perfect for eating with tortilla chips, or not. Depending on how you're feeling that day.
  • 2 Cans or 1 Cup Dried Black Eyed Peas- Cooked
  • 1 Can or 2/3 Cup Dried Garbanzo Beans- Cooked
  • 1 Cup Fresh or Frozen Corn Kernels
  • 1 Cup Grape Tomatoes- Diced
  • 1 Small Red Onion- Diced
  • 1 Avocado- Diced
  • 1/2 Bunch Cilantro- Finely Diced
  • 1/4 Cup Balsamic
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1.5 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
1. Mix beans, vegetables, and cilantro in a very large bowl.2. Whisk Balsamic, olive oil, sugar and salt until well combined3. Gently pour dressing over vegetables and mix until everything is soaked.4. Refrigerate for at least two hours to allow vegetables to marinate before serving.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 10 Servings
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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Frozen Mocha Pops

Missing my afternoon coffee run- a jaunt to my freezer will more than suffice now that I'm stocked with Frozen Mocha Pops!

Back when I was a fancy corporate employee, I rallied a group of over a dozen coworkers to buy Bruegger's Bottomless Mug cards, so that we could make morning and afternoon coffee runs.  That card was worth slightly more than its weight in gold to me (the card weighed about 1/8 of an ounce, in case you were wondering).  

I cannot tell you how much caffeine I pumped through my body in the two years that I had that card, but it is safe to say that it exceeded the healthy levels recommended by the FDA.  More than the caffeine, I loved the camaraderie of taking a coding break, walking to the bagel shop, and sipping coffee together on the way back to our cubes.

Now that I work remotely, the biggest thing that I miss is those coffee breaks.  I am wildly more productive, but I can't help but yearn for that steaming cup of coffee and an opportunity to vent or chat and let loose for a little while.

However, working remotely does have its benefits and I'm going to count Frozen Mocha Pops among them.

These frozen mocha pops were inspired by The Pioneer Woman's love for all things cold coffee, and the fact that living in a warmer climate has made me love cold brew coffee too!  Typically, I like my coffee hot and black, but when it comes to cold brew, sweet and creamy is my preference.  I started thinking that I should start making homemade frappucinos when I realized that frappucinos are just melted popsicles in a cup, thus was born the frozen mocha pop.

Frozen mocha pops are sweet, with a strong but smooth coffee flavor, and just a hint of chocolaty goodness.  The ice crystals are tiny which gives these pops a silky texture as opposed to the icy texture of other popsicles.  When the robust, sweet, creamy flavors melted in my mouth the world slowed down for a second.  I forgot about the dozens of emails piling up in my inbox and the coding issues that were not resolving themselves, and I got caught up in the world of yum.

Do yourself a favor and whip up a batch of these, and enjoy it instead of your afternoon coffee, you'll be glad you did.

What's your favorite tradition for an afternoon work break? Coffee, a walk, sweets, something else? Let me know in the comments.

As I'm wrapping up a week of Popsicle recipes, here are a few tips:
1. As far as I'm concerned the NoPro IcePop Mold is the way to go.
2. Fill your molds about 7/8 full, because popsicles expand.
3. Pay attention to how straight your stick is.  The top of the NoPro has convenient stick sized openings, but they do no good if you don't stick those popsicle sticks in straight.
4. I find the easiest way to remove popsicles is to run the mold under warm water for 10-15 seconds.  When you are pulling the ice pop out, you should feel some resistance.
5. If you break the ice pop on removal, its because the pop got too warm.  Just refreeze it, and it will be fine (or eat it, no judgement here).
6. I prefer to store my popsicles in the mold, but you can also wrap the ice pops in wax paper and they stay good for over a week in the freezer.
7. Experiment with your favorite flavors, and find something you love.

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Frozen Mocha Pops
A sweet, creamy mocha frozen into an ice pop treat!
  • 3/4 Cup Cold Press Coffee
  • 1/3 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 1/3 Cup Powdered Sugar
  • Approx 1/2 ounce Chocolate Shavings
1. To Cold brew your coffee (if you don't own a french press) fill a glass container with 1/2 cup of ground coffee and 1.5 cups of water, this will yield at least one full cup of coffee after filtering. Let the jar rest for 6-24 hours. Then use a traditional coffee filter and a funnel and pour the liquid into a new glass. Once the filter is wet, it shouldn't slip around much, but don't just plop all the grounds in there because the filter will break.2. Whip cream and powdered sugar together until cream forms stiff peaks (for creamy pops, alternatively, you can just gently mix without forming peaks and you will get a bit of separation in the pops with slightly larger ice crystals).3. Mix whipped (or unwhipped) cream mixture and coffee, then fold in chocolate shavings.4. Freeze for at least three hours before eating.5. These popsicles can be removed from the mold using either the ice bath or the warm running water method.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6 Pops
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