Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Pug is Getting a New Kitchen

That’s right.  We are moving.  I haven’t a set a date or anything crazy like that, but in an instant all my free time has been sucked away from me.  For the last week, Matt and I have been spending absurdly late nights at the new house working away so that we can “enjoy” this moving/updating/remodeling project.  So far, the enjoyment hasn’t been too high.  We are tired and have discovered that doing anything major like this with a toddler is quite the challenge.  So while I normally would have been at the house still painting if we didn’t have Liam, I am here at home, praying that he will stay asleep this time and that his fever is related to his teeth only. 

Today, Matt and his/our friend Greg painted like mad men to get the living room and dining room done before the carpet gets put in tomorrow.  That kind of happened a bit faster than we had planned, but when there’s a good deal, your wise to strike.  They laid the flooring in the kitchen today and while I don’t yet have any pictures of the work, I can assure you that it’s looking amazing!  Tomorrow is the carpet and Matt and I are going out of town to celebrate my birthday with dinner at Lola, Michael Symon’s restaurant!!!  Then, on Sunday, it’s back to the grindstone so I can finish the detail work on the fireplace and get our current home set up with a Realtor.  All this is leading to a home with double the square footage and 3 times the land… Don’t tell Matt, but I am really, really hoping to get chickens sooner rather than later!  Everything is a blessing in it’s own time, but I tell you I am really looking forward to the kitchen.  It’s a room my current one could only dream of being and I’m certain the good meals will continue even in a new location!

A confession of love

It’s true, I idolize Martha Stewart, felony and all.  There is something about her crisp life that is neatly organized and cleaned that I love.  Her food is good, her tips are better (No one else had a solution for when Vito ate an ink pen and spilled the ink all over my brand new couch and white carpeting.  It’s isopropyl alcohol, by the way.  Little bit on a cotton ball, dab it on the ink and it draws it right out. It was miraculous.), and the photos in her books/magazines are inspiring.  That being said, I no longer have a subscription to her Living magazine as the projects aren’t practical for my season in life and I felt like I was paying to read advertisements.  I do however, have her Cooking School book.  I like all the step-by-step instructions and the photos, but what I now like above all else, is this cake recipe.  According to her directions, this recipe is supposed to make 42 cupcakes or 2 9-inch round cakes.  I made the cupcakes, but only got 36 out of the batter.  I like my cupcakes to fill out the wrapper.  Actually, I only got 35 cupcakes.  We left the cupcakes on the dining room table to cool and ran out to get some last minute errands done.  Upon our return, I realized that one cupcake was missing from the rack and Nunzio seemed extra pleased with herself.  

Yellow Butter Cake (From Martha Stewart’s Cooking School)
  • 2 1/4 sticks butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and line your cake pans or cupcake tins.  Whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.  Cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy.  Add in the vanilla.  Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl as necessary.  Alternate the addition of the dry ingredients and the buttermilk until all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.  The batter should be smooth and rather thick.  Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans or cupcake tins.  For the cakes bake for 40 and for the cupcakes, bake 20-25 minutes.  Allow the cakes to cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pans.  Then allow them to cool completely on a baking rack.  Ice with your favorite icing.

I am not a huge fan of butter cream icing.  Perhaps it was all the batches I had to make for my Wilton classes, but I will do anything to avoid it!  I do, however love cream cheese icing.  I like the tanginess of the flavor and the fact that leftovers can be spread on waffles the next morning.  That is, if you aren’t having left over cake for breakfast the day after your birthday!

Basic Cream Cheese Icing
  • 16 oz. cream cheese (2 packages), softened
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
With an electric mixer, blend together cream cheese and butter until smooth on a high speed setting so that there are no lumps. On low speed blend in powdered sugar and vanilla extract.  Then return the mixer to high speed and beat until light and fluffy. Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.  If refrigerated, the frosting will need to be brought to room temperature before using (after frosting softens up, beat with mixer until smooth).  If you prefer a sweeter and/or stiffer frosting, you could add more powdered sugar (up to four cups). I don’t think this is necessary though, as the more sugar you add, the less you’ll be able to taste the tangy cream cheese!

Marshmallow Fondant

Alternate title: Because I  Married a Man With an Art Degree!
I should begin this post with a confession:  Liam’s cake was supposed to be a pirate ship.  When we first began talking about the birthday party and what, we as the parents, wanted we thought of an outfit in Liam’s closet with a cute little pirate and ship on it and thought it would be fun to theme the party around the outfit.  As the months passed, we came to our senses and realized that we were going to be the only ones to enjoy this and we really should save it until we have had more experience with fondant and Liam will care.  I know, we’re so smart.  Anyway, since Liam is really into the dump truck and I wanted to make something to decorate the top of the cupcakes, we settled on making cute little primary colored dump trucks for the toppers.  So the decision was made and ingredients purchased.  And then, 10 pounds of green beans landed in my kitchen and I had to deal with them pronto.  So last Friday night, my husband was making fondant.  That’s right, my 6 foot, manly man of a husband was rolling out marshmallow and confectioner’s sugar so that I could have the cupcakes of my dreams.  He’s a doll isn’t he?
We used the recipe from the Wilton site, but without the shortening.  Matt thought it would be better to simply coat our pastry board with more sugar and roll the blob of fondant around on it until he had managed to get the consistency that he wanted.  Since he was the one doing it, I did not stand in his way.  Turns out, his method worked just fine and I didn’t have to clean shortening up from anything in the kitchen!  Once the fondant was worked together and in a ball, Matt divided it into thirds so he could color it.  There aren’t too many pictures of this whole process because I was up to my elbows in beans and didn’t really think about documentation.  For coloring, we used a vegetable based food colorings that I got at the health food store.  What with all the research that food coloring isn’t the best thing to put in children’s bodies, I felt it was our best choice.  I don’t know what it would be like if you were using conventional food coloring, but with the veg based, it took a LOT of  coloring to get to the bright colors.  
We double wrapped the fondant in plastic wrap and let it set over night.  Saturday night, after everything was ready for the party, we put in a movie and sat down to mold the trucks.  Matt made the cab and the bed (Is it obvious I’m the mother of a little boy?  2 years ago, I hadn’t a clue what those parts were!) and I did the wheels.  For the record, blue food coloring, dyes your hands far more than a combo of red and yellow.  I had blue thumbs until Monday.  We started out making the whole truck, but got tired as the night went on, because let me tell you, 11pm after a full day is not the time to decide to make 60 fondant dump trucks.  So in the end, I made the wheels and he put together the bodies and we refrigerated them until the next afternoon.  Since it is July and it is HOT in Ohio, we waited until the last possible moment before icing and decorating the cupcakes.  Once they were all done, we turned up the window AC and put the cupcakes on a table in front of it.  I think the kids at the party were a little disappointed that I didn’t bring them out until right before we were ready to sing Happy Birthday to Liam.  
I must tell you that I’ve had traditional fondant on wedding cakes and not really liked it. However, even I who does not like marshmallows, thought this turned out well.  It was a little time consuming to shape, but if you were going to use this to cover a cake, it would be easy as… well, never mind. 

Low Impact Birthday

 

This past weekend, we celebrated my baby’s first birthday.  His first birthday.  I haven’t any idea where the time went and how it got there without warning me, but it would seem that we are no longer counting his age in detailed weeks and days, but general months and before I know it, he’ll be referred to as a toddler.  Ugh.  Part of me was thrilled to be throwing a party since we haven’t really entertained since Liam was born and if there’s anything I like to do, it’s feed people.  But then, the other side of me was saddened by his growing up and the stunning reality that since I take birthdays very seriously, we are going to be doing this every year for multiple children (hopefully) and this singular event has the very possibility of ruining my comfortable low-impact lifestyle.  What to do?  Here is an outline of each step I made to insure that we had as low an impact party as possible without breaking the bank or putting a damper on the fun.  I’ll be posting recipes this week as well for the food. 
Paper Products:
The planning for this party began way back in the early spring when I started attending other birthday parties and taking notes.  The biggest waste that I saw and wanted to eliminate was the issue of cups, plates and forks.  The options can be overwhelming and for a brief moment, I was lured towards the disposable just because I wasn’t sure what to do.  I don’t know if this happens to everyone, or if the marketing gods smelled my wavering mindset, but about a month ago, I was sent a catalog for paper supplies for birthdays.  They featured just about every character known to man or personalized designs.  At first, I did consider using their products until I realized that for one party, I was going to spend roughly 85 dollars on paper supplies alone for one party!  I passed it along to another mom.  In the end however, I wasn’t able to come up with a cute invite solution that was both memorable and effective, so we wound up doing photo invites to the party since we had invested in a photo shoot and wanted to share. 
I started searching around town and found plates and cups that were themselves recyclable.  They are pretty, and will fulfill a variety of uses.  I bought 3 dozen of each.  Wandering around a party supply store a few weeks ago, I happened upon biodegradable forks
They are supposed to meld into your compost pile in 1 year, so I buried one.  I hope I don’t find it next summer.  I do have beautiful dinner plates that I use when entertaining, but given that we were celebrating a child’s birthday with lots of children, I didn’t want to take a chance that I would have a broken plate in the midst of the celebration.  The plates and cups I bought are dishwasher safe, so they have been cleaned and put away for another time.  I had meant to make more cloth napkins, but didn’t get them done in time, so we used some of these as they were all our grocery had to to offer.  Hardly any were used, so I guess I’ll have them for a long time.  Clean up was a snap, because as I already mentioned, the plates were dishwasher safe and I just put a basket under the table for guest to dump their used dishes, napkins, cups and forks.

Let’s Eat!
Food is another big deal for me.  I wanted to create a menu for my guests that truly reflected our food passions and utilized the resources around us.  We served sloppy joes made with local ground beef, a broccoli cauliflower salad with local produce, bacon and cheese, a fruit salad with seasonal items and I made the cupcakes.  The only “bad” thing in the cupcakes (all 60 of them) were the conventional marshmallows I used to make the fondant.  Not too shabby considering that even the chocolate was fair trade!  I asked my mother-in-law and sister-in-law to help me with the salads and sloppy joes so that I didn’t wind up getting overwhelmed.  In the end, I overestimated how much beef I was going to need and consequently have had sloppy joes for the last 3 lunches.  For drinks, we made lemonade (from concentrate) and had water.  No one went hungry and my in-laws were praised thoroughly for their contributions to the meal!

Decorations:
This was the biggest undertaking of the whole party for me.  When I was growing up, my mother made banners for each of us kids announcing our birthday and hung them on the front door.  After much thought, I decided that I would do the same for my kids.  So I set out to make a banner that I swore I had seen online.  I never found the pattern, but my MIL and SIL were very helpful in the process, brainstorming, cutting fabric and trying different stitches.  I was thrilled to see that we were able to take a pile of fabric and turn it into a beautiful decoration that will last for years to come.  The added bonus was that everything wound up color coordinating between the banner and my tableware.  My aunt came bearing balloons after I had set up for the party, but for future reference, I’m not a fan.  They kept blowing into the pear tree and popping, causing everyone’s heart to stop in panic.  Balloons are not the most practical thing for my backyard. 

Gifts:
People know us well.  Most of the gifts Liam received were wooden or puzzles.  He did, however get a few trucks that were made of recycled plastics and are super cool!  They were mostly presented in gift bags that had been recycled from other events.  I saved them all and smoothed out the tissue paper.  Waste not, want not.  In the future, once Liam is old enough to choose, we may wind up doing a benefit party where we ask people to not bring gifts but to make a donation to a charity.  I’d love for Liam to learn to give back at a young age.  I made all of Liam’s thank yous from card stock and a printed dump truck.   They are not fancy, but they also didn’t require tons of fossil fuels to produce them en masse.  I have a stash of card stock that I plan to let Liam decorate as he gets older to make his own thank yous.  

I felt like the party was a huge success, not only for Liam’s sake, but also in the sense that we didn’t betray who we are just for the sake of a theme or being trendy or doing what’s easy.  I’m glad that I was able to find solutions that will last for years and that in the end, it really wasn’t that much extra trouble.  My parents spent a great deal of time when we were younger planning birthdays and holidays.  I know we never used paper products because I was always doing dishes after each party.  But that experience stuck with me.  Here I am, 20 years later wondering how I can make an investment that will last for as long as I want so that we can spend the time focusing on the birthday boy (or girl) and not filling our landfills with more junk. 

Beef Fajita Dip

Back when I first started watching the Food Network, no matter who the cook was, they would always tell the audience to “ask your butcher”.  I’d sit in my living room and wonder what those of us who didn’t have a butcher to call their own did.  Then, I discovered Mary Anne and fell in love.   So now, I get to join those people who have people; people in their life who are just really good at things we aren’t.  One of the things I love about going to the same people every week for my meat is that they know me.  They know how I like my ground beef packaged and how I get the sirloin sliced for stroganoff.  They get why I love to cook and they always know just the right cut of meat for my recipe.  Another benefit is that the other people who are standing on my side of the counter are always friendly; we ask what they are making and swap ideas.  This recipe is the result of just that.  Saturday, I was ordering all the meat for 10 pounds of sloppy joes for Liam’s birthday party and the meat for our weekly menu when I started listening to what the lady next to me was going to do with her steak.  Her idea sounded so good, I got one too and made my own version of the meal had planned.  This meal fed us well.  It’s been 2 hours since I ate and I’m not even peckish.  Half of the meat went into the dip and the rest went into baked fajitas which I froze.  There’s a tiny bit of the dip left over… I hid it in the fridge; I can share at meals, but have no desire to share for a snack!
Beef Fajita Dip:
  • 2 1/2 pounds of sirloin steak
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 2 red and 1 green bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 can of refried beans
  • 1 Tbsp. Adobo paste
  • 1/2 Tbsp. smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • Tortilla chips
I seasoned the meat with salt and pepper and the cooked it on high in my crock pot for 4 hours.  The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender without heating up the kitchen all day.  Once the meat about done, I sliced up my onions and peppers and sauteed them in oil until tender.  Then, I added in the adobo paste, paprika and a touch of salt and pepper.  I shredded the beef up and added in enough to balance out the peppers and onions so everything was about even.  Then, I layered the refried beans on the bottom of a small casserole dish (I use canned beads still because I cannot make them myself to my taste just yet.), corn and meat/onion/pepper mix.  Finally, I topped the dish with the cheese, making sure that everything inch was covered.  I then put the dish in the oven at 350 degrees until the cheese had melted was starting to brown (I personally would have left it in longer, but when toddlers are hungry, they are hungry and they don’t understand the aesthetic aspects of cheese melting.), about 15 minutes.  I did top the dip with a little bit of sour cream and sliced olives.  It was excellent dipped onto blue corn tortilla chips.

This dish could be used as either an appetizer or a main meal.  It could be served as a dip or rolled into tortillas and baked.  No matter how you serve it, it’s a winner!

First trip to the farmer’s market and produce bags by me!

I

I’ve been sewing a lot lately.  I’ve made bibs, a birthday banner and reuseable produce bags.  I’m on a roll.  I had to pack up my sewing machine so I can get the house ready for Liam’s first birthdaypalooza on Sunday, but after that… What I like most about my little sewing machine is that I can take a piece of fabric that looks as though it might be a waste and turn it into something of value.  The birthday banner I made can be used for years to come in place of paper decorations that I would have to throw away.  The bibs are obviously useful, but really, how often can you buy 8 large bibs for 3 dollars?  Remnants bin my friends!

But that’s not really what this post is about.  It’s about the fact that my garden isn’t producing as well as I had hoped.  I guess I’m not treating it as tenderly as I used to.  That and I don’t have the time I used to.  Next year, I’ll be able to get Liam involved, but for now, I’m trying to keep him from eating my weed pile and hoping the dogs don’t hop the fence and destroy my pumpkin patch.  Friday mornings, vendors set up their produce, crafts and pottery down by the carousel and sell, sell, sell.  I see that I am going to have to make weekly trips.  This week, we came away with a 1/2 peck of green beans, 3 eggplants, leeks, carrots, garlic and rhubarb.  I’m so excited!

The best part about my trip was that I got to use my produce bags I made earlier in the week.  They’ve been sitting in my living room, tempting me every day to take them out for a spin.  They were a trial run to test the materials and seam styles.  I also tested 2 different drawstring materials.  Before I start making more, I’m going to see how they wash up.  I loved that none of the farmers had to give me a bag, I walked out of the market with lots of goodies and no waste!

How to train a sous chef

A few years ago, I gave advice to a frustrated mother in my office.  She was concerned that her young son would never catch up to his peers with  his small motor control.  He could barely grasp a pencil comfortably, let alone write his name.  The mother was a newly minted American citizen and her English was labored and unsure.  She had not been able to communicate her concern to their family doctor and she felt helpless in her desire for her son to succeed in school.  As we talked, I suggested that she bring him into the kitchen with her while she cooked.  To teach him how to measure out spices, to use a cookie cutter, to shape the bread.  It sounded odd, but she did what I suggested and within weeks, she saw improvement.  I am a firm believer in getting your kids involved in the kitchen from a very early age, if not to simply familiarize them with good food, but to teach them skills and build relationships.  

When your kids are little, you can settle them into a sling or perhaps a Bumbo while you work, keeping them close and involved in their own little way.  When they are toddlers, you can give them little tasks to do and by the time they are in elementary school, you could have your own little sous chef.  Magazines and blogs and websites are filled with ideas on how to get your kids involved in the kitchen.  Grow a garden, take them to the grocery, let them help you with your menu plan, teach them simple knife skills; these are all fantastic ideas, but what about that age where they are no longer content to sit and babble while you cook but are too young to get you the onions out of the bin?  I know, there’s nothing out there about that age.  Of course, that age is where we are now.  

As I type this, my little guy is motoring around the upstairs of our home.  He is busy every second of his waking moments.  He’s curious and intense.  And sitting quietly in the kitchen watching me cook is not top priority to him.  There’s been a battle of balance in our home because I’m not willing to give up cooking a nice dinner just because I have a toddler, but I also need to eat something other than pasta and broccoli (although, I’m fairly certain Liam wouldn’t mind).  I don’t like the dinner prep to be stressful, so in the last few weeks, I’ve gotten dinner down to a science.  I hope this post is helpful to those readers who are coming up on this stage of life with your little ones!

 

  • Be prepared!!!  This tip I cannot stress enough.  I generally take a few moments the night before and look at what’s in my fridge so I’m not blindsided the next afternoon at 4.  If meat needs to be thawed, it’s taken care of then, not in a panic with a hungry child in the background.  Being prepared keeps you from running to the drive-through.
  • If you have the luxury of a good nap on the weekend from your child, use it.  Ask your husband (wife, partner, etc.) to be on baby duty so you can gather your supplies for your week of meals and prep as far as you can in advance.  I try to spend a few hours once a month and get meats in marinades, frozen and labeled for quicker dinners.
  • If you’re making a meal, make 2.  Often, I plan my menu around leftovers.  This way, we are all fed well throughout the week and Matt isn’t digging around in the morning looking for a meal before work.  If I can, I make enough to freeze additional portions for use later.
  • Use that crockpot!  Making your meat in the crockpot and then fixing a side later means that even if there is a total meltdown and you aren’t able to get the side done, you at least have a filling meal to eat.
  • Serve a snack while you prep dinner.  I do this almost every day.  Liam eats an afternoon snack around 4 so he sits in his chair and munches while I do all the work that would require a knife or a hot pan.  If I time things right, I can usually get dinner into the oven before Liam is done with his snack and then we are free to play until Daddy comes home.
  • Make one cabinet safe so your child can pull out the pans, bowls, spoons, etc. and play with them while you cook.  My pasta press plates are stored in a case that when shaken makes noise.  Liam loves it.  We turn on music and he shakes the case to the music and we dance while I make dinner.  He also loves to wave wooden spoons around or play peek-a-boo with the onions under the kitchen sink.
  • On a few occasions, we have stripped Liam down to his cute little diaper and let him play in the ingredients.  I’ve shredded cheese onto the tray of his chair and let him feel the differences between flour and oats.  

If I get the time, I like to make as much of the dinner as I can while Liam takes his afternoon nap.  I’ve made a deal with myself to not work the whole way through his nap, though.  I need that time as much as anyone else to sit back and breathe because as soon as he wakes up, we’ve got stairs to climb, dogs to chase and toys to vroom vroom.  I do try to make sure that Liam gets to spend the time with me in the kitchen as much as possible.  He already does most of my grocery shopping with me and enjoys the dirt garden.  It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally gotten to the point where dinner prep isn’t so challenging, but I must admit that I am looking forward to being able to engage Liam a little more fully as I bake and cook.  It will be so much fun to do things together!

Grilled Tilapia

I love my cast iron skillet.  I really like the crust that forms on breads baked in it and the way it keeps the moisture in a casserole.  I have a ceramic top stove, so I have to be very careful with how it’s handled and I will forever regret not listening to my mother-in-law when we were stove shopping and she suggested a gas stove.  Biggest regret of my kitchen.  Anyway, my cousin’s husband told me how he used their cast iron skillet to cook fish on their grill and I was stunned with the possibility!  I honestly never even considered that as an option, but am thrilled to have it as something new in my arsenal of summer meals!

Skillet grilled Tilapia:

  • 6 tilapia fillets
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. ground mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • freshly ground black pepper

Turn on your grill and place your cast iron skillet on the heat.  Mix together the seasonings and sprinkle over the tilapia.  When you can sprinkle water on the skillet and it beads up and fizzes, put a small pat of butter in the skillet to keep the fish from sticking and then place the fillets on the hot surface.  Cook the tilapia until flaky, flipping only once to brown each side.  (It took about 5 minutes on our gas grill to cook.)  Serve with broccoli or green beans and a pasta salad.

Animal crackers in my soup…

Once upon a time, a new mother thought that it would be simple to provide for her child the best food on the planet.  She ate organic, sustainable, local foods throughout her pregnancy.  Her worst craving was for fresh kale salads.  Once that child was born, she nursed him faithfully even when her body stopped producing, caving to feed him organic formula only because he was hungry.  When the little baby was ready for solid foods, his mama steamed and pureed and mashed everything in sight.  She even tried making her own version of biter biscuits (an epic fail).  Little by little, the baby realized that the food on his parents’ plates was what he wanted and suddenly abandoned all purees in favor of whole solids that he could nosh on with his stunning 6 teeth.  As he was weaned onto whole milk, the mama realized that it was now time to give him an afternoon snack to tide him over until supper.  But what to feed him?  The mama didn’t want to hand her son preservatives at every snack, but she also didn’t want to spend the bulk of her food budget on organic snacks!

I was really surprised how many recipes there are out there in cyberspace pertaining to snacks.  Healthy snacks, guilty snacks, weird snacks.  Most of the healthy ones called for honey, though.  Almost every medical resource I have agreed that children under 12 months shouldn’t have honey because they can contract botulism.  This posed a slight problem given that the honey is used to hold the rest of the dough together.  I don’t like molasses, so that was out and I didn’t want to add another liquid for fear that would make the dough tough.  So I abandoned the idea of homemade teddy graham crackers.  Then one day, I came across a jar of malt barley syrup.  The light came on and I am thrilled to present to you the product of a well-used afternoon naptime for Liam!  These crackers have a graham-like flavor, but are crisper like an animal cracker.  I love them and Liam always points to the jar whenever he sees it now!

Zoo munchers

  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tbsp. wheat germ
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  •  3/4 tsp. salt
  •  7 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/3 c. malt barley syrup (or honey if not using this recipe for a child under 12 months)
  • 5 Tbsp. whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla

Sift together the dry ingredients.  Cut the butter into 1 inch pieces and place them in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat until fluffy and then gradually  add in the milk, vanilla and syrup.  Mix in the dry ingredients until dough forms a ball around the paddle.  Remove the dough from the bowl and wrap in saran wrap.  Chill for a minimum of 2 hours.  (I made the dough during a nap and then shaped them when I had time the next day.  The dough was still fine to work with and didn’t get tough.)  Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut out shapes.  Freeze the dough for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes.  Allow to cool before storing; they keep well for 2 weeks in an air tight container… if your kids don’t know where you hide them!

** I tagged this as a frugal recipe since when I worked out the math, I am saving myself $7.35 a month in graham crackers for Liam.  This includes the price of the barley malt syrup in my calculations.  It honestly takes very little time out of my day and will eventually be something Liam and I can do together!
** Since barley is non-allergenic to most babies, I plan to play around with the end form of the crackers and use this as biter biscuits for my future children. 

Lemon tart for the 4th

This is my second attempt at this dessert and my second recipe.  Suffice to say, this one won out.  The main reasons for the winning was simplicity of this recipe.  Whereas the night before Easter I was desperately trying to get a custard-like filling to not overflow as I put it in the oven, I only had to spend a great deal of time sweating it out over the stove for this to reach the correct consistency.  On my previous attempt, the tart overflowed out of the tart pan all over the baking sheet and came out with a harsh burnt top with an entirely liquid center.  After an hour of baking.  Disappointed does not even come close to describing how I felt about that.  No baking was required of this tart (other than the shell) and I am thrilled about that!

 Matt and I spent Saturday working at my grandmother’s house.  Upon her death, I became the owner of her home, property and all the contents therein.  I am completely conflicted about this new responsibility and unsure of our next move.  Saturday was spent moving all my aunt’s possessions out of the house and making a vain attempt at creating some order.  At the end of the day, I was feeling defeated when I got a phone call inviting us to a 4th of July picnic at a friend’s house.  I could taste a lemony dessert as I said we’d be there.  This dessert was perfect for the night and I’m debating whether or not I should make this again or move on to something else from my mastery list for my birthday!

French Lemon Cream Tart (Baking: from My Home to Yours by Dorrie Greenspan)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • the grated zest of 3 lemons
  • 3/4 c. fresh lemon juice
  • 10.5 oz butter, cut into small pieces and at room temperature
  • 1 9-in. tart crust (the book recommends one, but I didn’t like it as well as my usual crust recipe)

Zest the lemons and mix them together with the sugar in a heatproof bowl.  Using either your fingers or a spatula, mash the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist from the zest and a little bit grainy.  Your kitchen will smell heavenly!  Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice.  Heat a pan of water to simmering and place the bowl over the top.  Once the mixture starts to feel warm, begin whisking.  Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees.  You will need to whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling.  I gave up measuring the temperature and went by the appearance of the cream.  When it was thick and the whisk left tracks through on each swipe, I took it off the heat.  (Dorrie’s instructions say it can take up to 10 minutes to reach the proper temperature, but because I was using such a heavy bowl, I whisked and cooked for almost half an hour.  It was 92 degrees yesterday.  I’ll be using a lighter bowl next time.) 

When the cream is cooked, remove it from the heat and allow it too cool to an approximate temperature of 140 degrees.  Once it has reached that temp, pour it into a sturdy blender and add a few pieces of butter.  You will need to add the butter a few pieces at a time until it is all incorportated before continuing.  If your blender is having trouble with the cream, which mine did, you can use a food processor or an immersion blender.  I used the immersion blender.  Blend the cream once all the butter is added for an additional 3 minutes, the cream is light and fluffy.  Chill the cream for a minimum of 4 hours before pouring into a baked tart shell.  I chilled mine again before serving and topped it with fresh raspberries.  

**Notes:  The photo in the book shows a cream that is much lighter than mine.  While I cannot say for sure, I’m going to believe it’s because of the eggs I used.  My eggs are home-grown and have an almost orange yolk to them.  Hence the rich yellow of my tart.