Stick with me guys…

When my daughter was a little over two and a half, my Mom got her a set of those bath tub crayons, the kind that you use to write on yourself and on the tub. She loved the colors and used them every time she was in the tub. They come in six bright colors and are supposed to wash off easily. In our case that was true, except for the purple. Purple stained the grout. After a scrubbing and bleaching session I finally got rid of the soft purple hue that was in the grout. Naturally I threw the purple crayon away.

The next day in tub, my daughter asked about purple. I didn’t want to tell her I threw it away, so I told her it went down the drain. She accepted the explanation and went on playing with the other colors. She liked to play until all the water was drained from the tub.  As the water was draining she clutched the other five colors to her and said, “Stick with me guys, remember what happened to purple.”

So in honor of purple, I created this balsamic glazed purple cabbage side dish. It is so yummy, we tend to eat the whole thing at one meal. But once we did have leftovers and I tried it cold and it was still delicious.

Enjoy and remember what happened to purple!

Balsamic Glazed Purple Cabbage

Ingredients:

1 medium head purple cabbage – thinly chopped
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Brown Sugar

Directions:

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat, add garlic and simmer slightly. Add cabbage and sauté until slightly wilted, about five minutes. Add brown sugar and salt, toss to coat evenly, and then add the balsamic vinegar. Reduce heat to medium/low. Cover and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed and the cabbaged is almost caramelized, roughly 30 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

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The Strawberry Butterfly

My daughter played organized soccer for the first time this fall. She was the youngest in a six and under league. On team naming day, there was only one suggestion and it passed with a unanimous vote: the Strawberry Butterflies.

My husband was a professional athlete and our daughter definitely inherited his genes. She is quite athletic and normally excels in all physical activities…. and then came soccer. Although she was having a lot of fun, she wasn’t aggressive at all during the matches. She would just run behind the pack never getting near the ball. We practiced with her during the week, but as the season progressed she did not improve. My husband and I agreed that we didn’t care how she played, as long as she was having fun.

My daughter, the Strawberry Butterfly

During one of the final games, completely out of nowhere, she charged into the pack, stole the ball from the other team, dribbled down the field and made a dramatic goal. My husband burst onto the field, scooped her up and gave her a big hug. (I guess maybe he does care a little how she plays.) She later told me that she was worried that Daddy was going to get hit by the ball. Perhaps the field hug made a difference as she made another dramatic goal before the season ended.

In honor of my daughter’s first year of soccer I created the “Strawberry Butterfly Sandwich.” It is a kid favorite on play dates. I cut them using a heart-shaped cookie cutter and took them to my daughter’s school on Valentine’s Day where they were a big hit. But what’s not to love about a Strawberry Butterfly.

Strawberry Butterfly Sandwiches

Ingredients:

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup powdered sugar

16 oz package of strawberries

10 – 12 slices of bread, anything from wheat, to white to raisin. Number of slices will depend on how thick you spread the filling.

THe Strawberry Butterfly SandwichDirections:

1. Wash strawberries and dry them completely. Slice into medium pieces.

2. Combine cream cheese and powdered sugar. Add sliced strawberries do not over mix.

3. Spread strawberry/cream cheese mixture lightly onto both slices of bread. Combine two slices to make into a sandwich. If desired, use cookie cutters to shape sandwiches.

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The Farmer

My Mom had a stroke in 2009 and faced a long recovery. Luckily she did everything right with her rehabilitation and today is healthier than ever. She had never worked on a computer before and her doctor suggested it would be a good way to rehab after the stroke. My Mom took to it quite well. She got an email account, navigated web sites and yup, she got a Facebook account. I loved the day she “friended” me. She now has almost 700 friends and plays Farmville… a lot.

This past summer my Mom had a severe pain in her upper back by her shoulder blade. It came on so suddenly my Dad took her to the emergency room. When the doctor was about to take her in my Dad jokingly said “She probably hurt it farming.” The doctor’s eyes opened wide and said, “What? She’s a farmer?” My Dad never told him what type of farmer he merely answered, “Yup.”

And off went the doctor and my Mother… the farmer.

My Mom "Farming" on Facebook.

I order a weekly box of fresh, seasonal produce delivered from a local farm. It is fun to discover new vegetables and new ways to make vegetables. This time of year the box has a lot of greens, so I am being creative. A friend introduced me to kale chips. These are delicious! We devour plate after plate when I make these. My daughter says these chips are “yummy in my tummy.” Plus, kale has one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any vegetable.

So in honor of my Mom, the farmer, enjoy these recently harvested Kale chips.

Kale Chips

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon”ish” salt

Directions

  1. Wash and thoroughly dry one bunch of Kale. Remove the leaves from the stem and rip into bite size pieces. Be sure the leaves are dry before putting them in oven as it will make them crisper and more like a chip.
  2. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Drizzle kale with olive oil.
  4. Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 20 to 30 minutes. I baked mine for 20 but others have said they like them less crispy. So cook to taste.
  5. Sprinkle with salt immediately after taking “chips” from oven.
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I can’t fly!

When my daughter was almost three, she stood on her bed wearing her fairy wings and holding a magic wand. She raised the wand to the sky, paused and then burst into tears. As I hugged her I asked her what was wrong. “Mommy,” she choked out between heaving sobs, “I… can’t… fly!”

Ah, the first of life’s many disappointments.

Well it actually wasn’t her first disappointment. About six months before the flight attempt, she declared that she wanted cake at every meal. It was her declaration that inspired me to develop this Carrot Cake Soufflé recipe. I tried several carrot soufflé recipes and combined them with various carrot cake recipes, and viola, we can now have cake with some of our meals. This recipe is delicious and loved by kids and adults alike. I don’t even like carrots and I like this soufflé. (Well I guess it’s the cake part I Iike.) Plus it’s very inexpensive, what is cheaper than a carrot?

The old saying says to make lemonade out of lemons. But I say; when life’s disappointments come at you, make Carrot Cake Soufflé out of carrots.

Carrot Cake Soufflé

Ingredients

2.5 pounds carrots, steamed and pureed

½ cup room temperature (or melted) butter

½ cup brown sugar

1/2 all-purpose (or whole wheat) flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup raisins

3 eggs, well beaten

Directions

1.       Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.       Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add carrots and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and mash.

3.       To the carrots add remaining ingredients, except powdered sugar. Mix well and transfer to a 2-quart casserole dish.

4.       Bake in preheated oven for 60 minutes.

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Garbage Bin Tree

Christmas is one of my favorite Holidays.  We celebrate “25 Days of Christmas” with a special activity each day leading up to Christmas. The activities vary, but one day is dedicated to getting our tree and the next day to decorating it. I try to make it one of the early activities so we can enjoy the tree for as long as possible. But the first year my daughter was born I was very behind and we did not get a tree until the 23rd of December.

We drove to our local Home Depot thinking we would walk through a special lot to pick out the perfect tree for Erica’s first Christmas. But the lot was gone. My husband went in to inquire about the trees. The staff told him that they shut the lot early this year as they only had a few trees left. They threw the remaining trees in the dumpster and we were welcome to get one from there. We drove around back and there were two other families dumpster diving for trees.  We picked one that was leaning against the dumpster and wrapped. The tag said it was an 8-10 foot Noble Fir. We got it home and opened it up and were shocked, but delighted to find a gorgeous and almost flawless tree.

Garbage Bin Tree 2006

This year my daughter picked out the tree and put on the first ornament.  She developed a deep fondness for the tree. As we were taking it down she asked what its fate would be and I told her it would get recycled and become something else. She said she hoped it would become a Jenga game.

One of our other activities was making a papier-mache snowman for our centerpiece. This was the first time we had done this for one of our 25 Days of Christmas activities. It was a lot of fun and really quite easy. Plus they made a super cute center piece and cost about $1.50. I tried a few papier-mache glue recipes before choosing this one. It dried faster, does not smell and was easy to use.

Next year maybe we’ll try to make a papier-mache tree.

Papier-Mache Snowman

You will need: 1. balloons 2. newspaper ripped into small pieces 3. masking tape 4. white paint 5. pipe cleaners and googly eyes 6. sand (shh, we took it from the local park) 7. papier-mache glue (see below)

Ingredients:

  • Water
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Cinnamon (optional)

Combine 1 part flour to 2 parts water. Add 2 tablespoons salt. With a hand mixer or food processor mix ingredients until it forms the consistency of thick glue. (You can mix by hand but be sure to remove all the lumps.) Adding a teaspoon of cinnamon covers the glue smell.

You can store the glue in a covered dish or bowl in the refrigerator for several days.

Putting the snowmen together

1. Blow up balloons into desired snowman shape.

2. Rip newspaper into many and varied small pieces. The more different the size and shapes the better to make it strong. Dip newspaper in papier-mache glue and apply to balloons. Do not over saturate. If necessary apply one coat allow to dry and apply a second coat. The papier-mache may take several days to dry. (Don’t throw away remaining glue as you will need it again in step four.)

3. After the snowballs are completely dry, cut a hole in the top of the ball that is intended for the bottom half of the snowman. Fill with enough sand to stabilize the ball so it cab stand with out falling.

4. Use masking tape to hold the snowball together and form the snowman. Apply another layer of newspaper and papier-mache glue over the snowmen. Allow a few days to dry.

5. Paint the snowmen white. Once they are dry, you are ready to decorate. We used pipe cleaners for the buttons, scarf and nose. My daughter loved pasting on the googly eyes.

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Oh, that’s squash?

I’ve taken my daughter to farmer’s markets since she was a baby. She’s helped me pick out fresh vegetables and fruit since she learned to point. During one fall farmer’s market trip, she picked out a butternut squash. She loved the shape and feel of the it. She got oddly excited about having it for dinner. When we got home she danced around and sang, “Yeah, we’re having butternut squash.” She called her Daddy and told him to hurry home because we were having butternut squash.

I put the squash in the oven while she was napping and the whole house smelled aromatic when she woke up. That got her even more excited about the squash. Finally the buzzer went off and I took the squash out of the oven. She took one look at it and said, “Oh, that’s squash…. yuck, I don’t like squash.”

One of the rules at our house is that you have to try one bite of everything on your plate. So every time I made squash, she had to eat at least one bite. And one bite at a time, she now loves squash.

I invented “One Bite Squash” because I wanted some winter vegetarian options that are both hearty and comforting. The three main ingredients form a health trifecta. The butternut squash is rich in anticancer carotenoids and vitamin C, the black beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber, and the spinach adds calcium, folic acid, vitamin K and iron.

“One Bite Squash” is colorful on the plate and works as a side dish or main course. Try it also as a vegetarian taco filling… just add salsa and sour cream. The last time I made it, I paired it with sautéed polenta.  However served, it is an elegant and affordable feast.

There is no more squash dancing, but we do have squash eating.

“One Bite Squash”

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large butternut squash pared, cleaned and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cups black beans
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed
  • ¼ cup teriyaki sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

1.       Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place cubed, raw squash on roasting sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 40-45 minutes or until squash is tender.

2.       In a large saucepan, sauté onion and garlic in oil until tender. Add beans and spinach, stir until heated through. Add teriyaki sauce and soy sauce. Sauté for 5 more minutes. Add roasted squash. Let simmer on low for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with kosher salt.

TIPS:

1.       Vary the amount of squash, beans or spinach to suit your preference.

2.       Butternut squash are difficult to peel and cut. To make it easier, piece the squash with a fork and microwave for a minute before cutting. You can also peel with a carrot peeler.

3.       For an easy and quick preparation, buy the squash precut.

4.       In a pinch you can substitute 2 (16 ounce) cans of beans, but soaked black beans are more flavorful and dramatically cheaper.

5.       Soak more beans than you need and freeze the rest for another recipe.

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Oh Nuts!

When my husband Roy and I first started dating I got him a big (and I mean big… 7.5 pounds) can of peanuts covered with a scene from St. Andrews golf course. The small packs of peanuts inside were meant as snacks during a round of golf. Since Roy is an avid golfer, I thought it was a perfect first gift. So when he arrived to take me on out third date, I proudly presented him with the nuts. He smiled and said, “Thank you, this is wonderful… except… I am allergic to nuts.”

To this day my brother refers to it, “As the time Karen gave Roy the huge can of poison.”

Naturally I keep nuts out of everything I make, but I still love them. One of my favorite treats is candied walnuts. They are quite pricey to buy, but are dramatically less expensive when you make them yourselves.  Plus, they taste so much better when freshly prepared. There are many ways to make candied nuts and I have tried them all. But the easiest (and I think best tasting) recipe calls for only “two-ish” ingredients; walnuts, sugar and a bit of kosher salt.

Candied walnuts are very versatile. They add elegance and a sweet crunch to salads. You can put them out in a crystal or glass bowl as a snack for guests.  Wrap them in a bit of cellophane and bow and they make inexpensive hostess or holiday gift.

These nuts are sweet, but not as sweet as the fact that more than eight years later Roy still has the nuts.

Candied Walnuts

1 ½ cup raw walnuts

½ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1.       Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread walnuts in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Toast the walnuts for roughly ten to fifteen minutes, until they begin to smell “nutty” but not burned. Shake the pan halfway through. Remove from heat and let cool.

2.       Pour sugar into medium saucepan and cook over medium heat. Do not touch sugar until it begins to melt then stir with a wooden spoon until all the sugar is melted and is amber brown.

3.       Add walnuts to pan and stir quickly until each walnut piece is coated with sugar.

4.       Spread the coated walnuts on parchment paper and separate each nut with a fork.

5.       Sprinkle kosher salt over the nuts. Let cool completely.

Tips:

1.       Do not make a double batch. The sugar cools quickly and it’s hard to get all the nuts coated and separated before they solidify.

2.       Toasting the nuts brings out their flavor. You can also toast them in a saucepan on the stove. Place nuts in a saucepan over medium heat and let them toast. Stir a few times while toasting. Wait for that “nutty” toasty smell (roughly five minutes) and remove from heat.

3.       Do not use waxed paper instead of parchment paper. The nuts are so hot they can melt the wax paper.

4.       Experiment with other nuts, pecans and almonds also candy well.

5.       For a bit more elegance, sprinkle a colored sugar like yellow, over the nuts when you add the salt. It melts slightly and gives it a golden hue.

6.       Store cooled nuts in an air tight container at room temperature.

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…such a waste of time!

When families dine together on a regular basis the payoffs are enormous. But the kids are not, one of the main benefits of family dinner is that kids are less likely to become overweight or obese. Studies have shown that kids perform better in school, they are less likely to use alcohol or drugs, and they suffer from less depression.

It is important to us that we have as many family dinners as possible. Some nights can be difficult as my husband works late. He is often ushered directly to the table from the door. But the timing challenges are worth it; we talk about our day and laugh as a family. We cherish this time together.

Or so I thought.

Recently my daughter said. “Can’t I just eat before Daddy comes home? Sitting at that table is such a waste of time. If I had already eaten I could say ‘Tag, you’re it’ to Daddy the second he walks in the door and we could just play, play, play. Not just sit there and waste time.”

As much as she sees this as a waste of time, we do not. So we had to find a way to include both family dinner and playtime.

So the nights my husband is home too late to play after dinner, I take over the role as playmate before dinner. But that cuts into my cooking time, so I need to make something fast.  That is one of the reasons I love this Corn Bread Casserole recipe. I timed myself and I can prepare it in three minutes. Not only is it fast, but it is easy and you probably already have everything in your pantry. Plus it is a yummy comfort food.  I am not a fan of using canned vegetables and when I have more time I use fresh corn and heavy cream instead.  But when time is short and“tag, you’re it” must be played, I use the canned corn.

Enjoy the Corn Bread Casserole and enjoy your family dinner.

Corn Bread Casserole

1 can (15.25 oz.) creamed corn

1 can (15.25 oz.) whole corn

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted

1 egg, beaten

8 oz. sour cream (I use reduced fat)

1 pkg. (8.5 oz.) corn muffin mix

1.       Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly coat a 2-quart square cooking dish.

2.       Mix together the creamed corn and the whole corn – do not drain the whole corn. Add melted butter, the beaten egg, and sour cream and mix together well. Lightly stir in the muffin mix.

3.       Pour into baking dish. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until firm in center.

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“And they had FOUR!”

Erica recently joined me grocery shopping, which is not one of her favorite things. She was pretty grumpy, but perked up when she saw two bakery samples; carrot cake and pumpkin bars. Erica was most interested in the bars because her Daddy calls her “Pumpkin.” After trying both samples, we decided to get the pumpkin bars. They were not displayed by the samples, so we went to look for them.

Still unable to find them we approached the bakery counter. In front of us was an elderly woman who was angrily protesting the lack of a garbage can near the samples. She declared that without a close garbage can, people would just leave their sample cups littered about the bakery. Then she looked up and pointed at us with the longest most accusatory finger I have ever seen and yelled, “And they had FOUR samples and I bet their cups are spread all over place!”

Dumbfounded I said nothing and merely held up our stack of sample cups. It proved that we did indeed have four samples, but that they were not dropped onto bread shelves or tossed into cupcake racks.

I decided to discontinue the pumpkin bars search and bake at home. Since Erica had pumpkin on her mind, I made what has become known at our house as “Our Little Pumpkin” Crunch.

There are many versions of this recipe out there, but I find this one is the best.  Not only is it delicious, it is super quick to make, you can whip it up in about five minutes. When we entertain, I make it right before my guests arrive and let it bake while they are here. It smells so delicious and the house feels so homey. Serve it warm with whipped cream or ice cream and you have a quick, upgraded version of the standard pumpkin pie.  An entire dessert for less than the price of a few pumpkin bars… plus, no one will count your sample cups!

“Our Little Pumpkin” Crunch

1 cup whole milk

1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

4 tsp. pumpkin spice

1/2 tsp. salt

3 whole eggs

1 yellow cake mix

1 ½ sticks butter melted

Mix first 7 ingredients together until they are very smooth.  Pour into a 9 x 13 inch cake pan.  Sprinkle contents of yellow cake mix evenly on top of pumpkin mixture. Drizzle melted butter on top. (For those of you with no peanut allergies in your house, you can top with chopped pecans.)

Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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The Curse of the Uncut Chicken

Before I left for college my Aunt Connie offered to teach me how to cut up a whole chicken. I politely declined. Jokingly she told me I would never be “marriable” until I learned to cut up a chicken. (This was North Dakota!)

Fifteen years later, and still single, I went back to North Dakota for a visit. My Aunt Connie pulled me aside and said she felt that she had cursed me. She proceeded to pull a whole chicken out of the fridge and wouldn’t let me leave until she taught me how to cut it up.

And we did just that! We had the best time that afternoon, laughing, cutting, and cooking.

Although the curse didn’t lift that day, it did uncover a long buried love of cooking. I taught myself how to follow a recipe and I started to cook every day. So long takeout and deli counters and hello basting, dredging and poaching. I began to relish (the food pun is intentional) creating a meal and sharing it with friends and family. I even took cooking classes.

After finally getting married (yup, the curse lifted!) I really enjoyed cooking for two and tried a greater variety of meals while balancing my career.  Prior to actually being a mom I always thought I would return to work…as I loved my public relations career and specifically my Director position at a homeless shelter.  Yet after our daughter was born, all it took to change my mind was seeing my daughter’s tiny, beautiful face.  I instantly knew I could not let anyone else raise her and (voila) I accidentally became a “High Heeled Homemaker” stay-at-home mom.

In my new role, I took cooking to the next level by beginning to experiment with recipes and creating my own dishes. I have discovered I really love the art of homemaking…cooking and creating a beautiful, elegant life for my family.

Chicken dishes will always have a special place in my heart. The “Creamy Chicken Biscuit Mounds” was the first recipe I created and remains my husband’s favorite.  It’s an elegant version of the chicken and biscuit. Served with a green salad on the side, the meal comes in a little over ten dollars. Many of my family and friends continue to request it, so I am happy to share it with you.

I guess one day I’ll have to teach my daughter how to cut up a chicken!

Creamy Chicken Biscuit Mounds

  • 1 – pound of chicken (or roughly two large chicken breasts)
  • 1 – 8 ounce package reduced fat cream cheese
  • 1 – 4 ounce can diced chilies
  • 1 – canned biscuits
  • 1 – cup salsa
  • 1 – cup cheddar cheese
  • 4  -ounces cherry tomatoes
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large skillet cook chicken over medium-high heat until it is no longer pink.  Let the chicken cool and then shred it.
  2. Add reduced fat cream cheese and diced chili peppers to the chicken in the same skillet. Heat slightly until cheese is melted.
  3. Separate each biscuit in half to make 16 biscuits. Press or roll each into approximately a 4-inch round. Place 8 of the biscuits into a baking pan.
  4. Place roughly 2 tablespoons chicken mixture in a mound on top of 8 of the biscuits. Place remaining 8 biscuits halves on top of the chicken mixture. Pinch sides of biscuit together so the chicken mixture remains inside the biscuit creating a mound.
  5. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  6. Top each biscuit with the salsa and cheddar cheese. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half to decorate the top of each biscuit. Bake 2 to 3 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

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