Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Our first family Christmas card

Stationery card
View the entire collection of cards.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Question of the Day

How does something so small create so much poop?

That is all.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cooking Spree!

Nick and I were sick last week, along with the majority of middle Tennessee, apparently.  I got sick first, then Nick.  Nick's was worse than mine and he lost his voice, so once I was feeling better I thought I would make him some chicken soup...from scratch.
After a quick trip to the store I started what would be an entire day of cooking.  First I roasted a whole chicken.  I had only done this a couple of times, but this was the most successful one yet, which just goes to show that you really do have to keep practicing to become a good cook.  Thanks to some helpful hints from my brother, this bird came out perfectly.
As tempting as it was to dive in and eat the whole thing straight out of the oven, I managed to refrain because I knew other goodies were in store.
Once it was cool enough to handle, I shredded all the meat from the bone and set it aside for later.  Then I put the carcass in a stock pot with the onions that roasted with it, some carrots and broccoli stalks (basically whatever I found in our frig), covered it with water and set it on the back burner to simmer for however long I could stand it (turned out to be about 2 hours).
In the meantime, I had more cooking to do!  Well, in this case, baking.  The weekend before, my mother-in-law had given me some over-ripe bananas for banana bread.  I was already in the kitchen, why not make it now?  I put Ellie in her high chair on the counter at a safe distance from the mixer.  She loves to watch the mixer when I'm baking.  I got the batter all mixed, and turned to get the loaf pan, and when I turned back I found this:
She had leaned over as far as she could to get the spatula out of the bowl!  I certainly couldn't let her have the spatula covered in batter.  So I gave her a clean spatula to chew on and went on with my tasks.
(They make great teethers!)
Banana bread was in the oven, now it was time to strain the stock and figure out what to do with the chicken.  I knew I wanted to save some to make baby food for Ellie.  Per advice from a friend, I kept the chicken in large pieces, placed them in my ice cube trays and covered them just slightly with the stock.  Into the freezer they went!  I also did an ice cube tray of just chicken stock; very handy for sauces.
Next I started chopping veggies for the soup: carrots, potatoes, cabbage.  Once I got everything in the pot, I thought, "Soup requires rolls." So I started a batch of dough in the bread machine.  At the end of this epic day of cooking, I had freshly baked banana bread, toasty warm rolls and a huge pot of chicken soup made from scratch.
Dinner is served!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Baby Food Made Easy

For some reason people have this idea that making your own baby food is complicated.  I say, if you can make mashed potatoes, or even a smoothie, you can make baby food.  Its as simple as 1, 2, 3...

1. Steam or roast the item.  In this example, I am making sweet potatoes, so I steamed them in about an inch of water for approximately 15 minutes (it may have been longer because Ellie decided she wanted a bottle).

When I made butternut squash I roasted it with about a teaspoon of oil (to keep from sticking) and it worked great!  Boiling is not the best option because you lose a lot of valuable nutrients.

2. Puree!  I usually have to add some water (leftover cooking liquid when steamed). 

3. This is two medium sized sweet potatoes.  It makes a ton of food, which is the whole idea, so the best way to store it is to freeze it.  I use ice cube trays.

Once these are frozen, I transfer them to a labeled freezer bag.

This is the butternut squash from last week, as you can see there are several perfect little cubes in there!

I realize this isn't for everyone.  I happen to love cooking, so it just made sense that I would enjoy making Ellie's food.  We buy groceries once a week and I spend a little time prepping produce and its the perfect opportunity, while I'm chopping, to go ahead and make baby food.  I have so much baby food in my freezer.  One batch lasts for months!  ...except the sweet potatoes, she LOVES them!

At this point Ellie is still being introduced to solid food, so we have only tried carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash, and bananas. I will have to post again when we start mixing and creating baby food recipes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reader Request: Chocolate Ganache

I recently had a friend request that I post about Chocolate Ganache.  I had a list of future blog post ideas and ganache actually wasn't among them so I figured, why not?

Ganache is actually really simple to make and I use it for a lot of things: truffles, frosting, glaze, sauce for ice cream, or for dipping.  The basic recipe is always two ingredients: heavy cream and chocolate, but what you intend to do with the finished product is what determines the ratio of those two ingredients.  For example, if you want to make frosting or a sauce, you would use equal parts chocolate to cream (this ratio also stays closest to a liquid when chilled).  To make truffles you would increase it to two parts chocolate to cream (for a thicker, "fudgier" consistency).  For chocolate covered strawberries, or for coating those truffles you just made, you would need three parts chocolate to cream because this ratio will harden the most (people often add a tablespoon of corn syrup or a dash of vegetable oil to keep the final product shiny).

The Chocolate

You will want to use a bittersweet chocolate.  I usually go with Ghiradelli 60% cacao.  You will not get the same result with milk or white chocolate as they have a higher cocoa butter content.  I tend to use chocolate chips, but if you get it in bar form just be sure to chop it into small pieces.  You can do this with a very sharp knife, or by banging the crap out of it with a rolling pin (also a good stress reliever).

The Cream

Yes, I said heavy cream.  This is not low fat or fat free and any substitutions will result in a completely different (and probably disappointing) final product.  This is indulgent chocolatey goodness.  Just go with it.

The easiest way to make ganache:

People assume anything with melted chocolate is fussy and difficult, but ganache is quite simple.  If you can heat liquid in a pan, you can make ganache.

-Place desired amount of heavy cream in a sauce pan on medium/low heat.  You might want to stir it occasionally.  Do not walk away from it as you do not want it to boil at any point.

-Heat until tiny bubbles just barely begin to form around the edges of the pan.

-In the meantime, place desired amount of chocolate in a bowl (metal or glass is preferable).  Chocolate should be room temperature.

-Pour hot cream over chocolate and walk away for a few minutes.
-Then very slowly stir the two to combine.  You can use a whisk, but I always use a wooden spoon because it means the chocolate will get on the wooden spoon and I can lick it off.  Its much harder to lick a whisk.

Things to Make With Your Ganache:

-Dress up the flavor: add orange zest, or a tablespoon or two of a flavored liquor, bourbon, or espresso.
-To make truffles: use the 2:1 ratio, pour into a shallow dish and cool in frig, use a small ice cream scoop and roll into 1 inch balls.  Roll in powdered sugar, cocoa powder, nuts, anything!
-Frosting: use the 1:1 ratio, let cool on counter, transfer to mixing bowl and whisk to desired frosting texture.
-Chocolate covered strawberries: use the 3:1 ratio, while still warm dip strawberries* and place them on a sheet of wax paper.
-If you need the strawberries to cool quickly you can place them in the frig, but just know they might sweat.

I hope you find all this chocolate talk informative and helpful.  If you're not salivating by now I have not done my job.  Do you have any dessert ideas that you have questions about?  Feel free to post them below and they will be featured in future Reader Request posts!  That's all for now, I need some dessert.

*For extra flavor, immediately after dipping strawberries in chocolate, roll them in other coatings such as coconut or crushed nuts.  You can also try this with bananas.


The leaves are changing and there is already a thick layer on the ground waiting to be raked.  I'm putting it off because I really want to dress Ellie up and take her picture in them before they're all gone.  Anything for a cute photo op, right?

I love fall.  I love getting cozy in a comfy chair and reading a book, or just watching the leaves float down from the trees.  I love the way it smells outside, the crisp cool air first thing in the morning and bonfires in the evening.  And the best accompaniment to it all is a steamy cup of hot cider, or, to kick it up a notch, Spiked Cider.  All the fall flavors with just a little extra kick.  It's also great for holiday parties.

Spiked Cider

1/2 gallon of apple cider
1 orange, sliced
1/2 tbsp pumpkin spice mix
spiced rum, to taste

-Pour half gallon of apple cider into a crock pot and turn heat to low.*
-Add orange and pumpkin spice mix.  Stir to combine.  (I use pumpkin spice mix because it has all the flavors I want in one container.)
-Allow mixture to come to desired temperature.
-Add spiced rum.  I used approximately two shots, but you can add as much or as little as you want depending on how strong you like it.
 -At this point you can turn the setting on your crockpot to "warm" and keep the cider toasty warm for hours.
-Ladle into mugs for you and your family and friends to enjoy!**

*You can also do this in a large pot on the stove with the heat on low.
**A fun party addition: Place a cinnamon stick in the each mug as a garnish/stirrer.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Icing on the Cake

Over the years I've noticed that when it comes to cake there are two kinds of people: Cake People and Frosting People (Yes, I realize there is a third type that doesn't like cake at all, or even dessert for that matter, but frankly I just don't get you.) Personally, I am a cake person. I will eat the icing, but often leave most of it on the plate. Especially when said icing is too sweet. Super sugary icing can ruin a cake. This is often the problem with store-bought cakes and can frosting. I'm all for using box cake mix, but when you go to frost it leave the can on the shelf and make your own! It's so simple. Here are a couple of icing recipes with a few helpful tips:

Basic White Icing
*This recipe will frost an entire 2 layer 8 inch round cake. 

1 lb butter (or 4 sticks)
1 lb shortening (same as one small can of Crisco)
2 lb bag of powdered sugar

1. Put room temperature butter in mixer and whip on high until pale in color. (If you don't have a stand mixer you can do this with a hand mixer, it will just take a little longer.)
2. Scrape down sides.
3. Add shortening and whip to combine.
4. Scrape down sides.
5. Turn mixer to its lowest setting and very slowly add powdered sugar.
6. Mix on low until smooth and slightly shiny. This could take up to 15 minutes, your patience will be rewarded.

 -If you can find it, use European style butter. It contains less water than American butter, so your icing will have a stiffer consistency which is better for decorating.
-Use gel or powder food coloring as it will not change the consistency of your icing. It is also more potent so you can use less.
-Extra icing should be stored in air-tight containers in the refrigerator. When you need to use it again, simply place it back in the mixer and whip for a few seconds.

Cream Cheese Icing

8 oz cream cheese
2 sticks or 1 cup of butter
2 cups powdered sugar

1. Add room temperature butter and cream cheese to mixer and whip on high.
2. Scrape down sides.
3. Slowly add powdered sugar.
4. Mix until well blended.

 -It is unnecessary to use European butter for this recipe.
-Cream Cheese Icing will not absorb food coloring the same as the Basic White Icing. Keep this in mind when using it to decorate.

-Use strawberry cream cheese for a great flavor addition to an ordinary box cake.
-Fold in homemade whipped cream or Cool Whip for a lighter texture.