Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Happy Birthday, James!

Ten years ago tonight, I was sitting in my Monday night Education Lab, very impatiently waiting for class to end so I could go to the hospital.  Apparently I was so impatiently I was literally a distraction.  I wouldn't shut up about my nephew, who was about to enter this world at any moment, and I was missing it!  My professor was nice enough to let me leave early, probably because I wouldn't shut up and she wanted to get on with class.

I made it to the hospital mere minutes after this perfect little person was born.

My family calls me a baby hog, and rightfully so.  He was absolutely perfect in every possible way.  I know they tell you you'll fall in love with your own children the minute you meet them, but I never expected to fall so completely in love with my nephew the way I did. 
For the first three years of his life, I got to see him nearly every day.  Then I moved to Tennessee, and missing all those little milestones, that silly face, was very sad. 

Now he's a serious ten year old.  He's practically a grown man. He's taller than my mom, although in this family that doesn't take much (sorry mom). 

James, you have been the joy during some very sad times in this family.  You are an amazingly patient and loving big brother.  You are incredibly talented and intelligent and you have inherited some killer Lego building skills.  I am so proud of you and I love you very much. 

Happy Birthday!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Dinner last night...

I love store bought pizza crust.  I mean, I love making pizza crust too, but at this point in my life, store bought pizza crust is amazing.  Dinner in about 15 minutes.  It's the best.
Kale and Sausage Pizza

-store-bought, refrigerated pizza dough (or homemade)
-1/2 lb sausage, browned (left overs)
-couple handful of fresh kale, chopped
-1/4 cup ricotta
-provolone cheese slices (4-6)
-1/4 cup tomato sauce
- 1 or 2 tbsp olive oil


- Place your pizza stone (or a baking sheet) in your oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Gather all ingredients and create an assembly line.
- Once preheated, carefully remove stone/baking sheet with oven mitts and place on a heat proof surface.
- Unroll pizza dough and place on stone.
- Spread on tomato sauce (it will be a thin layer)
- Sprinkle on sausage
- Drop on dollops of ricotta cheese
- Layer on provolone cheese
- Sprinkle on kale
- Drizzle olive oil over the top
- Place in oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden brown and delicious.  It really won't take long.  Then consume! (maybe with a side salad or something)

This toppings combo was created out of things we had left in our frig from previous dinners.  Obviously you can put anything on your pizza, but this combo was a definite winner, and we'll be having it again!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


My kid loves avocados...
Me: Ellie how did the avocado get in your hair?
Ellie: I don't know's a mystery.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A Family Affair

Today is Ellie's birthday.  I could go into all the dramatic details of where I was this time last year and all the chaos of the hospital, but for some reason that just didn't seem fitting.  This blog is about food and crafty things, and while creating a child is probably the most epic craft I will ever create, it was food that I felt compelled to write about today.  Food is such a huge part of my family, it's where we gather, where we share and where we reconnect.  Often even after the table is cleared we're still there, talking and laughing and telling stories.  The same stories.  Over and over and over again.  I think the foods I love, I love because I have many memories connected to them.  I want to share that with Ellie.

Ellie is named after two people:  Laurene, Nick's aunt, who passed away not long after becoming a mother, much too young.  We wanted to honor her memory, her sister, Ellie's Nana, and her daughter, Ellie's Aunt Meg. Eleanor, my great-grandmother, mother of 12 children, clearly a strong woman, and a really good cook.

Today was Ellie's birthday, but it was all about a melding of all things family, in the form of dinner.  I made chicken and noodles.  I know, you're thinking, why did you make the stereotypical sick food for a birthday dinner? This isn't that chicken and noodles.  This is my Grandma Taylor's chicken and noodles which is much more serious than a bowl of broth with a few noodles and bits of chicken floating around.  Grandma Taylor's chicken and noodles is thick, creamy and warms your soul.  Or at least mine.  I feel like I'm in her house again whenever I eat it.  But I had to up the ante.

So I made my great-grandma's noodles.  I had never made pasta of any kind.  I always considered it, but never did it.  This was apparently one of my grandpa's favorite things to eat, but I had never eaten it.  Ever since my family put together a cookbook, I've been itching to try her noodle recipe.  Ellie's birthday seemed like the perfect opportunity.  So Grandma Dietz's noodles went into Grandma Taylor's recipe and it was a match made in heaven.

We shared our dinner with Ellie's Nana and Papa and I had this sense that there were a lot more family members present than the five of us seated at the table.  It was perfect.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie

Ellie has been refusing to eat meat and vegetables recently.  She basically lives off yogurt, graham crackers and the occasional banana.  My goal to make one meal for the whole family was thrown out the window in an effort to get her to just eat anything.  I didn't care if my dinner consisted of a piece of cheese and a pickle* as long as Ellie was happy and well fed.
Today that all changed.  I found a meal that I love and that Ellie will devour:

Chicken Pot Pie

Imagine a light shining from the heavens and angels singing because when she at her entire dinner tonight, that's how it felt.  Now, I realize chicken pot pie isn't the healthiest thing in the world, but I'm not saying you should eat it all the time.  I'm just saying you absolutely should eat it.  It's awesome.  It also has the misconception of being time consuming and difficult, but not my recipe.  Super quick and super easy with very few ingredients.

Ellie's Chicken Pot Pie

1 chicken breast, cubed and sauteed (if you one leftover that's even better!)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk (or 2%, but not skim)
1/2 bag of frozen peas and carrots, or any mix of veggies
1 roll of refrigerated pie dough (you could make your own in a big batch, portion it and keep it in the frig or freezer, but that's another story)
salt and pepper, to taste
4 ramekins, or small oven safe bowls

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
1. In a sauce pan over medium heat melt the butter.
2. Whisk in the flour to create a rue.
3. Let the rue cook for a minute or two, but continue to move it around the entire time so it doesn't burn.
4. Slowly pour in the milk while whisking.
5. Continue to stir/whisk the mixture every couple minutes until it thickens.  It doesn't take very long.  You'll know its done when it has reached about the consistency of heavy cream.  Congratulations, you just made bechamel sauce!  Add cheese and pasta and you've made macaroni and cheese from scratch!  (This is the stage where I added the salt and pepper, but not much because I'm feeding it to a toddler.)
6. Add the sauteed chicken and peas and carrots to the cream sauce. Stir until everybody is coated.
7. Spoon into ramekins.
8. Roll out your dough and cut into quarters.
9. Lay the dough on top of the ramekin.  You could use egg wash to make the dough stick, but I just pressed down a little.  It'll stick, its buttery dough.
10.  Cut a little hole in the top of the dough so the filling can vent.  To finish the top you could brush it with egg wash or milk and sprinkle with a little salt.
11.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and delicious. 

Dig in!

So, store bought pie crust always has two rolls in the box.  I only used one roll for the pot pies, so of course I felt compelled to use the other.  I couldn't let it go to waste!  Wasted pie crust, in this family, is like a felony.  I had a few fresh blueberries that I was actually saving for the next morning's pancakes, but the pancakes would live.  We have bananas.  And I had some of Ellie's cooked apples that she was currently refusing to eat.  Perfect!  I had turnovers!

I started by cutting the crust into quarters, just like I had for the pot pies.  For the blueberry filling I dusted the blueberries with cornstarch.  This would soak up the juice when the blueberries burst and would keep the dough from getting wet.  For the apples I dusted them with a little brown sugar and cinnamon.  The brown sugar creates this caramel apple effect, which is super yummy.  You simply place the filling in the middle and fold the dough in half.  Be sure to seal the dough really well around the edges.  Then brush the top with egg wash, milk or even water and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until the crust is golden. 
You could put anything inside these.  I also had marshmallows and chocolate I really wanted to use, but I didn't have anymore dough.  You could even do the pot pie filling in a turnover form and have pot pies to go!  You can put anything in pie dough because pie dough is the best!

*this was a regular lunch for me for about the first two months of Ellie's life

**for leftover scraps, don't throw them away!  Roll them together into one flat piece, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and top with little pieces of butter.  Bake at 425 degrees until golden and enjoy!  My family called these "crispies" and they are the best part of pie making!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pasta Night, Family Style

I have been hunting for recipes that were quick, easy, fairly healthy and most importantly, something the entire family could eat (meaning, a dish Ellie could eat with her fingers).  I have found a few.  This is one of Ellie's favorites.  She loves pasta and tomato sauce so I tried to add some nutrition to it.

The best part is that, apart from cooking the pasta, the whole thing comes together in one pot.  I'm all about fewer dishes, since we don't currently have a dishwasher.

What You Need

1 lb ground meat (I use ground chicken or turkey)
1 box pasta (I use something small, like mini bow ties)
1 jar pasta sauce (I always use Prego Chunky Garden)
1 bag frozen peas and carrots (you could also use broccoli, or spinach, Ellie just loves peas and carrots)
Parmesan cheese (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste (I leave this out because Ellie is too little for salt)

What To Do

-Cook the pasta.  I cook it a little softer than usual just to help Ellie out.  She still only has six teeth, and I'd like to avoid choking.
-While the pasta is cooking, brown the meat in a large skillet on medium high heat.
-Add the pasta sauce, peas and carrots to the browned meat.  Reduce the heat to medium low and cover with a lid.  Allow the sauce to simmer.
-When the pasta is done cooking, add it directly to the skillet.  Add Parmesan cheese.  Stir to combine.
-Turn the heat off and let the mixture sit for just a few minutes.  The pasta will absorb the remaining pasta sauce, and it will be extra yummy.

The last step: Consume!  This recipe will make A LOT!  At least, a lot for a family of three.  I portion out the leftovers into containers, which Nick takes to work for lunch.  Plus, Ellie loves this dish so much that she'll eat the leftovers for lunch or dinner until it's all gone.  The best is that it's pretty inexpensive and a balanced, one pot meal.  It has carbs, protein, and veggies!  It has become a weekly staple in our house.

  My taste-tester approves. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Top Ten: February

My Top Ten goal for February was to complete a sewing project.  February isn't quite over, but the project is complete!  I made aprons using this pattern, but I made a few changes.  I made one adult size apron in a green cotton duck cloth and two child size aprons in pink cotton duck cloth.  The green apron was for Ellie's Nana, and then one apron each for Ellie and her cousin Natalie.  They will live at Nana's house for future baking, craft, all-around-messy projects.
Here is the final product:


Ellie modeling Natalie's apron (the first one I finished):
They're by no means perfect, but I'm pretty proud of them!  
(And yes, Two-Mama, I'm already planning the next set :-) )

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Are TV show preferences passed genetically?

We don't have cable.  We got rid of it over two years ago and "survive" on basic network channels, PBS and Netflix.  It's really not bad.  I do miss some Food Network shows, but that's easily remedied on Saturdays.  PBS has America's Test Kitchen and Simply Ming, which completely fulfill my cooking show cravings.
I don't usually leave the TV on all day, but today I really wanted the background noise.  Ellie was playing, I was working on a sewing project, and last I checked something about quilting was on PBS.  Then it happened...
Bob Ross came on.
I love Bob Ross.  I never remember when his show comes on.  I always miss it and it is a wonderful moment when I happen to catch it.  I feel I must note that I don't paint.  That's not why I love Bob Ross. It has nothing to do with painting.  His voice is so wonderfully calming that it's nap-inducing, like golf...or everything on the History Channel.
I honestly didn't think Ellie would notice.  She rarely notices the TV unless SuperWhy! comes on or the 30 Rock theme song plays (she just loves the theme song, then she's done).  But when Bob Ross started talking, she literally dropped her toy and stared at the TV for no less than 10 minutes.  It was like a trance.  Like a little baby trance.  With his happy trees and secret little paths, Bob Ross had drawn my baby into some kind of hypnosis.
Does he have this effect on everyone?  Or is there something in my genes that I passed on to my daughter?  Either way, made for an awesome Saturday!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Soup's On!

(As I read that title back to myself I can hear my grandpa yelling those words down the stairs at dinner time.)

I'm not usually a fan of soup.  I love potato soup, a good stew, or my Grandma Taylor's Chicken and Noodles, but really broth-y soup just isn't my thing.  Usually its because I don't like the broth.  Well this past week, that changed.  There is now one soup, that's basically all broth, that I will devour.  In fact, I went back for seconds.

I don't remember what the inspiration was for this recipe.  I know I had recently watched an episode of Simply Ming where they made essentially a dumpling or pot sticker (I don't remember what they were called) placed in the bottom of a bowl and covered with a really flavorful broth.  I had also recently been looking up quick dinner recipes.  With Ellie crawling, getting dinner together is a whole new ballgame.  Once again I saw a recipe for Tortellini Soup.  I had tried to make Tortellini soup in the past, but the tortellini always ends up way too mushy, especially the leftovers (and there's always leftover soup).  So, I decided to make my own version of Tortellini soup with an Asian twist.  It was super fast and SO good!

Tortellini Soup

What you'll need:
-one bag of frozen cheese tortellini*
-olive oil
-cremini mushrooms, sliced**
-celery, 2-3 of the inside stalks, finely sliced
-red pepper flake, 1/2 tsp***
-one box of chicken or beef broth
-2 cups of water
-green onion
-soy sauce, 1 tbsp
-salt and pepper, to taste

1. Cook the tortellini according to the package directions.  When they're done, drain (DO NOT rinse) and place in a bowl with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Toss to coat the pasta so it doesn't stick together.  Set aside.
2. Place a large saute pan on medium heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and mushrooms.  The key to good mushrooms is to spread them out in the pan and leave them alone for at least 5 minutes.
3. Add the celery and red pepper flakes, cook for another 5 minutes.  This is also when I add salt and pepper.
4. Add broth, water, soy sauce and green onions.
5. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.

To Serve:

-Place desired amount of tortellini in the bottom of your bowl.
-Ladle enough broth to cover the tortellini.


Store the tortellini in one container, and the broth in another.  I don't believe this recipe freezes well, but kept in the frig, it should last one week.  Nick and I were pretty generous with the tortellini, so it worked out to about 6 servings. 


*This recipe could easily be made gluten free if you used a gluten free pasta.  I know I've seen gluten-free ravioli, so I'll have to see if I can find some gluten-free tortellini.
**Any mushroom would work, actually, this is just what we had.  Next time I want to use a mix of mushrooms.
***If you like spicy, add more.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Scrabble, Anyone?

Nick and I have a lot of plans for our house.  It was built in 1969 and hasn't really been changed since.  Most of the work will be on the inside, updating and replacing, no major structural changes.  We recently  started talking about outside and came up with a great idea.
I will admit that this idea spawned from my excessive snooping on Pinterest.  I have acquired way too many project ideas from that site and really need to get started on some of them.  I am particularly excited about this plan for our yard and the fun it will create when we have cookouts.
We have a little kick-out in our driveway that is meant as a turnabout.  The driveway is currently gravel and we would like to eventually pave it (although there is some debate about what the paved surface will be, but that's another story).  We have gone back and forth about whether or not to keep the kick-out spot.  Of course there was talk of a basketball hoop, or a little parking lot with a tiny garage for Ellie's toy cars and bikes, but after seeing this

 we know exactly what we'll do with it!

It would be so easy!  I actually found another example of this that is closer to what would work for us.

We could put in little pavers, and then use squares of plywood as our game pieces.  Painting everything would be a no problem, and it wouldn't even be an expensive project!  I realize Cornhole is the usual yard game at a cookout, but I feel the need to change it up, or at least have options.  Plus, what a great way to help Ellie with her spelling when she's older!  Oh, I can't wait!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Happy Birthday Shelby!

When I was pregnant with Ellie, my sister-in-law and two of our friends were also pregnant, so all four of our children are the same age.  This means they'll all be one year old this year and my niece was the first. 

She had a princess themed party and she was adorable in her princess sash and party hat.

Even Ellie tried out the party hat.

Shelby was next.  I was asked to make the cake for her party.  I was so excited to do it.  The theme was snowflakes, which would have been perfect last year with all the snow we got, but this year it was nearly 50 degrees outside.  Figures.  

(you can't really see it, but there was shimmer dust all over that cake!)

The cake was white cake (yes, from a box) with a white chocolate pudding and raspberry filling.  This is my little secret that I guess won't be much of a secret anymore.  I use box cake because its easier.  There are several cakes I'll make from scratch, but generally I go with the box.  The easiest way to dress it up and make people assume you slaved over it is to make a special filling.  This one sounds fancy and complicated, but it's so simple.  Pudding is always a great filling because it's cheap and easy to make, no fuss.  Plus there are so many different flavors!  Another trick is to use heavy cream instead of milk.  This gives the pudding a thick, rich flavor and texture, almost like custard.  Sometimes I do half whole milk and half heavy cream (this is dessert, no skimping!).  For the raspberry, I used store bought raspberry jam, which I spread on each layer of the cake.  Then you add the pudding, put the layers together like a sandwich and ice it.

You could also try ganache, fresh fruit, canned pie filling, or cream cheese blended with fruit.  There are so many options.  Just keep in mind the cake's texture; soft and creamy foods work best.  Whenever you do a filling remember to leave about a half inch border.  You could even pipe some of your icing around the edge of the first layer.  This keeps the filling from seeping out the sides when placing the top layer.

Before I know it I'll be making Ellie's first birthday cake!  Eek!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Why have dessert when you can have dirt?

We celebrated my father-in-law's birthday last weekend and I offered to make dessert.  I know cake is traditional on a birthday, but I just wasn't feeling it.  I wanted something comforting after the week we had, and what's more comforting than a family recipe?
This is my Grandma Taylor's recipe.  She always made it at Christmas and I could never get enough.  It feels like you're eating something light, but of course it's not.  Grandma Taylor never made anything low-fat. And frankly, I don't think low-fat and dessert belong in the same sentence.  If you're going to eat dessert, eat dessert. 

Dirt Dessert

1 large package Oreo chocolate cookies  
8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)
*1 cup sugar (Grandma usd powdered sugar)
2 (3.4-ounce) boxes vanilla instant pudding

4 cups milk
1 (8-ounce) carton whipped topping

Crush the cookies, I use my food processor.  Set aside.
Blend the cream cheese, butter, and sugar together until smooth. Set aside.
Prepare the vanilla pudding according to package directions. Fold the whipped topping into the pudding.
Fold the cream cheese mixture into the pudding mixture.

Sprinkle 1/3 of the cookies on the bottom of the bowl
Top with 1/2 of the pudding mixture
Another layer of cookies, then another layer of pudding.
Sprinkle remaining crushed cookies over the top.
Chill for several hours, preferably overnight.

I like to really drive home the dirt theme: add some gummy worms and maybe even stick a flower in the top.  You could even make individual cups, which would be great for a birthday party!

*I actually leave out this cup of sugar.  The combination of Oreos, pudding and whipped topping are sweet enough for my taste.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Note to my Ellie

Dear Ellie,                                                                          January 6, 2012
     Bear left us this morning to go to doggy Heaven.  He was an old dog and got sick very suddenly, it was his time to go.  We will miss him so much, but feel better knowing he is no longer suffering.  He is buried in the yard and we plan to plant some flowers and the tree we're growing as a marker.
     He was a good dog.  Aunt Sharlene and Uncle Jason got him when they were in college when he was about a year old.  He was a German Shepherd Husky mix, very beautiful.  Grandma always said he looked regal.  He most certainly held his head as if he was a king, and he would trot like he was big stuff when he went on a walk.  He had beautiful markings.  There were black streaks by his eyes, almost like a mask.  He was black and brown on his back, but his chest was white, super soft and fluffy!  He had one all white toenail on his front paw and a little white tuft of fur on his back just before his tail.  He had all the markings of a German Shepherd, but his fur was fluffy like a Husky.  He had a big head, shaped like a German Shepherd, with extra large ears, but a smaller, muscly body of a Husky.  It was an odd porportion, but it worked.  He was perfect.
     When he was about 8 years old he came to live with me.  He was starting to age, but you could never tell him that.  His black fur was starting to turn grey, but he still loved to chase anything that moved, go on long walks, get into the trash, sit on my lap, lick my face and hog the bed at night.  He was so loveable and cuddly, like a giant teddy bear.  He would lay in my lap, all 75 pounds of him, and I would hug him and bury my face in his fur.  He would wrap his neck around mine resting his chin on my shoulder, almost as if he was hugging me back.
    By the time we had you, he was finally showing his age.  He was 14, eating less and had dropped to 65 pounds.  He would still have random (short) spurts of energy when he would want to play fetch or tug o' war, but mostly he just slept.  The one thing that remained to the very end was his love of being outdoors, espeically in the snow.
     You absolutely loved Bear, and he approved of you.  It took you awhile to notice him, but recently he had become your favorite thing.  You would see Bear and literally squeal with delight.  You weren't exactly gentle with him, despite our best efforts, so Bear didn't usually stick around to play with you.
     Bear was always a pack dog.  True to his shepherd blood, he always wanted us to be in the same place.  If daddy was in one room and mommy was in another, Bear would pace back and forth between us.  Same with you.  When we brough you home, he gave you a good sniff and a little lick and you were part of the pack.  At night when I would put you to bed, Bear would wait outside your door, guarding it, while you slept.  He loved you, he just didn't want to play with you.
     As much as it drove me crazy, I will miss his fur everywhere.  As bad as they smelled, I will miss his sloppy, sticky kisses.  As huge and heavy as he was, I will miss him insisting on sitting in my lap.  As cold and frozen as I got, I will miss playing in the snow with him.  He was a good dog and even though he's gone, he'll be with us forever.


(An entry from Ellie's journal)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Mexican Pizza

My family has been making a dish we Shalupa for, well, as long as I can remember. I have no idea why we call it Shalupa. No one does. It's basically Taco Salad. Recently, Nick and I turned it into a pizza and it was a complete success, so I decided I would share our success with others. Unfortunately, I do not have pictures because as I said, it was a success.'s all gone.

 Crust :
I made dough in my bread maker and used that for crust. However you could either buy a ready-made crust or pizza dough from the refrigerator section.

Taco Sauce, not too much, just a thin layer.

 *Ground beef or turkey, browned
Black Beans, drained and rinsed
Onion, chopped
Bell Pepper, chopped
Cheddar Cheese, shredded

(There are no measurements here because I feel like there are a lot of personal preferences with pizza toppings, proportions, etc.)

Bake at 400 degrees until you have reached your desired bubbling cheesy brownness. I personally like it pretty bubbly and golden brown. That means crispy. And I like crispy.  

Optional Garnish For After Baking:
Shredded Lettuce
Tomatoes, diced
Avocado, diced
Sour Cream

ENJOY! We certainly did! Next time I make it I'll try to post a picture before we devour it. No promises.

*We usually leave the ground meat off and just make it vegetarian. It's one less cooking step, which I like.