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Apple Bread

For me this sweet moist bread represents why it is important to keep recipes and share them with family and friends. Growing up Mrs. K, the mom of my best friends, use to make this bread for us every fall. In junior high and high school it was a wonderful treat to come “home” and find this on the counter. When we were in college she made this when we came home for Thanksgiving break and always sent me back to school with a loaf. When I moved out of state I only got to enjoy this bread occasionally, but it was always a treat when I did get it. Every fall I thought about asking Mrs. K for the recipe, but always decided “I’ll get it the next time I see her.”

apple bread

This summer Mrs. K unexpectedly passed away. So this fall when faced with a bowl full of apples I knew it was time to finally get the recipe. Surprisingly neither of Mrs. K’s daughters ever got the recipe, they to thought there would always be time to ask her for it. After going through 2 recipe boxes the recipe was finally found and shared, and for the first time another generation is making this much loved apple bread.

Apple Bread    printer ready

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 apple, finely diced
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dates, roughly chopped

Preheat oven 350. Grease and flour 9×5 loaf pan.
In large mixing bowl cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add eggs and mix until combined. In small bowl combine flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Add flour to butter and mix until combined. Stir in milk. Gently fold in apple, walnuts and dates. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

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Resolutions

It’s that time of year again where we are told that we must improve our lives.  That we are not good enough as we are and we must set goals and work to be better.  We must cleanse our bodies, minds and souls.  It is a new year and time for a new you.

I agree that it is always good to have goals to work toward. It is important to reflect on who you are and work toward being the best you.  I just don’t like the constant bombarding that occurs this time of year. The self help lists and guides are every where and if I read too many of them, it could cause some major depression.

  • clean your house in 52 weeks
  • loose 52 pounds in 52 days
  • be a better wife by Valentine’s day
  • be a better Mom by Mother’s day
  • things you should never say in 2015

I try hard to not get wrapped up in all the resolution hype.  I don’t want to set lofty goals that I know I can’t accomplish. I don’t want to feel like a failure before the year is even in full swing.  For many years I haven’t set any resolutions at all, but this year I think I might try and set a couple.  I am still working out exactly what these resolutions will be.  I want them to be tangible and measurable. I don’t want to just say “I will be a better _____________ (mom, blogger, teacher, wife, person)”

I want to be specific with my goals and resolutions, but am struggling with how to be specific and not make them overwhelming at the same time.  I know I want to get back to this blog in 2015. I haven’t written since June and I miss it, but I don’t know what I want this space to be. I have some ideas, but still haven’t figured out what the focus should be. Maybe the more I just write the more it will come in to focus.  So I guess that is my first goal, more blog posts.

Getting back in the kitchen has also been on my mind recently.  I haven’t been cooking the way I use to and after making a few batches of cookies over the holidays I realized I haven’t been cooking just for the fun of it.  I haven’t stopped cooking, I still cook on a daily basis, but the love and enjoyment hasn’t been there. Cooking has become a chore, I am cooking to make meal for the family or to have something to blog about.  I haven’t been cooking or baking just for pure enjoyment.  I’m not sure how to find that again, but I really want to, so I guess that makes goal number two, cook just for pleasure.

There are other things churning in my brain, but I don’t think I am going to listen to them right now.  I don’t want to start the year off overwhelmed.

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Happy New Year!

Fancy Fruit Salad

I find that my kids are always looking to help when help is the last thing I want.  If we are having friends over and I am rushing around trying to get everything ready then everybody will be asking for a job, or more likely suggesting something that should be done.  While I love that my kids want to help, their idea of helping and my idea of helping  usually very different.  They always want to do the most difficult job, while I just want them to wash the fruits and veggies.  I don’t want to loose the help, which means I am scrambling to find something to do that will keep them busy and let me get other things accomplished.

After many times of scrambling around trying to find jobs that make everyone happy I am finally starting to plan ahead.  I have learned that it is much easier to do some prep work so if my helpers comes calling I am ready for them.  A favorite job for my girls is to help make salads.  They love cutting fruit and veggies, but sometimes cutting can be difficult for little hands and requires a lot of supervision.  I want my kids to learn knife skills, but an hour before company arrives isn’t the time for it.  That’s when I break out the cookie cutters.

I love cookie cutters, but have recently started collecting small decorative cutters that are perfect for cutting melons, apples, cucumbers or any large fruit or veggie.  My girls not only love being able to have a job they can call their own, but the salads they produce always get tons of oohs and aahs.

fruit salad

To make it easy I cut the fruit in to slices ahead of time and then when the girls come looking for something to do it is all set for them to get to work.  Once they have cut out all the fruit they like to make a yogurt dip to serve with the fruit salad, again super easy for the kids and requires little supervision.

Fruity Yogurt
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2 cups plain yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

In small mixing bowl add all ingredients, stir to combine.

Party Season

It is that time of year when it seems like there is a party every weekend.  Mother’s day, Father’s day, graduations, recitals – it is the season of celebrations.  And if your kids are like mine they want to be a part of every aspect of the celebration, including the planning and the prep.  And if you are anything like me it might be a little difficult to let go of some of that planning and prep.

I like things a certain way, mainly my way and it is sometimes a little difficult to turn things over to them.  I want them to learn how to cook and be able to throw a great party, but they don’t always do the things the way I want, and they have their own thoughts and opinions on how things should be done – ah! the nerve of them!  Over the years I have come up with ways to include my little independent spirits without giving them complete control.  One of my, and their, favorites are skewers.  Through much experimentation we have discovered you can put anything on a skewer.  It is an activity anybody can do and it just makes things a little bit more festive.

Our most recent skewer creation was Greek salad on a stick.  We served these at a going away party we hosted this past weekend and like so many other times the kids were happy to assemble the skewers while Mike and I pulled the rest of the food together.

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Having the kids serve the “salad” was also a great ice breaker for the kids at the party. They were the only kids at the party and they didn’t know most of the people.  So, while they wanted to be a part of it all they were also a little nervous.  Those nerves quickly vanished when they proudly offered their dish.

 

 

Mid Week Dinner

Earlier this week I channeled my inner June Cleaver – is that even a relative reference anymore?  Mike found out on Tuesday that a former work colleague was in town with his family and wanted to get together for dinner on Wednesday.  So Mike did the polite thing and invited them over for dinner.  Usually not a big deal, we like entertaining, we like having friends over for dinner, just not mid-week, when we have six things going on that evening.

I needed a meal that could be prepared ahead of time and in stages.   I had about an hour to fix dinner, but those free 60 minutes were scattered throughout the day in about 15 minute chunks.  Also, because we didn’t know the family very well I needed a pretty basic, easy on the palate meal.

The solution – chicken and potatoes!  I know not very exciting, but it was tasty and everyone left feeling full and happy. (I am sorry I didn’t get any pictures of the final plate, I didn’t know these folks well enough to break out my camera at the dinner table, it didn’t seem very June Cleaver like.)

lemons

Lemon garlic chicken was super easy to throw together.  I made the lemon butter in the morning while everyone was getting ready for school.  While the kids were enjoying an after-school treat I buttered the chicken and baked it while I was making a baseball practice drop-off and dance pick-up.
lemon chicken

The potatoes were just as simple – smashed and roasted.  I boiled them in the morning while I was working.  While still hot I tossed them with butter.
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Just before our company arrived I threw them on an oiled cookie sheet,  smashed them and put them in the oven to roast while we enjoyed drinks and appetizers.

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The meal was finished out with some asparagus that I had roasted earlier in the day and then served at room temperature with a quick sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper.

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Like I said nothing fancy, just a simple tried and true meal that was fixed in 60 minutes, looked impressive, and was super easy to throw together.

You don’t have to wait to be surprised by last minute guests to fix this chicken, it is perfect any night of the week and the leftover chicken is perfect for chicken salad later in the week.

Lemon Garlic Chicken
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4 bone-in chicken breasts
4 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 lemon thinly sliced

Preheat oven 350°

Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Place chicken in large baking dish, lightly coated with oil, lightly salt and pepper each piece, set-aside.

In small bowl combine butter, lemon zest, garlic and parsley.  Mix until combined.  Rub about 1 tablespoon on each chicken, getting butter under the skin.  Place 2-3 lemon slices on each piece of chicken.

Place pan in oven, bake for 40 minutes or until internal temperature of chicken reaches 165°.  Let rest 10-15 minutes before serving

Rainbow Cakes

After the never ending winter spring is finally starting to make her appearance.  Little bits of color are coming up from the ground and out on the trees.  With the changes in color happening outside it makes me want to change the colors inside as well.  I’m not talking about painting walls or any drastic changes, I am happy with just adding a little color to our meals.  And I don’t mean fresh fruits and veggies, although that is one of my favorite ways to bring spring inside.

This little burst of color comes from the simple pancake.

rainbow pancakes

My family loves pancakes.  We eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  They can be sweet or savory. Are super simple to make, yet always make an impressive impression.  You feel a little extra special when given a plate of pancakes.  It’s as if someone is giving you a little extra love.   You feel some extra love with just a regular plate of pancakes.  Imagine the love that is felt with rainbow pancakes.  These are sure to make any day extra special.

The other thing I love about pancakes is that they are a great food for kids to learn how to make.  There are only a few ingredients, measurements are simple and there is wiggle room if mistakes are made.  The youngest of chefs can easily make a batch of pancakes with little to no help.  This batch was made by my 7 year old, I was around to supervise and offer some help when needed, but from the measuring to the mixing to the flipping she did pretty much everything on her own.

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When it comes time to cook them up I like using a griddle. I find it is easier and more stable for the kids to use, plus you can cook off a bunch at once.  If you don’t have a griddle any flat pan will work.  If you want to make a rainbow of pancakes, simply evenly divide the batter.  The number of colors you choose to use is up to you.  If you want to get even fancier pour each color into a squeeze bottle, then squeeze the batter onto the griddle in various shapes and designs.  You can use pancake molds or go freehand, if the kids are doing it, they will want to go freehand.

I am a big fan of buttermilk pancakes and my favorite recipe is below, but you can easily find recipes that don’t use buttermilk.  And one quick, but very important tip – if you want super fluffy pancakes do not over mix the batter.  A good batter should have some small lumps.

Buttermilk Pancakes       printer ready

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar

Preheat griddle to 375०

In a large mixing bowl add eggs, buttermilk and melted butter, whisk together.  Sift dry ingredients into the liquids, then gently fold together.  Do not over mix there should be some small lumps remaining in the batter.

If needed, lightly coat griddle with butter or cooking spray.  Using a cookie scoop or ladle pour batter onto griddle, leaving 1”-2” between each pancake.  Cook until bubbles begin forming on top of the pancakes and the edges are slightly dry.  Flip pancakes and cook until golden, about 1-2 minutes.

Cooked pancakes can be kept warm in a 125०