Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Brunch: Baked French Toast with Pears and Brie

7:13 PM 1 Comments
My name is Hope, and I am addicted to brunch. Seriously. The other day, whilst dining at a breakfast buffet with my family, I told my husband that I have a deep passion for make-your-own omelet bars. He looked at me like I was nuts. There's something about an abundance of sweet and savory food in the late morning that fills me with delight. Brunch is my favorite meal to eat out (it doesn't hurt that my kids are generally happiest at this time of day), and it is also my favorite meal for entertaining.

That said, I am always on the lookout for new brunch recipes, and I am particularly drawn to recipes that you can make in advance and throw in the oven in the morning. Put on a pot of coffee, slice up some fruit, and you are done. This recipe was perfect for our Christmas morning festivities - I made it the night before, stuck it in the fridge, then baked it while we exchanged gifts. It also happens to be insanely good. Remember that sentence above where I mentioned my love for sweet and savory food? Well, this killer recipe is BOTH! The sweetness of the pears perfectly balances the saltiness of the Brie, and the French toast component brings it all together in perfect harmony. Yum.

This recipe was found on the pages of a Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publication that I picked up at the checkout counter a few years ago. I don't do this often, but this one caught my eye ("Quick and Easy Recipes: 250 Weeknight Meals in Minutes"), and there are easily thirty recipes in here that I have tried and have loved. I often completely bomb on these impulse purchases, so this one has been a treat.

Enjoy, and happy brunching!

Baked French Toast with Pears and Brie

Prep: 35 minutes
Chill: 1 to 24 hours
Bake: 40 minutes
Stand: 10 minutes
Makes: 8 servings

3 medium pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 tbsp packed brown sugar (use a little more if pears not really sweet)
1/2 tsp snipped fresh rosemary (I used about 1/4 tsp dried)
2 tbsp butter
14 to 16 1/2 inch thick slices French bread
8 oz. Brie cheese, rind removed and cheese thinly sliced (it's easier to slice if slightly frozen)
2 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 1/2 cups milk
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

1. Grease a rectangular baking dish. Set aside.
2. In a large skillet, cook pear slices, brown sugar, and rosemary in 2 tbsp butter over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until pears are just tender. Set aside.
3. In the prepared baking dish, arrange half of the bread slices in a single layer. Spoon pear mixture over bread slices.  Arrange Brie slices over pear mixture. Top with remaining bread slices in a single layer.  Brush bread slices with melted butter.  In a small bowl, combine granulated sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over bread slices.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Slowly pour over bread slices. Cover and chill for 1 to 24 hours.
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake casserole, uncovered, for 40 to 45 minutes or until edges are puffed and golden. Let stand 10 minutes. Serve warm with warmed syrup, honey, or fruit preserves.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cream Wafers for Sean

7:42 AM 2 Comments
I did not grow up with a strong tradition of Christmas cookies. My mother always made an assortment of cookies around the holidays to have for gatherings and what-not, but there were no must-have cookies or cookie-baking/decorating events that I recall. There were always sweets, and plenty of them, but they tended to change from year to year.

Sean, on the other hand, grew up with a very specific list of requisite holiday sweets. I remember him telling me in detail about his family's Christmas cookies when we were still living in Mongolia (then again, Peace Corps Volunteers in Mongolia often waxed poetic about good food from back home), and I remember very well the first Christmas that I spent with his family, trying all the cookies for the first time.

Given my previously noted wariness of baking, I have for many years been altogether reticent to attempt to make any of his family's Christmas cookies. What follows is Sean's favorite cookie recipe of all time, which Finn and I made this afternoon as a special treat to celebrate the beginning of his winter break. And if I might brag for a moment, we nailed it - they were perfect.

This is basically a sandwich cookie, with a powdered sugar/butter frosting wedged between two very flaky, buttery wafer cookies.  The cookies themselves do not have any sugar in them but are dipped in granulated sugar prior to baking. This is very helpful in that you will not be tempted to eat any of the cookie dough. The resulting cookies are very light and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and the filling adds just a touch of super sweetness. You can tint the filling to match the holiday if so desired; because tinted cookies generally result in tinted kids around here, I chose to leave mine plain. Case in point:

This is a great recipe to make with little kids, because there are several steps that are just perfect for little fingers. Finn loved dipping the cookie rounds in the bowl of sugar and stabbing the cookies with a fork. This recipe makes about two and a half a dozen sandwich cookies.

Cream Wafers


For the cookies:
1 cup salted butter, softened
2 cups flour
1/3 cup whipping cream
granulated sugar, for dipping

For the filling:
1/4 cup softened butter
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
food coloring, if desired

1. Beat butter, flour, and whipping cream until well mixed. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic, and chill for 1 hour.

2. After 1 hour, roll out as thinly as possible (I put the dough between sheets of waxed paper). Cut into 1 1/2" rounds (I used a shot glass).  Dip both sides of rounds into granulated sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Prick 3-4 times with a fork.

3. Bake at 375 degrees for 7-9 minutes or until slightly puffy. Remove immediately from cookie sheet and transfer to cooling rack.

4. To make filling, beat butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Add water as needed to get a smooth consistency (I used about 4 tsp). Sandwich two cooled cookies together with filling in between.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Salt Dough Ornaments - Part II

8:20 AM 1 Comments
Things I've learned about making salt dough ornaments since my last post:
  1. Despite the fact that we got the idea to make salt dough ornaments from a dated craft book, it turns out that salt dough ornaments are far from forgotten; they turned up on several  blogs I follow this month, from The Artful Parent to TinkerLab to Paint Cut Paste (gluten free, no less!). So I'm not nearly as vintage chic as I had thought, as there are lots of folks out there having fun with salt dough right now. I am honored to share the company, and these ladies have lots of awesome and unique decorating ideas.

  2. Figuring out how to finish the ornaments proved more of an ordeal than I had anticipated. The recipe I consulted suggested using "shellac."  When I went to Michael's, I wasn't able to find shellac or to find anyone who could tell me where to find shellac. I found myself in the adhesives aisle for a while, in the paint aisle for a while, in the miscellaneous things that spray aisle for a while...nothing seemed quite right. I started exploring other blogs for ideas, and I still wasn't able to come up with anything definitive. The next day, I went to the hardware store, and there I found shellac. It was expensive ($15 for a small can), and I had to buy a lot more than I needed. I do like the shiny finish that it gave the ornaments, however (even if it made for bad photos, as the flash reflected in the shininess). One thing I did notice is that it needed to be painted on very thinly, particularly over white sections so as not to give it a yellowish tint.

  3. My biggest mistake was that I used a Sharpie to add customization to the ornaments before shellacking them. Despite the fact that Sharpies are permanent and that I wrote on the ornaments the day before I shellacked them, they still smeared. Grrrrr.  Fortunately, I noticed it right away. I was able to work with it by kind of lightly dabbing the areas with writing then painting all around them. Next time, I'll shellac them first then write on them with a Sharpie. It wasn't a disaster, but it did make the ornaments noticeably less impressive.

  4. A lot of the other bloggers that wrote about salt dough ornaments talked about how happily their kids painted the ornaments. My kid enjoyed making the ornaments for his friends and painting a few others, but he got bored pretty quickly. In part, I think that if we had been working in a place where it was okay to paint with reckless abandon, he may have had more fun; I opted to use acrylic paints, and they look great, but because they stain fabric, we had to be extra careful. This would be a great project for outside; in these parts, we don't generally do Christmas crafts outdoors, however. As noted in my previous post, I might experiment with paint markers next time. I also really like the look of stamping the ornaments. 

  5. In the end, we had close to three dozen ornaments, some painted by Finn, some by Iona, and some by me. We put a few on the tree, a lot on presents, and sent a few back to France with Iona. And we will definitely be making more salt dough ornaments in the future (particularly since I still have a lump of dough in the freezer...). 
Just shellacked
For Finn's preschool pals
Initials in the tree
Gingerbread boy
Finn's heart
Ho Ho Ho piano

                        Monday, December 19, 2011

                        Salt Dough Ornaments - Part I

                        1:12 PM 1 Comments
                        We decided not to take our pajamas off today. Partly because the boys are wearing matching red snowman pajamas that are just too cute to change out of, and partly because our car is in the shop and so I knew we weren't going anywhere. Whatever the reason, it's fun to have a pajama day every once in a while.

                        Staying in days often breed surprises, as was the case this morning. Finn came across a recently acquired book on the shelf: Arts & Crafts from Things Around the House. Sean brought it home from work not too long ago; I think it was a cast-off from a classroom book collection. It reminds me of the craft books I used to check out from my elementary school library, and, given the 1983 publication date, it may in fact be something I read back then:

                        The first project that Finn selected involved collecting pine branches, splashing them with white tempera paint, adding drops of glue then sprinkling them with glitter. I managed to talk him out of that one. Then he picked out a project called "Make and Bake Play Dough."  Perfect.

                        The dough requires flour, water, and a lot of salt. We had everything on hand that we needed (except the shellac, which we will do later). I pulled out a handful of cookie cutters and we were on our way.

                        NOTE: This makes a ridiculous amount of play dough. I filled two big cookie sheets with ornaments and still froze enough to make at least one more batch (I should add that I'm not sure you can freeze salt dough, but I though it was worth a shot). You may want to halve the recipe if you don't need a bajillion ornaments.

                        Make and Bake Play Dough
                        • Mix 2 cups salt, 5 cups flour, and 2 cups warm water. I put it in my stand mixer with a dough hook attachment.  Add additional water as needed to make the dough easy to handle.
                        • Knead until smooth.
                        • Roll out with a rolling pin on waxed paper to a 1/2 inch thickness.
                        • Use a knife or cookie cutter to cut the dough to desired shapes. Transfer to a cookie sheet. If you want to hang your creations, poke a hole at the top (a straw works really well for this).
                        • Bake at 300 for a hour (I baked mine a little longer - they still seemed soft after an hour). When they are cool, paint and coat with a clear shellac.
                        Making the dough was fun. Rolling out the dough was fun. Cutting out the shapes was fun. But painting was by far the most fun. We decided early on to make some presents, and Finn had a good time planning different designs for different people. He made a little ornament for each of the kids in his preschool class, and I made a bunch to add as gift toppers.We used acrylic craft paint; the only downside of this is that it stains fabric, so I was a bit manic about Finn's use of it. I might try paint markers in the future until he is a little older.

                        The ornaments I liked the best were the ones I painted to read "HO HO HO."  I plan on stringing them onto a garland and hanging them in the kitchen. I made the letters by pressing refrigerator magnets into the soft dough, then painting over the indentations.  I originally was going to do "JOY" until I realized that I needed to use letters that worked in mirror image. "HO HO HO" was the perfect solution :)

                        We're not done with this project yet - it'll take a few days to see it through to completion. But here are a few pics of our progress so far.

                        Tuesday, December 13, 2011

                        A First for Finn

                        12:24 PM 3 Comments
                        Yesterday afternoon, while finishing up a sewing project, I found myself with two lengths of polar fleece, about 8 inches wide and 30 inches long. I remembered that Finn had asked me for a scarf and noted that the fleece was just the color to match his coat. The part of me that likes to make things more complicated than they need to be then said, "Oh Hope, you can make him a much nicer knitted scarf." The part of me that is always working to be a better mom said, "But he could make this himself."

                        Finn had his parent-teacher conference at preschool last week, and one of the things that we took away from it was the importance of allowing four-year-olds to focus on the process rather than the product. Sean and I are both product people. Many a night Sean starts out playing blocks with the kids and ends up creating the world's greatest block creation while the kids have moved onto something else. Many an evening I deny Finn the opportunity to help with the trickier parts of dinner because I want something just so. We both have a tendency to initiate art projects that have a definitive end product rather than putting out the art supplies and letting him explore.

                        "Hey, Finn, how would you like to make yourself a scarf?"

                        "Do I get to press the pedal on the sewing machine?"


                        And so, for the next forty-five minutes, Finn made a scarf. I tried to be as hands-off as I could while still ensuring his safety. I may have hovered a bit when he sewed that one seam on the sewing machine, and I did set the machine to its very slowest setting, but he did press the pedal himself -- in a standing position.  I don't usually let him use my fabric scissors, but with close supervision he was able to cut the fringe entirely by himself. And I resisted the urge to go back and clean it up when he was done. It is perfect just the way it is.

                        End result: a scarf made with two lengths of fleece with a seam up the middle and fringed ends.

                        Bigger result: the proudest four year old I have ever seen. Mama's pretty proud too.

                        Friday, December 9, 2011

                        Brunch for Iona: Sausage and Egg Casserole with Sun Dried Tomatoes

                        1:19 PM 4 Comments
                        This weekend, we are hosting a brunch in honor of Iona who, unbelievably, heads back to France in one week. I cannot believe how quickly the four months have gone.

                        While I could dedicate this post to reflections on the many wonderful times we've had during Iona's stay, I will instead share the recipe for the casserole that I will be bringing to the brunch. This is one of my favs, and I am excited to share it with my extended family.

                        As an added bonus, I've adapted this very successfully as a vegetarian recipe, so I'll include those directions below.


                        Sausage and Egg Casserole with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella

                        (with deepest apologies to the creator of this recipe, I do not have a source. Bad librarian!)

                        PRINT ME!

                        1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
                        1/2 cup chopped shallots
                        2 garlic cloves, minced
                        1/2 cup chopped drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
                        4 tbs. chopped fresh parsley

                        5 large eggs
                        3 large egg yolks
                        1 cup half and half
                        1 cup heavy cream
                        2 cups mozzarella cheese
                        1/2 tsp. salt

                        Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter 13x9 glass baking dish.

                        Saute sausage in medium skillet until brown and cooked through, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks, about ten minutes.  Add shallots and garlic and saute 3 minutes.  Add tomatoes and 2 tbs. parsley and stir 1 minute.  Spread sausage mixture in prepared dish. (Can be made one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

                        Whisk eggs, egg yolks, half and half, whipping cream, 1 1/2 cups cheese, and salt in a large bowl to blend well. Pour egg mixture over sausage mixture in dish.  Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese and 2 tbs. parsley over the top.  Bake until golden brown and knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Let stand five minutes before serving.

                        VEGETARIAN VARIATION:
                        In place of the Italian sausage, I used Morningstar Farm sausage patties (2 8 oz. packages).  First, cook them in the microwave to soften them up. Then crumble into small pieces.  Heat 4 tbs. oil. Add  sausage crumbles, 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, and 1 tsp. Parmesan.  Heat about four minutes. Continue with shallots and garlic as above.

                        Au revoir, Iona!

                        Monday, December 5, 2011

                        There's something about a Christmas tree

                        5:58 AM 0 Comments
                        It's the same living room: a couch, a piano, an armchair, a coffee table. Things are moved around a bit, and the end table is now a corner table, but it's the same living room. In that perfect spot, in front of the stained glass that went up with the house over one hundred years ago, there is now an eight and a half foot Scotch pine that we lovingly selected, cut down, and dragged in on Saturday afternoon. Sean and Finn strung it with lights that day, and we all pitched in to decorate while listening to John Denver's Rocky Mountain Christmas that evening. It was a perfect night.

                        And with that tree, the space is somehow magically transformed. The same space where craziness ensues with frequency in my world of little boys seems calmer. Finn is less interested in popping in a DVD and happy just to search for ornaments on the tree. Emmett is delighted by the wooden train that Sean set up at the base. The white lights sparkle in the reflection on the shiny wood floors. The air smells like pine. The tree somehow makes quiet more permissible, and sitting in its glow feels like an activity in and of itself.

                        It is these little touches of magic that make the holiday season for me. Here's hoping you find your own simple holiday joys in the weeks ahead.

                        Friday, December 2, 2011

                        I Baked a Cake!

                        2:34 PM 2 Comments
                        It's been two weeks since I last posted; between hosting out-of-town family, traveling out of town (twice) to visit family, and dealing with a laptop nearing the end of its life, I just haven't had much screentime. That said, it has also been two weeks full of cooking, baking, and crafting...even if I haven't been writing about it.

                        And so, I thought I'd come back with details of a most unexpected cooking adventure.

                        1. I decided out of the blue to bake a cake.
                        2. I chose a cake featured on the cover of a current cooking magazine.
                        3. It is not a chocolate cake.
                        4. It is a tangerine-flavored cake.
                        The thing is, I don't really  1) like to bake cakes, 2) generally attempt to make the kind of fancy cake recipes featured on covers, particularly those that require Bundt pans, 3) make any desserts that aren't chocolate or 4) like oranges. So this was all around uncharacteristic, and, admittedly, kind of fun. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll add that while I don't much care for oranges, I love those little Cuties that show up in the market at this time of year, and that's what this recipe uses.

                        The chosen recipe was from Everyday Food Magazine (heart!) and was the cover recipe in the December 2011 issue. The recipe doesn't seem to be online as of yet, so I've included it below.

                        The recipe recommends making the cake a day in advance and storing at room temperature, so it'll be ready just in time for our tree-trimming plans tomorrow evening. I haven't tasted it yet, but if the batter is any's super yummy. I only ate a little bit, I promise.

                        ***Note - I had some issues with the glaze. It was too thick, so I added some water, but apparently I added too much as it was then too runny, so then I was adding more sugar, then more juice, etc.. My suggestion would be to start with the suggested amount and add a little water at a time until it is the desired consistency. Also, that cookie sheet under the cooling rack? That's to catch the icing runoff. Missed that detail.

                        Tangerine Cake with Citrus Glaze
                        adapted from Everyday Food Magazine, December 2011

                        PRINT ME!

                        for the cake:
                        1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature, plus more for the pan
                        3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for the pan
                        1 tsp baking soda
                        1 tsp salt
                        2 cups granulated sugar
                        6 large eggs
                        2 tbsp finely grated tangerine zest, plus 1/2 cup tangerine juice (I zested and squeezed 7 tangerines)
                        2 tbsp Grand Marnier (I didn't have any, so I used water)
                        3/4 cup plain lowfat yogurt
                        1 tsp vanilla extract

                        for the glaze:
                        1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
                        3 tbsp tangerine juice (I used 3 tangerines)

                        1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a Bundt pan and set aside.

                        2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.

                        3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in tangerine zest, juice, and liqueur. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions yogurt, and beat to combine. Beat in vanilla.

                        4. Transfer batter to pan, smooth top, and firmly tap pan on a flat surface to remove air bubbles.

                        5. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on wire rack, 30 minutes. Invert cake onto a rack set on a rimmed baking sheet and let cool completely. With a serrated knife, trim cake to sit flat if necessary.

                        6. Whisk together confectioner's sugar and tangerine juice until smooth. Spoon glaze evenly over cake and let set one hour (or as recommended, glaze, cover, then store at room temperature a day in advance).

                        Serves 12. Active time: 30 minutes. Total time: 1 hour, 25 minutes plus cooling.

                        Tuesday, November 15, 2011

                        My Favoritest Product Ever

                        10:44 PM 2 Comments
                        Earlier today I was thinking about the facebook phenomenon and how it has transformed marketing, as suddenly there is a venue for friends to publicly announce their devotion to products/places/things/businesses at absolutely no cost to the products/places/things/businesses themselves.  And I was thinking how interesting it would be to me if everyone shared their one all-time favorite thing. I'm not talking about the raindrops on roses variety (why is that considered a Christmas song, anyway?) nor am I thinking of big ticket items...rather, I'm interested in that one product that in some small way makes your life a teeny tiny bit happier. 

                        Here's mine.

                        The Thermos Nissan 12-ounce Stainless Steel Tumbler, available at

                        In the last decade, I think Sean and I have each owned two or three of these. We've given them as gifts. We've raved about them to friends. We have carried them up mountains and across national borders. This is simply a wonderful travel mug. Here's why:
                        • It's stainless steel, so it doesn't make your coffee taste like plastic.
                        • It's skinny enough to fit in the cup holder of your car.
                        • It's short enough to stand in the cup holder of your car without tipping over.
                        • It can take a tumble and not break. It may dent, but it won't break.
                        • But most comes with a screw-on lid that seals SO TIGHTLY that you can pour your coffee early in the morning and still drink piping hot coffee up through lunchtime. And it is truly leak-proof - toss it in your computer bag, in your purse, shake it wildly up and leaks.
                        I seriously love this mug. 

                        In the interest of full disclosure, the mug does have one downside, which is its capacity.  It claims to be a 12 ounce mug, but it actually holds a little more than 10. I deeply wish it were just a little bigger.

                        One other detail I did not mention is that the mug comes with a tea infuser. This doesn't matter to me at all as I don't drink tea, so I simply do not insert the infuser (I recently found four or five tea infusers in the back of a kitchen drawer). If you do drink loose tea, however, I think this would be a nice perk (and the tea drinkers that posted reviews on Amazon had great things to say).

                        So there you have it. My favoritest product ever.

                        So what's yours???

                        Monday, November 14, 2011

                        Can't. Stop. Baking.

                        1:10 PM 3 Comments
                        In a variation on the words of Michael Jackson, I'm a cooker, not a baker. Okay, I bake sometimes, but generally with a great deal of hesitancy and a limited amount of confidence. That said, I have no idea what has gotten into me this week - I literally cannot stop baking, and I am loving every minute of it (as is my husband, I might add). An overview of my efforts: 

                        A perfect loaf of whole wheat bread - I got this recipe from the Tassajara Bread Book, which is a classic in the world of bread baking and has been a wholly inspiring read thus far. It was on display at the library last week, and the title caught my eye (I'm fairly certain I checked it out from a different library about fifteen years ago). Anyway, it includes the most fantastic step-by-step guide to making whole wheat bread. I followed it diligently and the results were amazing. The recipe that follows is the shortened version of the detailed recipe, which covers every step of the process over thirteen illustrated pages. Please note that there are three risings, so give yourself plenty of time to make this. The recipe calls for whole wheat flour but notes that you can substitute some white flour to make the bread a bit more "cohesive." I used about 25% white/75% whole wheat.

                          Tassajara Yeasted Bread
                          (adapted from The Tassajara Bread Book)

                          Makes 2 loaves

                          PRINT ME!

                          3 cups lukewarm water                               
                          1 1/2 tbsp. yeast (2 packets)                       
                          1/4 cup brown sugar                                   
                          4 cups whole wheat flour
                          4 tsp. salt
                          1/3 cup oil
                          4 cups whole wheat flour

                          1. Dissolve the yeast in water.
                          2. Stir in brown sugar.
                          3. Stir in the first four cups of whole wheat flour to form a thick batter.
                          4. Beat well with a spoon (100 strokes).
                          5. Let rise 45 minutes.
                          6. Fold in the salt and oil.
                          7. Fold in an additional 3 cups of flour until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
                          8. Knead on a floured board, using more flour (about 1 cup) as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the board, about 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth.
                          9. Let rise 50 to 60 minutes until doubled in size.
                          10. Punch down.
                          11. Let rise 40 to 50 minutes until doubled in size.
                          12. Shape into loaves and place in pans.
                          13. Let rise 20 to 25 minutes.
                          14. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour, or until golden brown.

                          Corn bread - I recently discovered that making corn bread from scratch (rather than from the Jiffy mix) is not that much more difficult than making corn bread from the Jiffy mix, and the bread is a whole lot tastier. Most notably, it doesn't crumble into a bajillion pieces. It also doesn't stick to the pan. I used the recipe on the side of the canister of corn meal - nothing fancy but quite good

                            Easy Corn Bread
                            (adapted from the Quaker Yellow Corn Meal canister)

                            PRINT ME!

                            1 1/4 cups flour
                            3/4 cup corn meal
                            1/4 cup sugar
                            2 tsp. baking powder
                            1/2 tsp. salt
                            1 cup skim milk
                            1/4 cup oil
                            1 egg, beaten

                            Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 8 or 9 inch pan. Combine dry ingredients. Stir in milk, oil, and egg, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm.

                            Pumpkin cream cheese muffins - I printed this recipe out from AllRecipes a few weeks ago and have been meaning to make it every weekend since. It's a very moist pumpkin muffin with a dollop of sweetened cream cheese in the center and a crumbly streusel topping over that. So good! I'm kind of a sucker for all things pumpkin, so I was super happy with this recipe.

                              Whole wheat pizza crust - I am constantly searching for the perfect pizza crust recipe. This one, which I adapted from The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook, was pretty darn close:

                              Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

                              PRINT ME!

                              1 cup lukewarm water
                              1 tbsp. olive oil
                              1 cup whole wheat flour
                              2 cups white flour
                              1 packet active dry yeast
                              1 tbsp. sugar
                              1 tsp. salt

                              In a mixing bowl, combine the lukewarm water and 1 cup of the white flour. Add the yeast, sugar, salt, and oil. Whisk together to make a spongy dough. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

                              Add the remaining 2 cups flour and stir with a wooden spoon (I used the dough hook on my stand mixer). When the dough becomes thick enough, knead it by hand for 6 to 8 minutes (again, with the dough hook) until it reaches the consistency of soft baby skin. Place in a floured bowl and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

                              Once the dough has risen and doubled in size, the dough is ready to be formed. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle flour over the dough and on the rolling pin. Roll out the dough to the desired size.

                              Bake the crust for 8 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven and load with toppings. Bake the full pizza for another 8 to 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

                              German Apple Pie - Pie is one of those things that I generally leave to people who are really good at making pie (I am not one of those people). I really like pie, however, and I like the idea of being good at making pie, so I'm always willing to try a new recipe. Oh my goodness, this was delicious. I made it for our friend Mace's birthday, upon his request, and over the course of the weekend we ate every crumb. As far as I can tell, the thing that makes this a German apple pie is that, as a final step, you dump a cup of heavy cream over the apples, so that after baking the apples are set in a rich, creamy, sweet sauce. Yum. Not only was the pie insanely good, I also FINALLY found a crust recipe that I love; it's from Ina Garten and can be found here. I found the pie recipe at (which stands for "cooking by the seat of our pants"). As a finishing touch, I cut out a letter "M" from the extra pie crust and baked it alongside the pie to put on top. Cute, right?

                                So that's all from here. Here's hoping that some of my baking madness rubs off on some of you!

                                Thursday, November 10, 2011

                                On the Needles: Iona Needed a Hat

                                4:10 PM 2 Comments
                                This fall, Sean and I have had the joy of hosting our oldest niece, Iona, in our home. Iona is from Strasbourg, France, where she has lived all of her thirteen years. This semester, Iona is living here as an exchange student,  attending an American middle school and having all kinds of American middle school fun. We have loved having her here and are already sad to think about her leaving just before Christmas.

                                When you are used to having two little boys, it's a big change to suddenly have a teenaged girl in the house. Someone to watch Glee with me! Someone who loves going grocery shopping with me! Someone who wants to find broadway soundtracks at the library with me! Imagine my delight when, a few weeks ago, she mentioned to me, "Auntie Hopie, I need a winter hat. Do you think you could make me one?"

                                This is by no means the first thing I've knit for Iona. I've got eight nieces and nephews in my family and three more nieces in Sean's, so over the years I've made all kinds of hats/scarves/mittens/sweaters/booties/etc. for the lot of them. I've even got little customized labels that say "Hand Knit by Auntie Hopie." The first piece I remember knitting for Iona was a yellow and red sweater vest with her name across the front that I made while living in Mongolia; she was three at the time:

                                Iona and Me, Christmas 2001

                                As far as I can recall, this is the first project I've knit where the recipient was privy to the pending gift. I let her pick the yarn from the stash, and she checked in on the progress frequently.

                                The pattern is The Rosa Hat from the amazing Amanda Blake Soule. As written the pattern calls for wool, but as Iona is sensitive to wool, I went with a super soft acrylic instead. Honestly, I'm not positive what it is as I didn't have the label with the ball of yarn, but it's fuzzy and pink and it is what she wanted. I absolutely loved this pattern and will make it many more times in the future. It's knit on small needles so it's very warm, and the miniature cabling pattern on the rim adds a lot of visual interest:

                                I finished the hat last night, and my pink-loving temporary daughter is ready to face the dark days of winter. She looks adorable, and I can rest knowing she will be warm on the walk to school. No one told me how hard it was to convince a teenager to dress appropriately for the weather!

                                Monday, November 7, 2011

                                To Market...

                                8:21 PM 1 Comments
                                Saturday marked the last farmer's market of the season, and I had my camera with me to take a few pictures of the bountiful harvest on hand. Herein follows a brief photographic tribute to our beloved Market at the Square, with deep gratitude for another wonderful season spent wandering your stands.

                                Saturday, November 5, 2011

                                Recipe Reference: Vegetarian & Gluten-Free Recipes

                                1:12 PM 0 Comments
                                So I returned from the farmer's market this beautiful Saturday morning to a voicemail from my dad. "Hey, I've got a question for you. A friend of mine is having a dinner party and three of the guests are vegetarian and one is gluten-free. Do you have any suggestions?"

                                Oh boy! Recipe reference? It's a librarian-who-loves-to-cook's dream come true! I put Emmett down for a nap and tuckered down with a pile of cookbooks and my laptop to write up a response to my father.

                                First off, my father thinks I have a lot of experience with gluten-free cooking. I don't. My father-in-law has a bizarre allergy to white flour, but it isn't a gluten allergy as he is able to eat whole wheat flour without any problems. So in the process of preparing a list of recipes, I found myself having to do a little research. I found that typing "Is ________ gluten-free" in the Google search box brought me the answers I needed in my quest. Ain't the Internet grand? One particularly useful website I came across was, which included an entire list of safe foods for easy reference.

                                Listed below are the recipes that I shared with my father so that he could share them with his friend so that he could choose one to share with his guests. Hooray for passing on food love. The first four are recipes I have tried and loved. The last few are links to recipes that I haven't tried, but I happen to think Mexican food is always fun for a dinner party so I added them in.

                                If anyone out there has any recipe reference queries, please pass them on! Might as well get some use out of that M.L.S., right?

                                Maggie's Divine Thick Peanut Sauce
                                (We make this ALL the time around here - served over rice or pasta, sometimes with diced tofu, sometimes with diced chicken, sometimes with diced fake chicken, like the Quorn brand. I must give full credit here to my college roommate Maggie, who came up with the recipe many moons ago.)

                                2 tbs. oil
                                1 onion, chopped
                                1 tbs. garlic
                                4 green onions, chopped
                                1 c. water
                                1 tbs. minced ginger
                                1 tbs. soy sauce
                                1/2 c. peanut butter (preferably natural)
                                1 1/2 tbs. lime juice
                                2 tbs. brown sugar
                                1/2 tsp cayenne
                                1/2 tsp. salt
                                1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes

                                1) Heat oil. Add garlic, onions, and green onions and saute 5-6 minutes
                                2) Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl. Stir until smooth.
                                3) Add mixture to veggies. Mix well. Simmer 5 minutes or until thick. Stir constantly.
                                4) Serve over rice (or pasta, if gluten isn't an issue)

                                ** If you opt to add in chicken or tofu, dice it and saute it for a few minutes at the beginning, then put it aside, then add it back in at the end to heat up in the sauce.

                                Moroccan Stew
                                1 tsp. oil
                                2 c. chopped onion
                                5 cloves garlic, minced
                                1 c. carrots, sliced thin
                                1 green pepper, 1/2 inch strips
                                1 tsp. cumin
                                1/2 tsp. allspice, ginger, turmeric
                                1/4 tsp. salt, cayenne, cinnamon
                                3/4 c. water
                                4 c. cubed eggplant
                                3 c. chopped tomatoes (I used 2 cans diced tomatoes)
                                1/2 c. raisins
                                1 can chickpeans, drained and rinsed

                                1) Heat oil. Add onion and garlic.
                                2) Add carrots, peppers, spices, 1/4 c. water. Cook, stirring, for five minutes.
                                3) Add rest. Cover and simmer over medium low for 30 minutes or until tender. Stir occasionally.
                                4) Serve over rice (or couscous, which does have gluten).

                                Ratatouille (adapted from Everyday Foods Issue #76)
                                1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
                                6 tbs. olive oil
                                1 large eggplant, cut into 1" pieces
                                salt and pepper
                                2 large yellow onions, diced large
                                1 head garlic, cloves smashed and peeled
                                2 bell peppers (any color), seeded and diced large
                                2 large zucchini, diced large
                                1 bay leaf
                                1 tsp. oregano
                                2-3 tbs. red wine vinegar

                                1) Preheat oven to 350. Place tomatoes and juices on a rimmed baking dish and use your hands to break tomatoes into 3/4 inch pieces. Drizzle with 2 tbs. oil and bake until thickened, 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
                                2) Meanwhile, in a colander, toss eggplant with 1 1/2 tsp. salt. Let sit 20 minutes, then squeeze out excess liquid.
                                3) In a large pot, heat 4 tbs. oil over medium. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until soft, 5 minutes. Add peppers and cook, stirring, until crisp-tender, 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
                                4) Add tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bay leaf, and oregano to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook at a gentle simmer until veggies are tender but not mushy, 15 minutes. Season to taste with vinegar, salt, and pepper.
                                5) Serve over rice. Pass crusty bread for those able to eat it.

                                South American Quinoa and Corn Soup - included in this earlier entry

                                I learned today that quinoa is a gluten free grain - see here. Who knew?


                                Corn tortillas should be gluten-free, but check the label just to be sure that no flour was added. Serve with beans and Spanish rice to fill out the meal. Here are a few yummy sounding recipes (that I have not tried).

                                Spinach Enchiladas Verde

                                Vegetarian Enchiladas

                                Portabella Mushroom Enchiladas

                                Sunday, October 30, 2011

                                Happy Halloween!

                                9:45 PM 1 Comments
                                Halloween is a three-day affair for our family this year. It began Saturday evening, when a wonderful group of friends from around the neighborhood gathered on our front lawn then paraded to a nearby neighbor's home for a bonfire, s'mores, and hot chocolate. It continued Sunday evening, when we put the costumes on again and attended a "Trunk or Treat" event. Finally, on Monday evening, we'll get to the original business of ringing doorbells and collecting goodies.

                                As you may recall from my previous post on the topic, we had a Wizard of Oz theme going this year. It started innocently enough, with the decision to reuse the scarecrow costume I made for Finn a few years ago. I then made a Dorothy pinafore and picked up some red ballet flats at the local Goodwill for iona. And I got totally lucky on the lion costume, as I had a serendipitous conversation with a mom I know that resulted in her lending us a size 4 cute-as-can-be lion costume for Finn. Here they are in all of their Emerald City glory:

                                At the last minute, Sean and I decided to join in the themed fun and dressed as Auntie Em and Uncle Henry:

                                Though, as our good friend pointed out, all we needed was a pitchfork and a black suit jacket to pass as the couple from American Gothic:

                                I was so pleased with how the costumes turned out. Emmett grew increasingly wary of the scarecrow's headpiece as the night grew late, but he tolerated it nonetheless, and his amateur walker stumbles gave him the appearance of being in perfect character. Finn was absolutely tickled to be the lion, from the whiskers to the big "Courage" medal he wore around his neck. And iona, who is celebrating American Halloween (she is from France) for the first time, was seemingly delighted both with the costume and the sweet treats. Collectively, they looked great and had heaps of fun (even if the boys don't look particularly happy in this picture):

                                I should add that The Wizard of Oz has some history in our family. Way back when I was in junior high, my suburban school district put on a production of The Wizard of Oz, and I played the part of Dorothy:

                                At dinner on Saturday evening, we started talking about the story, and iona and Finn both informed me that while they have seen the VHS recording of that production countless times at Grandma and Grandpa's house, neither of them have ever seen the real movie! So we'll be hitting the movie section at the library sometime this week to check out the MGM version. Finn will probably be sorely disappointed that I am not in it.

                                I hope everyone had a safe and memorable Halloween weekend. I will never stop loving the imagination emphasis of this kid-centered holiday, and I love being able to be a part of that magic for my own kiddos.

                                By the way, I am officially project free, having finished my two knitting projects and finished sewing Halloween costumes. I have a stack of knitting books that I checked out from the library last week and a headful of ideas for sewing projects. We'll see where the week takes me.

                                Saturday, October 29, 2011

                                An Ode to Autumn

                                12:25 PM 0 Comments
                                An ode to autumn, my favorite season of the year. I get giddy when it is time to wear socks again. All summer long I set my sights on crunchy leaves, apple cider, and cool nights. And every October I get a little shutter crazy. So here are a handful of recent favorite images: